20 nov 2009

Dear students:

I am not smarter than you.

True, I have read more books, accumulated more cultural capital. My thought is more nuanced and sophisticated; I can articulate my ideas better in both speech and writing, in both Spanish and English. I know more than you about many, many things, and can do the New York Times crossword Saturday puzzle faster than you, who can't do it at all. Generally speaking, I approach things in a more intellectual way, and have developed mental capacities and skills beyond what you are capable of. I have a better memory than you, better "critical thinking" in all dimensions. I can concentrate for longer periods of time and focus more intensely on things that interest me. I have learnt and forgotten ancient Greek...

Ok, so maybe I am smarter than you after all.

Yet the ways in which I am smarter result from my habitual actions of the course of many years rather than from some inherent capacity that I have and you don't. About half of my advantage over you is analogous to physical conditioning; the other half is analogous to the accumulation of wealth. (Very little has to do with a number on an aptitude test. Your number might be bigger or smaller than mine; I really don't care.) Being smart is more like a decision (or series of decisions) that you make than like some nebulous capacity that you have. You can be smarter than 90% of your fellow students simply by reading. You are Spanish majors, but how many of you have ever read a novel in Spanish not assigned for a class? Yes, I understand that you don't like literature. If you read some novels, however, you will learn those vocabulary words that escape you when you are trying to express your thoughts; you will internalize some grammatical principles that have escaped you and learn about the history and culture you claim to be interested in.

2 comentarios:

Andrew Shields dijo...

Did you give that to your students? I'm thinking about giving it to mine! (With attribution, of course.)

Jonathan dijo...

I'm not giving this to my students. I would have to polish it a bit and make it less harsh. You can give it to yours, of course.