“Smart” Is Not a Status



People seem to think that there’s this profile to fit in order to be smart, the way that most people would assume a fragile looking elderly person to be kind. While I know that they mean well, it still stings to be complimented for fitting some profile. To me, that’s a truly lacking in substance compliment. It’s like a word bubble with no words.

At school, people are smart if they’re honors/AP students, and in the workplace, people are smart if they hold high status, difficult, or high-paying jobs. Personally, I think that gives some people a little too much credit. What about the “regular” kids? Is it not possible for them to be just as smart--or even smarter in so many other ways? And what about the people working in fast-food chains or collecting garbage? Are they not smart because they do the jobs they do? What’s wrong with their jobs?



While I think it’s a lot of things, I can guarantee that it’s not something to be earned like a socio-economic status. A person who doesn’t care enough about math to suffer through AP Calculus is not necessarily less intelligent than, say, an AP Calculus student. And quite frankly, a lot of students who do take AP Calculus don’t even know what they’re doing. And If we’re being super honest, math doesn’t come close to being the greatest measure of intelligence. Neither is language arts, science, or any other academic discipline.

“Smart” is not limited to how well someone performs on a standardized test. “Smart” is not how high someone’s GPA is. “Smart” is not determined by the level of classes taken. “Smart” is not based on the line of work pursued.

Someone very close to me and very wise once said, “how smart you are is not in how well you can do math or read.” A switch had flipped inside of me then, and it changed everything.

“Smart” suddenly had a whole new meaning, and I realized that people who didn’t know me didn’t know enough about me to call me smart just for being an honors/AP student. I, personally, know some very smart people who aren’t in “high level” classes and don’t have the highest GPAs. I also know people with very high GPAs but very close minded ways of thinking. They learn, memorize, and regurgitate, and quite frankly, I think if everyone studied for as long as they did, they’d probably be able to do it too.  

I guess what I’m getting at is that we don’t just stereotype personalities, physical appearances, cultural/racial backgrounds, and social tendencies. We also stereotype adjectives, and it’s scary because there are so many of them!

“Smart,” however, is something that everyone is in their own way, and I can tell without asking them some random trivia question or making them solve a math equation. All it takes is communication.

When I’m in a conversation with someone, anyone, I learn things about them that I’d otherwise never know. I learn how they approach and react to my questions; how they answer them; how they ask their own questions; whether they’re being agreeable because they agree, are trying to be nice, or aren’t sure of themselves. It sounds like I must go all “psychiatrist” on people, but I don’t. All of these cues are ones that I’ve known to look for since I can remember: tone, logic, sincerity. I can tell right away when someone is engaged and knowledgeable or disinterested and clueless. I can tell that people are different kinds of smart: book smart, street smart, creative, sly and slippery, a little bit of everything... I also know that a lot of people don’t feel the need to flaunt their intelligence. They don’t have to prove it. The moment they open their mouths to speak, it becomes known.  

And this simple act of conversing with someone goes as far as to prove the falseness with which our secondary education system can cause people to feel about themselves. Some people feel entitled and can’t get off their high horses while others are made to believe that they’re less capable because the former are “higher level” students and the latter aren’t.

We’re separated by “levels of intelligence,” and they can be just as misleading as the grading system. I get that the people who made this decision must’ve weighed the pros and cons, but I’ve nonetheless seen people suffer because of it. They call themselves “dumb,” they are looked down upon for having a learning disability, and sometimes the “higher level” kids don’t even bother to acknowledge them because they’re not on the “same level.”

In the end, there’s this divide that limits the kind of people we associate with. Sometimes I’m stuck in a classroom with a group of people each thinking they’re better and smarter than the rest, and it’s slightly obnoxious. It makes me wonder if AP really stands for “arrogant people.” I’d go as far as to say that it’s mentally unhealthy. For everyone.

One day, these arrogant people (well, most of them) come to realize that “smart” was never something to be attained like a medal or a badge. So while a lot of their “lower level” peers are set free by this little snippet of information, a lot of these AP peeps are shattered for good because they’re the ones who grew up thinking they were the smartest only to get rejected by their top choice school because someone “less deserving” got “their” spot. And for those who do end up getting into a high prestige school, they still manage to graduate and find themselves completely lost. They don’t know what to do with their lives. Getting a job, they realize, isn’t such a breeze despite having credentials because, somehow, someone who went to a second tier college managed to “steal” their dream job. They don’t realize that maybe it’s because they forgot that while their credentials might’ve gotten them the job, they’re the ones who have to prove that they can keep it. And they’re not used to that, so they can’t.

Suddenly, they’re convinced that life’s not fair and is out to get them. They begin to feel worthless and foolish for thinking they could’ve been somebody. They’re crushed because they can’t flaunt their GPAs and test scores anymore; it’s no longer enough. A person’s ability is in what they’re still capable of doing and not what they’ve already done, but they don’t know that. They’re so hung up on their glory days that they don’t even realize they’d peaked in high school, in college. Why? Because they took “smart” for granted. They treated it as something to be “earned” and felt they just had it but forgot that everybody else did too.

Now what?

Now they have to try and get off of their high horses. But by this time, they’re about as tall as the Kilimanjaro, and it’s scary as heck.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was from years of people telling them how smart they were, how capable they were, how much potential they had. And that was from them taking the compliments, putting them in their pockets, and growing hot air balloons for heads.

I’m not saying that all “higher level” students are like that or that they’re doomed because they’re motivated and set their sights high. That’s simply not true, and most AP kids are not arrogant people. All I’m saying is that I hope we all view our smarts as more than how well we do in class or how much we get told that we’re geniuses by others. I hope we tend to it and DON’T take it for granted because “smart” is not a status, and it never will be. It’s not exclusive and superficial like wealth and fame. Everyone’s got some of it, and maybe it’d do us all a little bit of good to acknowledge and appreciate that.