Tuesday, March 07, 2017


Now and then I think back on high school. The school I graduated from was small, not cheap, and very multinational. It is hard, in retrospect, to say I was top of the class--the skills of the other candidates weren't in quite the same directions--but in any case, as far as intellectual horsepower went, I had it. I wasn't rich or athletic or well-connected, and a bit shy to be a good entertainer. But I was sharp, and I played it for all the honor I could.

Wisdom, though... High-schoolers rarely overflow with wisdom. But even in that crowd,I was decidedly mediocre.

Since then I've learned to know I was often a fool, which is something, anyway. I don't know about the rest of that group. A few I see on Facebook, but that isn't designed to showcase wisdom, so I have no idea.

Which leads in turn to the question: What would be different if we honored wisdom as much as smarts?

I don't mean that everybody would be wise (though wanting to be is a step down that road). I mean things like less automatic enthusiasm for the ideas of the "new blood." Maybe the intern has some ground-breaking new ideas, and the old geezers can get stuck in a rut. But typically the intern isn't the second coming of Einstein. College students are subject to some of the silliest fads--some of them quite old--but they don't know any better yet.

Maybe one other difference would be more silence. There'd still be plenty of advertising nonsense--love of money is a big deal in all societies--but perhaps the click-bait would be different.

Politicians would be little better than they are now. I think their pretenses would be different.

You might hope that there'd be a little shift in how wisely people behaved when others were watching. How many will root for adjusting our values a little, if it gets rid of celebrity selfies?


jaed said...

To honor wisdom as much as smarts, we'd need to be able to recognize wisdom.

But then, the ability to recognize wisdom is itself an aspect of wisdom, I think. So you see the problem....

Ann Hammon said...

And you weren't valedictorian or salutatorian,but you were third behind Cathy and Minou.

james said...

Aye, my PE grades dropped my GPA.

Ann Hammon said...

I don't remember Minou or Cathy being In PE......

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Schools favor girls significantly, which was also true in the 70's though less so than now. It's an interesting debate whether girls were "wiser" than boys. I graduated in a class of 424, and I would have to say that 8 of the top 10 were much wiser than average 18-year-olds at the time. They didn't get into trouble. They chose good schools. They had interesting and productive careers. Extending that out decades later, I don't know. Of the 10, I think 7 married, all quite late, and three had children - one each. I can guess who the second 10 were, and they were much the same in final outcome, save that one had two children.

Let us go further. Of that 20, only two are in a church or synagogue. I am familiar with the volunteerism of about twelve, and only two - the same two - give any time to a cause. I don't know about money. They have a low divorce rate - that suggests some sort of wisdom. Two have done medical research that might have significant long-term benefit for us all. But it is pretty narrow, and I think no, not really. A grease monkey who fixed a lot of cars might have a better claim, frankly.

So did they turn out to be wise in some real sense? We get into conflicting definitions of what we should do with our lives, but if I take my favorite perspective, of drawing back to a deep remove and looking at decisions in terms of history, culture, benefit to others, unselfishness, lack of harm, I would have to say that they may not have much to show for this early "wisdom." They don't seem to have done much harm, and they seem to have pleased themselves. Perhaps that is enough.

Not enough for me, though. I think we have had enough time to say: they aren't especially wise.

Ann Hammon said...

James and I were in a different school situation than many Americans. Out of his class, most (female and male), went on to lead superlative lives of accomplishment and excellence. I was the year behind my brother, and out of 25, we had two exceptions to that. Our school didn't favor girls, they favored grade-point average. Period. There were no "extras" for credit. As my brother said, his PE grades were lousy.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I knew about the difference in his situation. It is a small sample size, but over a few years there might be enough data. My sons went to a small Christian academy where boys seldom made high honors. Most years Ben and one other boy were the only ones in a school of 130. Yet there were usually 4-5 girls per class who attained it.Wonderful school, and I think long-term it is an advantage for boys to learn early that life isn't fair, so I would do it all over again. If girls consistently had a better GPA, then the school favored girls in some way - as schools do in most places. That often means no more than a type of learning, or subjects chosen, or definition of mastery is slightly "privileged," as we would now say. Even advanced maths in secondary school de-emphasize the spatial, for example. Foreign-language instruction emphasizes formality rather than utility. On the other end, most schools are more forgiving of bad behavior in boys.

Just to poke you a bit, I have found that when someone makes a declaration and then spells out "Period," it usually means there is much more to say, but they don't want to hear it. That may not apply in this case, but I would be cautious about that.

Ann Hammon said...

I usually am. But I knew the two girls in question. There were exactly three kids in my senior trig/calculus call, 4 in physics. James' classes were no different. I was 10th in a class of 25, despite having the best ACT scores that year.
James' friends worked HARD. They earned their grades. Our school didn't have the luxury of "favoring" one gender over another. Teachers changed every year, administration every few. They looked at the grades, the scores in front of them.
Just to poke you, I attended that school from 4th grade through 12th, except for two furlough years. Our sister was six years behind me. I think I know whereof I speak.