We’re constantly being told we should seek out and accept more cultural or ethnic diversity. Diversity has become one of the great political action words of the 21st century. I agree that we should be seeking out, celebrating and developing the beauty that is manifest through the diversity of talent, experience, culture and thought that exists on this immense planet. There is so much to learn and so much to share.
In that spirit I would like to point out one area of diversity that is still being grievously ignored in education: Intellectual Diversity. It is no secret that every individual is unique in talents and aptitudes. We all have gifts from God we’ve been given with which to bless the world if we develop them and use them well. The standardization of education, however, has led to a standardization of the definition of what it means to be smart — a philosophy in opposition to the God-given variation of life.
What is that definition? In the state of Utah the only school subjects that are tested and, therefore, the only subjects a school is judged on are Math, Science and Reading. In the last Think Tank post, Joni referenced the US Secretary of Education’s comment that the only intellect they are interested in is how students do on standardized tests. The effect of these policies has filtered down the system and clearly influences the culture of schools and classrooms. So much so that it is common (and even acceptable) for someone for whom Math, Science or Reading do not come easy or someone who struggles with standardized testing to assume that they must not be smart. Some of you reading this may even know how that feels — to be in an education system where the talents that seem to mean something are not the talents you have.
This past week I attended the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City, UT with a group of students from our classes. We got to see Tennessee Williams’ play, The Glass Menagerie. One of the characters, Laura, gets so nervous at school that it makes her nauseated. She dropped out of both High School and the vocational school her mother sent her to. She wears a brace on her leg that makes her so self-conscious that she thinks that is all people notice about her. She spends her days now playing records and caring for her collection of glass animal figurines thinking she has nothing else really to offer the world.
At the end of the play a guy she remembers from high school comes to dinner. For probably the first time in her life she has a evening with a guy who treats her like who she should be. He does his best to inspire her to fulfill her potential. He tells her, “You know what my strong advice to you is? Think of yourself as superior in some way!”
This thought is new and awkward to Laura who responds, “In what way would I think?”
“Just look around you a little. What do you see? A world full of common people . . . Which one them has one-tenth of your good points! Or mine! Or anyone else’s, as far as that goes — gosh! Everybody excels in some one thing. Some in many! All you’ve got to do is discover in what!” Through the course of this whole conversation your heart just aches for Laura and you long to see her stand up and throw off the false chains that are hindering her from becoming more a blessing to herself and those around her.
The world is full of people who are not great in math or science but go on to make great contributions in their own way with the gifts and talents they’ve been given. It’s unfortunate, though, that the process of modern education may make them feel inadequate or somehow inferior. Thankfully, there are great teachers out there who do help students find and develop themselves as they pursue their personal mission. But teachers are becoming more and more under the threatening pressure of better standardized test results that such individual attention for individualized results becomes impossible.
So, be aware, in school you will be on the machine chasing standardization and it will help you learn many things and grow. But it is no substitute for finding your own path, your own mission, your own talents. And you may find yourself at times alone in this quest since the machine has no time for individuals.
We live in a diverse world. I think it was designed that way. God gave us each something unique to contribute here. We simply cannot all contribute in the same standardized way. In order for us to have all the beauty, vitality, knowledge, understanding and inspiration that is possible it takes each individual finding what they have to share. That’s my definition of smart.