Smarty Pants

Today at an afterschool program we were making a worm bin. You know, for worms to eat leftover food and make compost (technically worm poop). Me and about 5 students took turns drilling into a plastic bin to make it so air can move in and out freely, ’cause you would hate to deprive the poor little wormies of their air supply.

Then the drill stopped working. I asked the students to come up creative solutions so that we could keep working. They did. I called them ‘smart.’

~Commence chaos~

Maybe that is an overstatement, only one student objected. And what an objection! He said and I quote here:

“It’s not about smart, it is about whether or not you know it.”

I didn’t know how to respond, which is unusual for me. I pressed the issue to try to gain a more complete understanding of his point of view on ‘smart.’ I asked if someone who read a book and then aced a test in English without studying was ‘smart.’ He said yes but only because that student KNEW the material. He said a student who had to read the book many many times to get all the right answers on a test was just as smart but with a better work ethic.

WHOA. It blew my mind. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in motivating students to have high self-esteem, to believe in themselves as much as we believe in them that I have lost sight of the important thing. Knowing the facts.

Cause there are some things you just have to know and smart people know them, no matter how long they study. In my opinion those things include; reading books and loving it, understanding how to balance a checkbook, basic understanding of history and politics to understand the world today, how to make small talk. There should be a bigger, better focus on building knowledge, not some abstract investment in ‘smart’.

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