Monday, February 26, 2007


Charlie was highly active as a fetus. I could count on him to do all manner of acrobatics and calisthenics between 4 and 6 am (which is still the time he has the most trouble sleeping). I never really needed to do a kick count. I felt blessed as I tend to be anxious and there is nothing as comforting to a pregnant woman as feeling her baby move about, not because all this activity would supposedly equal brilliance.

Charlie is now a highly active infant. He wants to bounce and mouth and flirt and interact. Sleep is elusive to him. Shutting out the highly exciting world is oh so hard. Through all of this activity, I have been told time and again how all of this means he is smart or gifted. He is building neurons, highly engaged, and gathering vast amounts of information. Somehow this smart thing is to be a panacea. I have to say that at this point, my husband and I would be delighted to have a slightly dim child if said child would only sleep.

My mother once told me that IQ means very little. What actually matters is what you do with the intelligence you have. This has been borne out to me so very many times it makes all the reassurances that Charlie is brilliant cold comfort at best. I want to raise a happy child, a fulfilled child, a child who can find a place to be himself. His innate intelligence doesn't have much bearing on any of that. I taught any number of children who wouldn't be classified as smart by even the most generous definition. I remember having a conversation with the school psychologist about one girl I worked with. She was such a sweet soul but would probably be just barely functional in reading and maybe functional in math. We speculated that she, like her mother, would be a wonderful mother. She would perhaps do some in-home day care and her husband would need to help her with the bills and such. She was shy but had a core group of friends. She was liked by her teachers and peers. She participated in rodeos and helped keep her siblings in line. In short, she was happy. She had a place that she belonged. She was as fulfilled as a 4th grader could be and would probably continue on that trajectory. Why does there have to be the implication in the world that just because she wasn't classified as smart or gifted, she isn't as valuable or happy or cherished? While some of the children I knew and know who are reportedly brilliant (and there are so very many that I rather wonder if it has any meaning anymore) are just as happy and fulfilled there are any number that are floundering under the weight of expectation.

This article casts an interesting light on all of the smart business. The basic gist is that it's better to praise children for working hard than being smart. There are apparently a number of parents that disagree with this and perhaps I will, in time, as well. But, I doubt it. When I taught I learned to praise effort as much as outcome. Trying again and again was key. As a person, I appreciate praise for what I actually control much more than what I was born with. After all, I have never been praised for being 5 foot 3 and I don't particularly think anyone else has either. It makes about as much sense to praise a child for being smart. This adds this subtle assumption that you either have it or you don't. It makes self-improvement and the acquisition of new skills moot.

I rather think that the next time someone reassures me of my child's brilliance I will have to respond with some witty comeback. Unfortunately, I don't seem to be smart enough to think of one...

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