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Oh, That Smarts!

The classic dichotomy is “book smarts” versus “street smarts.” In the 1980s, Howard Gardner came out with his multiple intelligences theory of eight “modalities”: visual–spatial, verbal–linguistic, logical–mathematical, bodily–kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. More recently, in How Children Succeed Paul Tough “argues that the qualities that matter most have more to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control.”

My personal wrangling with what it means to be intelligent dates at least as far back as a conversation I overheard in 1997, in which a Sudbury colleague shared with someone his views on the relative unimportance of college. At the time this really jumped out at me, as I was pursuing a second master’s at the University of Chicago a few years after earning a B.A. at Northwestern—which is to say, this hit very close to home. After all the money, stress, and ego I’d invested in my education, after being frequently told, growing up, that I was really smart, I was not prepared to hear that maybe there were other ways of thriving, of doing well at the game of life.

Over the course of my Sudbury career, however, I’ve come to appreciate that colleague’s insight. While not downplaying my ability and background, I can now frame it in a more realistic perspective. Continue reading

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