The “smart kid” is often associated with a high IQ. Many types of intellect can’t be quantified in that way. Young artists, dancers, or athletes might be praised for their capabilities, but unless they have a high IQ, they are unlikely to be categorized as “smart.” Our society’s narrow parameters for defining intelligence lead many otherwise talented youth to believe that they are stupid or incapable of doing well in school. To hear students say that they aren’t smart enough to take an AP class or pursue an ambitious career is disheartening.
The current culture in the American education system, with its ever increasing emphasis on testing, rewards students’ efforts less than their test outcomes. This overall encouragement of achievement rather than effort cultivates laziness in academically talented students, who may perform well on tests without having to try hard. Meanwhile, students who have never been identified as ‘smart’ also suffer because their efforts frequently go unnoticed and unrewarded.
Even if hard work will not always surpass innate talent in test results, hard work does propagate a more intangible kind of learning: resilience, persistence, and other important life skills. This kind of hard work doesn’t mean time-consuming busy work; it means being unafraid to dive deep into a topic and truly master it. Schools can help create this kind of courage by placing a higher emphasis on effort and perseverance. The results could benefit every type of student: the intellectually gifted would learn the value of hard work, and those that struggle in school could discover their less recognized types of intelligence—thereby breaking down the barriers between students of different mental capabilities.
Obviously, not every student will get into an Ivy League college or become a Nobel prize winner. However, every student should be able to succeed in school without fear of being insufficiently “smart.”