Everyone wears smarty pants


By Kaanan Raja

In my LAS 101 Freshman Seminar class, you can find an assortment of students fit for “The Breakfast Club:” There’s the boy who sits three seats behind me who can solve Calculus II derivatives in his head, but can’t seem to draw a simple stick figure, the girl who always forgets her pencil and even sometimes where class is located, but can start a riveting conversation with anyone she meets; and me — with my knack for tripping over anything solid and my odd ability to quote any sitcom television show for hours on end.

Despite our different abilities, I know one thing: Every single one of us is intelligent in our own way.

People usually associate high grade point averages and honor rolls with intelligence. However, intelligence can be seen differently by each individual.

When looking up the word “intelligent,” one can find a definition that reads, “having or showing the ability to easily learn or understand things or to deal with new or difficult situations.”

Surely, this definition can’t be limited only to the number of cities you memorize for your Western civilization class or whether you can solve the daily crossword puzzle in the newspaper. I believe everyone is intelligent in their own unique way.

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The wonderful thing about intelligence is that it knows no bounds; it goes much further than “street smarts” vs. “school smarts.”

What makes someone intelligent can be what they’re passionate about, what they understand or simply what they’re good at. And some researchers agree with me.

Notable American psychologist Howard Gardner first formulated this with his theory of multiple intelligences in his book “Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.” This theory states that there are actually nine different types of intelligence that can manifest in an individual. Since then, this theory has gained incredible attention and accreditation within the field of education and in psychology books.

While this can include intelligence forms in such things as math and reading, it also includes unconventional types of intelligence. Intelligence forms such as intrapersonal, having self-awareness, and kinesthetic, having strong body control, are often overlooked types of intelligences that exist among people like you and me.

This is not to say that we are all on the same level of intelligence, but rather, we each have a strong suit in a specific type of intelligence.

Your ability to speak a foreign language well after simply living in a country for a couple of months shows incredible linguistic intelligence, while another’s ability to recall and sing any song or melody shows strong musical intelligence.

Bruce McCandliss, psychology professor at Vanderbilt University, who has published multiple studies on the subject, describes this well. “A lot of people have this intuition that if you’re bad at one thing, then you’re going to be bad at other things,” he said. “We should think of all children as a mosaic of things that they’re exceptional at and things they might struggle with.” 

The idea that there are multiple types of intelligences could upset “book smart” individuals with A’s scrawled across their math tests and awards lined up against their mantel. Even more, this idea could anger those who believe that actual intelligence is only for people who know how to live in the “real world” — “street smart” people.

Those who disagree with this idea should realize that this does not discount the idea that “book smarts” or “street smarts” aren’t important. If anything, both are incorporated into Gardner’s theory. It’s simply stating that the idea of being intelligent doesn’t have to be reserved for the few.

When we reserve the word “smart” for people that meet our conventional standards of intelligence, we discount those who simply express their intelligence in other ways — often making them feel inferior.

Students on campus might experience this feeling of rejection if they didn’t meet the specific types of intelligence standards that some classes call for. For instance, an art major needing to take a statistics class to fulfill a general education requirement, or a computer science major needing to take Rhet 101: College Writing I — both can feel inferior about themselves if they don’t reach the caliber that students in that major reach.

That is why it is so important to stress the idea that there are multiple types of intelligence — each student has so much to offer at our university. To discount one of them would be to throw away their abilities.

Instead, let’s incorporate the notion that intelligence is not exclusive, but expansive. Like most things, the beauty of intelligence lies in its diversity. Just like you, me and my LAS 101 class, intelligence is as unique as we all are.

Kaanan is a freshman in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected].