Saturday, May 11, 2013

You Are Smart

A College Music Professor asked his class of 54 girls, "What is the difference between '歌唱' (pronounced,  kah-show) and '唱歌' (show-ka)?"  The classroom was a frozen ice statue.  My head and eyeballs turned from left and right admiring several ice sculptures.  I could no longer wait after 5 seconds of silence.  My hands shot up really high.  "Kah-Show means songs and Show-kah means to sing."  The bald headed teacher exclaimed, "Correct!"  As soon as the hot iron bar was thrown into the ice sculptures, they started melting.  Every girl in the room turned around with envious look  and exclaimed, "Claire, you are so smart."

Does being smart mean you know something other people don't know?  If that's true, I was not so smart.  The answers I gave were nothing new.  I didn't have to solve anything.  My mind just naturally analyzed the order of Chinese characters.  It made sense in my brain.  That was all.  One of the girls responded with  great awe, "I had never thought of the way you read those words!  Now I see it."  I thought, "C'mon, how else can you interpret them, guys?  It's common sense."  I knew I had somehow impressed fellow music students, but I wasn't certain what smart really meant.

Thinking back to grade schools in Japan, I seldom remember someone mentioning "smart" or "clever" for certain people or actions.  Unlike American School, Japanese teachers don't praise their students for every little thing.  (In fact, I almost fainted when I saw a "100 Ways to Praise Your Students" poster during my internship year in Idaho.  No wonder American people look like they have so much confidence in them!)  Everybody knows who is the smartest in class but it's just an elephant in the room.  Another phrase that you would know but would not hear is "If you are smart, then you will become a doctor."  What I have heard most in my life is, "If you don't belong in the smart category, you will become something else other than doctor. (Don't even think about it)"  At least that's how I was raised.  (What an ordeal I have suffered...sigh...)  So, I have never been in the "smart" category.  What you often hear, though, is "よくがんばったね。(Yokoo-gum-batta-nay.) What a great effort you have made."  I was a student who was recognized as a hard worker but my effort was not good enough to be recognized as smart.

Jim Fay talks about the appropriate use of "smart."  If you say, "You are smart," too often, kids will not become resilient.  When a youngster gets stuck one one problem, he/she instantly become, "I am not smart."  Loss of confidence.  Withdrawal.  Instead, mentioning and giving positive questions would be more effective.  For instance, "How did you control yourself so well?"  "I notice you have the answer to this question."  Love and Logic works in both classroom and home situations.

Then I realized that I can use a word, "smart" in a meaningful way.  Being smart is excelling the personal ability that applies what's important into the real life. 

You are smart to use the Pythagorean theorem in this geometry question.  You are smart to allow yourself to make reasonable mistakes.  You are smart to learn lessons from your mistakes.  You are smart to make better choices.  

As you see in the examples above, smartness doesn't happen instantly.  Smartness is built upon experiences, willingness, and desire to improve.  That is the parents' and all educators' job: To help make kids as smart as they want to define what it is.  But the true smartness is the determination to make things happen.  Effort they make on their goals.  Exploring options that would solve their questions.  All in all, I would like to save the word "smart" on my own kids for special occasions.  They are smart enough to know their mother's intention.