Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Being Smart Is Not A Virtue

My favorite radio guru (yes, I'm this juvenile) and Jewish thinker Dennis Prager gives an enlightened diatribe against "My Child Is An Honor Student..." bumper stickers. Of all things! Being raised in the feelings-laden 1980s, I was at first puzzled why something so fluffy and happy woud grate on his nerves. Then I listened and found his logic worthwhile.

His argument is threefold: first, bragging is in poor form. Next, to emphasize academic accomplishments so exclusively is to elevate certain children over their peers, and even their own siblings. This creates resentment and sadness more than incentive. Third, Prager bluntly summarizes, "I don't care if your kid makes a 4.0 in school. I care if he's nice to the fat kid." I would add that much academic boasting has more to do with parents displaying their own achievements --- and schools promoting their name, or as a friend once put it, "kids as pets".

By this power of the Spirit,
God's children can bear much fruit.
He who has grafted us onto the true vine will make us bear
"the fruit of the Spirit: . . . love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control."
"We live by the Spirit"; the more we renounce ourselves,
the more we "walk by the Spirit."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 736)

I'm no anti-intellectual, but I can't manage the full Tiger Mother, either. This isn't to promote a bunch of mental slouching. It promotes an ideal moral standard which every child can meet. Let's be real: as Catholics, we rely on the intercession of too many illiterate Saints to pretend otherwise. God meets His aims through our willing hearts, and Jesus never wrote a single line (at least that we can cite).

If you are a parent, think of the kids with whom you prefer your child(ren) to spend time. Do you most look forward to gatherings with the very smart or the very kind? We cultivate what we value, and while God's gift of human intelligence is unique and vital --- it's unevenly distributed.

Today my gratitude is for a Faith which challenges me by being unafraid to list exact virtues as well as sins, compared to a culture which treats both as punchlines.
Oh Very Young, what will you leave us this time?


  1. Many eons ago I took charge of theatricals at a public high school. Casting a show requires blindness akin to Justice swinging her balance. Rich, poor, high, low? none of that matters. All that mattered were results -- and I got them and along with them a radical breaking down of social barriers.

  2. What a beautiful picture you paint, William. It's true, the arts have an egalitarian fervor when the're allowed to.

  3. The way we measure "intelligence" in this country is flawed anyway. Even the act of measuring intelligence is flawed. Because we live in this Godless country, people utterly fail to realize that the Holy Spirit teaches us how to effectively USE our intelligence to our maximum natural capacity in our fallen nature. Not only would we be able to be kind to each other, but our kindness would be so precise, intense and transcendent that a recipient would immediately identify it as coming from the Father himself. Every piece of intellectual entertainment would be as polished as The Lord of The Rings. But alas, the only thing this country cares about is who has the bigger penis whether it be intellectually or physically. Praise the Lord for Judgement and his inevitable Second Coming so he can get rid of the crap and keep what is good.

  4. I'm sorry--this is way off the topic of this thoughtful post, but I wonder if you could tell me the name of the illustrator of the picture (also the author of a book?) you used in your post. I had books with those illustrations as a kid and have been unable to track them down now that I am a mother.

  5. Hi Eva -- Gyo Fujikawa! I should have given credit. My favorite as a kid, too. I've scoured our thrift shops and long intended to make wall hangings for my children from her idyllic art. But I can't bring myself to take apart the books. Thank you for asking (and for reading).

  6. Such smart comments ; Wows to William, Ikeda, and Eva. I've been enriched enough for one day, thankyouverymuch! And to Tiffany, of course, for posting exactly the right thing.

  7. I saw one a couple of weeks ago that said "My kid got your honor student pregnant"