Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Smart People

It took moving to Virginia three years ago for me start to think Americans aren't comfortable with intelligence. All the dads I met talked about their son's athletic gifts; none about how well they did in school. After a few weeks, I told my wife I thought most of them would rather have their sons grow up to be Alex Rodriguez than Bill Gates.

When I put this theory to one woman at an elementary school science competition recently, she thought for a moment before saying, "I guess there's nothing wrong with being smart. As long as you don't hold it over other people."

I suspect this discomfort with intelligence is the reason behind the criticism President Obama gets from columnists and commentators who deride him for his "arrogance" about being "the smartest guy in the room."

Of course, it comes from people who should know better. Like scholar Charles Murray, who famously said during the campaign that "the last thing we need are more pointy-headed intellectuals running the government."

The thing is, Alex Rodriguez's skills--like all athletic skills--were most useful eons ago. It used to be that the survival of the tribe depended on hunters with strong arms (good for throwing stones to bring down game) and strong legs (good for chasing food). Rodriguez
may be a joy to watch on the baseball field, but it's Bill Gates's insight, business savvy, and intelligence that count in our world.

On some level, I think most of us understand this. All the same, I'm not waiting for The Washington Post to announce that some kid with a 4.0 GPA and 1600 on the SATs has agreed to go to MIT, in the same way that the paper breathlessly covered the Wizards selecting John Wall in the recent NBA draft.

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