While helping my oldest daughter with her math homework one afternoon, we came across a concept that she had difficulty grasping. It was multiplying, dividing, adding and subtracting with decimals. “You can do this. You are smart,” I said to her in a stern yet reassuring tone. “I am not smart. I mean, I am smart in some things, but not this,” she mumbled.
Initially, I thought that she was just lazy, but then I realized that it was her idea of intelligence that was causing her to feel a deep sense of inadequacy. In her mind, being bright meant the ability to comprehend unfamiliar concepts with relatively little effort. If she did not understand a particular subject matter at first glance, then she felt that was as a sign of unintelligence.
I suspect that my daughter’s assumptions are not uncommon.
Considering that a child’s school work becomes increasingly more complicated as they advance in grade level, one could easily imagine how associating effort with unintelligence can be problematic. I would argue that reframing how children understand intelligence would be extremely helpful.
Instead of the ability to comprehend unfamiliar concepts with relatively little effort, being smart ought to be defined as a willingness to do the work needed to make sense of new ideas.
Suddenly, what was once a trait that only the gifted possess now becomes a quality that is available to everyone. That is a far more beneficial way of thinking, especially for school-aged children.
David Walker is a lifestyle photographer and graphic designer. He also publishes weekly essays and short podcast talks on his blog, TheAugustan.com.