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intelligence-vs-education-morpheus

I hope my kids go to college.

The idea of going to college has come up a couple of times this week. My son is taking an AP class in high school and was considering dropping it. I had to school him on the financial value of free high school AP credits when applied to expensive college credits. My 13 year old daughter surprised me the other day by telling me that she wants to go to college. She’s not the most academically inclined, but then college is so much more than academics.

Regardless, I hope that she does attend. I’m even OK with her seeing it as experiential rather than academic. I wish the academically inclined would see college more as experiential too, rather than something to be accomplished.

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I don’t necessarily believe a university degree is the only way to success and wealth nor that it even guarantees intelligence or critical thought. We all know a few morons with college degrees and a few highly successful folks in their field who have barely a high school diploma.

Of my 7 siblings only 2 of us have college degrees. Success and financial stability do indeed tend to split among those same lines with 2 of the other non-college educated doing decently for themselves. In my former in-laws’ family it is the complete opposite…the sibling making the most money has the least education.

I’ve been around a lot of well-educated Mormons who value intelligence. I was blown away while attending a Washington, D.C. singles ward back in the 80’s to hear the following in an opening prayer, “Please bless the speakers today that they may present their research clearly and with the Spirit…”

HUH?! Wha…Wha.. Wait a minute! You mean people actually STUDY and do RESEARCH here before they give a talk in Sacrament meeting? This wasn’t my Provo, UT or Southern CA ward by any stretch of the imagination.

But my kids don’t live in D.C, or New York City, or Boston where things like that are spoken. My kids are growing up around people who ridicule me because I can shout out a correct answer on Jeopardy during a 1/2 hour episode. And lest you think I’m bragging, go back and reread that last sentence. I used the article “a” on purpose. I can usually answer possibly one answer per episode on Jeopardy before the TV Contestant. One. And that makes me too smart for my britches in this world.

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Among those to whom my kids are related, there is this odd high regard for education while at the same time discounting too much intelligence. You’re supposed to get a degree (if you are a man), read out of the best books (wink, wink), search and ponder … but not think too much. Individuals are supposed to have the appearance of intelligence but deny the power thereof.

 

Some things are meant to be accepted without too much thought. In other words, you can’t think too much AND have that kind of faith. That’s OK. That was never the kind of faith I wanted anyway. This is my kind of Faith.

I see disregard for too much intelligence as both a rural/suburban trait and a Mormon phenomenon. Among suburban Mormon’s living in the Mormon belt this attitude is endemic. It makes for very lazy thinking. You see it in all kinds of thought-stopping statements and beliefs.

It makes for an almost impossibility of having a discussion about anything controversial. As one of the college educated siblings in my family, if I make a mistake on pretty much anything a family member is sure to blurt out, “Is that what they taught you in college?” It’s just a harmless joke but it’s also part of an underlying nudge to not want someone to be too smart. The most common accusation thrown at me when I left the church was that I “think too much.” In Mormonism that’s a subtle insult. To me it has been a great compliment.

I believe the desire to learn and the ability to be challenged intellectually is a very big reason why I’m out of the LDS faith and why most of them are not. I’m not smarter. I just wasn’t afraid to learn that I was wrong or to discuss the possibility that I didn’t have all the answers.

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And I confess that during my time at BYU I was just like them.

I remember taking a required Senior Communications Seminar my last year where the professor tried to get us to “challenge conventional wisdom.” Here was a professor daring us and welcoming our contrary opinions. We were graded on our  class participation. I’m embarrassed to admit now that I didn’t have any clue what he was talking about or what I was supposed to do.

I was too entrenched in black/white thinking. Something was either right or wrong. I would just sit in the back with my class friend, a General Authority’s daughter, and we would find ways to be  “devil’s advocates” during discussions. It was a way to get an ‘A’ at the time, not an experience at putting myself in someone else’s shoes or trying to understand alternatives. That’s what the professor intended for us, I think. I didn’t quite get it then, but I think something somehow seeped in my psyche. That expansive mode of thought is possibly the most valuable thing to gain as a life experience. I believe college enables that.

class discussionAmong my relatives and friends still in Mormonism, it’s often the ones with a college education who are most willing to discuss controversial topics with me. They’re not necessarily the most intelligent just the most capable.

I guess I see the willingness to be challenged, to learn and to THINK that comes with a college experience to be the only hope my kids ever have of ever being capable of discussing religion, politics, the universe and life’s purpose with me without feeling threatened. Oh, I know there are other ways of nurturing curiosity and developing the ability to question or to be challenged. I just believe it’s a smoother path to that end.

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