My daughter has left the nest and been safely delivered to University. Modern communication technology makes this parting not as difficult  as it might have been even 5 years ago. Thanks to smart phones we can Facetime any time we want (make that any time she wants) which means we can have more frequent conversations than my mother and I had when I was away at school. More frequent conversations means I can hear more of the little details of what is happening at school. That’s probably why she shared this story with me. To her it was just a funny little anecdote about her day. To me it was an insight into the thinking at our institutions of higher education.

At the induction ceremony for honors students, they presented with a little video that opened with the statement “Smart is the new gangsta.” I am happy to hear, via my daughter, that this remark earned a groan from the entire student audience. I’m sure the kids that were there who worked hard to get mostly A’s in school and score a 31 or better on their ACT’s were not pleased to be equated with the thugs who refer to themselves as gansta.

Ironically, the urban dictionary defines a gansta as, “A sociopathic member of the inner-city underclass, known primarily for being antisocial and uneducated.” So now being smart is the same as being uneducated??

The video then went on to prove their point, which apparently was that it is now hip to be smart, by citing popular media figures who are smart, whose tv shows have good ratings thus proving that society values smart people.  I’m beginning to think being college ready is indeed setting the bar low.

The tv characters singled out in the video included: Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang series, Sherlock Holmes from the new Sherlock series and Daniel Pierce from the show Perception. My daughter likes all those shows but immediately noted the following about these characters.

  1. Sheldon is probably somewhere on the autism spectrum. He has atrocious interpersonal skills that seem to be perpetually ingrained, despite being surrounded by a more normally socialized group of friends. His behavior is often rude or at the very least grating and his is constantly reminding people of his intellectual superiority.
  2. Sherlock is a recovering drug addict who also exhibits terrible people skills. He is forgiven his social rudeness in exchange for his services which apply his intelligence to solve difficult criminal cases.
  3. Daniel Pierce is a neuroscientist and professor who uses his intellect and special knowledge of the brain’s functioning to solve criminal cases. He is also a schizophrenic who often cannot distinguish reality from hallucination. Add in a little OCD and he joins this class of social misfits who cannot hold decent relationships with other human beings.

So these are the people the University believe either inspired the well educated group in the audience to reach the levels of academic success they have so far, or can be role models for them going forward. (Attach palm firmly to forehead here.)

The best we can say is that these children may share the autodidactic nature of these characters. But the video didn’t mention a supportive family who believes strongly in education as a reason to work at academics and become smart. The video didn’t mention the natural competitiveness of these students which drove some of them to out perform their peers. That’s probably because the newest mantra in education is collaboration and teamwork which tends to frown on high performers standing out from their peers.

The video also didn’t show public figures who are known for their intelligence who have much better social skills like Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Michio Kaku. Surely there were more well rounded characters to choose from that the social misfits presented. Perhaps you could name a few in the comments today. Being intelligent and being socially awkward do not necessarily go together. And even if they did, would we want to perpetuate that connection by showing our brightest students the stereotype while patronizingly telling them they are normal?

One thing I am sure of is that my daughter is not “gansta” but she is very smart. She saw through their video right away.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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