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OPINION - "Am I Really Smart?"

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Your 6-year-old daughter comes home from school with a crayon-scribbled art project. You can’t make heads or tails what it’s supposed to be. “Oh, it’s beautiful,” you tell her. “Let’s put it up there on the refrigerator.”

But 10 years later, when she’s competing for a prestigious art scholarship – she’ll want to know if her work is really good or not. “I don’t think that’s your best work,” will be a better answer at a different, more advanced stage of her life. “I think the work you did last week was better.”

At some point, we all want an honest assessment.

“Do I look fat in this?”  Most of the times we don’t want to know… but sometimes we do. No one likes the moment when their own self-delusions are shattered.

The Washington Post published an end-of-school year article of inner city high school valedictorians.   Wash Post valedictorians    They graduated high school at the very top of their class. Then they go off to college. Georgetown, Penn State, Ohio State, Dartmouth. And, initially, they fail. Their writing is substandard. Ebonics isn’t acceptable. Critical thinking is far more important that summarizing facts. The workload is heavier. Some subjects involve actual research, in an actual library.

We know the failings of inner-city schools in terms of drop out rates. That’s the wrong yardstick. Even at a bad school, the student who rises to the top of their class to become valedictorian is an exceptional person. They strove for excellence. Then they go off to college and find out they’re unprepared – after acing everything a year before. These students have been betrayed. Inside, they want to know ‘am I really smart?’ All the school says back to them is, ‘no, you don’t look fat in that at all.’

Chris Conley