Intellectual Elitism

22 Dec

Image: Evgeni Dinev /

The other day my son issued this complaint:

Mom, at my school the kids either don’t read or read boring baby books. There’s no one I can talk to. All of them are dumber than me.

Hearing this, I had a mixed reaction, which went something like this:

  1. This is what I thought: I wish the kids at his school read more.  My is smart, no genius, but intelligent enough to think differently than most, perhaps more than most, often to his detriment. He does have close friends at his school who are wicked smart–many smarter than him. But the whole class isn’t like that…and is probably rare at most schools. Should he be at a school where he’s surrounded by kids who think more like him?
  2. This is what I said: “Never stop reading what you enjoy. I am proud that you read books that high schoolers read. You are a smart kid. But NEVER, EVER think that this makes you better than anyone else.”
  3. This is what I thought about some more: My son is a lot like me. I was a voracious reader in school and as the resident oddball enjoyed Dickens when I was in 3rd grade. I went to a good enough school, a public school with teachers who challenged me, and I was both too shy to talk with anyone about what I read and unlikely to find anyone my age who was reading that. I’ve always been drawn to esoteric stuff that most other people find boring. Over the years, I have grown to accept that this is at times a self-imposed isolation. I need to get out more often and stop taking myself so seriously…this is MY lesson. As a parent and having gone through similar feelings when I was his age, how can I help my son to not feel like he’s alone? Luckily, my son’s intellectualism is balanced by a huge personality (something that he got more from my husband). I’m confident that this interesting mix will result in amazing results along the way, but not without a bit of sanding around the rough edges.
  4. This is the most important thing: In feeling that sense of being “the only one” who’s thinking beyond, or differently, how can my son not begin to think he’s better than everyone else? This brand of intellectual elitism can be found in the ranks of many people who live on the coasts, who believe that everyone in Middle America is an idiot. I have friends and relatives who feel this way and will probably offend them by saying this but don’t care since they’ve already offended me. I’ve also worked with people who felt this way, that because they were intellectually smarter they were innately better. My hackles go up anytime I catch a whiff of this brand of intellectually elitist thinking.

Intellectual intelligence is without doubt one of the ways that we as humans can leave our mark and improve quality of life for our fellow human beings. But it is not the only way.

Social intelligence–the ability to engage thoughtfully and with heart–is a huge force for change. Where would we be without the supportive words of our parents or the unexpected hug from a friend? Social intelligence can motivate individuals and change the world as much as intellectual intelligence–and maybe moreso.

I think it’s important to teach our children to appreciate their strengths and nurture them. It’s also important for them to remain humble and to use their intelligence as a way to innovate for the greater good–and connect with other people rather than becoming more distant from them.

2 Responses to “Intellectual Elitism”

  1. Christie at 10:16 am #

    A couple of my lessons:
    1.) balance
    2.) just because you don’t agree with it doesn’t mean it’s WRONG.

    The psychosis of my early 20s, like most, stemmed from weird upbringings. I was never allowed to have an opinion and EVERYthing was my fault. While I’ve disagreed with you and Ben on discipline – never brought it up, just let it be what it was, but I believed I understood why you chose that path – you two have a wonderful way of allowing your children to learn HOW they learn vs. fit into the mold. I think this is so refreshing and more parents need to do that with their children.

    I absolutely relate with being the oddball. I was often a misfit among misfits and carry that, now with happiness, into my mid-adult life. But it wasn’t easy. By the time I started to feel comfortable in my own skin, I was at the apex of PTSD and went nuts for a couple of years. It has been a long road back… but I have to say, the understanding learned from falling face first into the asphalt gives me more compassion than I would have had otherwise. For me, it was faith that brought me out and taught me discipline in self-control within balance itself. (now… all of this took 15 years. i’m a slow learner, occasionally).

    I love that you give your children opportunity and that you have the means to let them explore all kinds of stuff. (Seriously, dude. Buy me fencing lessons. Then I’ll teach you some Krav ;o)

    With my boys, I will often try to subject them, face to face, with whatever it is they may complain or have a phobia about. Specifically with our oldest. But there are times where I’ve cut them off, rapid fired scenarios at them, made them PROCESS ‘x’ complaint so that they will at least give the opposing view consideration.

    Thank you for being you 🙂

    Much love.

    • toknowbetter at 10:35 am #

      Thanks, Christie!

      Love ya,


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