It's Time To Admit 'Natural' Intelligence An Outdated Idea

It's Time To Admit 'Natural' Intelligence An Outdated Idea

It's not about how smart you are, but about how hard you work.

Elementary school was a weird time. MAP tests, AR reading comprehension, PACT and PASS and virtually any other acronym you can think of for the standardized tests that ultimately distinguished whether or not you were considered relatively gifted. And, while in theory, this may or may not have prepared students for the rigorous curriculum of more challenging courses, I still have to ask: Is this really necessary at age 8?

Don't get me wrong, preparing kids with the highest quality education is what I'm here for... but it's also relatively difficult to decide who's "gifted and talented" and who's not.

Maybe I'm wrong, but with the rise of the gifted and talented curriculum in the early 2000s, came the plateau of the "honors kid burnout" in the 2010s.

Similar to the stigma of the participation trophy in kids sports, the establishment of a "more advanced curriculum" for students as young as 7 or 8 (I put that in quotations because, realistically, these courses were not significantly more advanced), in my opinion, unintentionally reinforced the idealized form of "natural intelligence".

Natural intelligence ultimately presents the idea that "smart" individuals should be able to learn or even simply have the knowledge, without the need to practice, memorize, or really study anything. You weren't considered "intelligent" if it took you more time to learn something, or you had to ask for help. Facts and memorization, intellect and intuition, came naturally and you either had it or you didn't.

This is problematic on multiple fronts.

The process of reaffirming elementary school students (again, this comes from my own personal experience and observation of those with similar experiences), and reinforcing the idea that they are "naturally" smart, gifted, or talented is great in ego-boosting throughout public school.


Entering into an actually academically advanced environment, whether it be Advanced Placement courses, or Dual Enrollment, or even as far as into college, there becomes a problem.

Students that have been told throughout a vast majoring of their lives that they were naturally gifted with intelligence have very early in life placed a negative association with studying, working hard, or having difficulty with something.

Students that have gotten straight A's throughout middle and high school simply by glancing at notes before the exam or by using common sense are have already been conditioned to associate something as simple as making flashcards or asking a teacher for help with failure.

Natural intelligence, natural talent, and virtually any idea that individuals have to be born with a skill in order to be significantly gifted is more often than not, counterproductive.

Making the goal of public education something as one dimensional as letter grades, and conditioning students to view them as more of a ranking system than as a showcase of hard work, does more than just discourage morale. It encourages efficiency. It encourages academic dishonesty. It encourages getting an A by any means necessary because, for someone who has been defined as "naturally intelligent" most of their life, they have no room for disappointment.

Children, especially in this day and age, need to be conditioned to view hard work as honorable, as respectable, and in no way a weakness, or something to be ashamed of. There are no "August Rush"es in this reality, but there are more than enough "Rudy"s.

Teaching kids that it was their hard work and their dedication that really got them that grade, alter how they view more than just grades. Encouraging hard work, diligence, dedication, and even something as simple as effort goes farther than just academics. Kids that are more encouraged to take risks and think creatively become kids that are more willing to try, regardless of the outcome.

Because life isn't really a grading system, but a test of skills and attitude.

It's not how smart you are, but how hard you work.

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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Finals Week As Told By Schmidt

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Finals week is finally upon us. The time every college student has dreaded all semester and there is no avoiding it. Let the stress, tears, and sleepless nights commence. Here's Finals Week as Told by Schmidt.

1. When you walk into the library and see that there are no more spots available because every freshman decided to start using the library now.

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2. You run into someone from your class and they ask you how prepared you are for the final.

3. Your first meltdown begins...

4. And then you get a call from your parents asking you why you've been so on edge lately

5. When you're three coffees deep at 2AM and believe everything will be okay even though you still haven't studied.

6. The day has arrived and it's time to take your first final so you give yourself a quick pep talk.

7. When you are the first one to finish the final early because you didn't study.

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8. Trying to pack while studying.

9. And then you start wishing you didn't wait until the last minute to pack because now there is no way your stuff will fit into your car.

10. When you get your first grade back.

11. And you have to tell your parents how you did in the class.

12. When all of your roommates are done with their finals and you still have one left.

13. But then your time has finally come and you have finished your last final as well.

14. And you realize you have survived yet another hell week.

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The College Admission Process Treats Students As Test Scores And Achievements Instead Of Actual People

All they see is the score. All you are is a number, detached from any and all personality traits.


Everyone grows up hearing about the grueling process that is applying to college. As an underclassman, you hear horror stories about applications being submitted five minutes before the deadline, misspelled words on essays that have already been turned in, and interviews that were more awkward than the time you watched a movie that had a sex scene in it with your parents. You feel the tension in the school as seniors anxiously wait to receive what some of them believe to be the most important decision of their lives thus far. When decisions come out, you congratulate people on their acceptances, support people on their deferrals, and console people on their rejections. As you watch these upperclassmen go through the college application process, you start to fantasize about what your own experience will be like.

While the beginning of December marks the start of the Christmas season for most people, for current high school seniors this month marks the beginning of the arrival of early action/decision. It's been about a year since I applied to colleges and since then I have had some time to reflect on my experience. There are a lot of things I could tell you. I could tell you how important it is to budget your time, how hard it is to express everything you want to say about yourself in 650 words or less, how stressful it is to have to write additional supplemental essays for individual colleges... but these are things you probably already know. Instead, I'm going to share with you what I learned, and what I learned is that this entire process is complete bullshit.

If you go on a campus tour and ask an admissions officer or student if they have advice for you in regards to filling out their school's application, they all say the same thing: just be yourself. This would be great advice if "just being yourself" means that you're someone who has taken sixteen APs, has straight A's, is the captain of the swim, soccer, and lacrosse team, cured cancer in the tenth grade, and spends your summers teaching orphans in Africa how to read. In that case, by all means just be yourself.

It's almost like you have to be a little too good just to be good enough, and even that won't guarantee you an acceptance letter. Colleges want you to be serious but still have a sense of humor. They want you to be independent but also a people-person. They want you to be competitive but also collaborative. They want you to be well-rounded but with a focus. I swear, the "criteria" is just one big contradiction.

And speaking of contradictions, throughout our whole lives, we're told not to compare ourselves with others. Yet, that's exactly what admissions officers do: compare us with other kids. They would never tell you that to your face, though. Instead, they lure you into a false sense of security by saying that they look at each student individually, but come on: how can you possibly put the merit of one student into context without comparing him/her to someone else from the same school or a similar school district? And even if the admissions officers don't directly compare two applicants side-by-side, the selective nature of the admissions process definitely influences students to do the comparing themselves beforehand. We weren't born yesterday: why wouldn't a college take the most qualified students from each district? Why shouldn't we feel the need to compare ourselves to others in order to see where we "rank" and figure out how much more we need to do to get to the top?

We keep this in the back of our minds throughout our entire high school career. As soon as we walk through those double doors on the first day of freshman year, we say goodbye to the carefree nature of middle school and brace ourselves for the dog-eat-dog world of high school. We become like ducks: calm on the surface, but under the water, our legs are furiously paddling. We lie to our friends and say that we're not going to study for that math test tomorrow when in reality we're going to stay up until three in the morning so that we can get a better grade. We sign up for thirty clubs, but none of them will be worth it unless we have an officer position. We hire tutors for everything to help us get ahead in school. We sacrifice our summers for internships that we couldn't care less about. We do all of these things, only to find out that someone is doing ten times more.

But when you really stop and think about it, what does any of this say about you? The answer: absolutely nothing.

Your extracurriculars? Who knows if you were a part of all those clubs because you were passionate about them or because you needed to polish your resume? Even if you have leadership roles in all of them, it doesn't mean that you actually cared about being in the club. There is no greater motivator than self-interest, and if being the president of the knitting club, the bowling club, the gardening club, and the checkers club is going to get you into the school of your dreams, no matter how much you may hate it, there is no way you wouldn't run for the position. It's just another means to an end.

What about your transcript? If you have good grades, it obviously means you're intelligent. Maybe. But that's all it says. When an admissions officer looks at a report card, all they see is the letter grade. They don't know how the student obtained it. Maybe he/she is naturally smart and breezed through all of his/her classes. Maybe the student had to work incredibly hard to get those results. Intelligence is not the only ingredient to success. Effort, persistence, and motivation are equally, and if not more, important, and the admissions officers know that. But how will they know you have those qualities in you? They don't, because a letter doesn't show anything other than a result.

What about test scores? Listen. If you get rigorous tutoring for the SAT and all your subject tests, there is no way you wouldn't get a high score. Some tutoring places even have samples of past tests that they know the College Board recycles. So basically, those people are taking the test before their official test date. But will colleges know that? Of course not. All they'll see is the score. They won't know who had a tutor and who didn't. They won't know who had the discipline to study on their own and who needed their parents to force them. All they see is the score. All you are is a number, detached from any and all personality traits.

The essay. The essay definitely says something about you. It's supposed to humanize your application. This is the personal essay. OK, then if it's so personal, why are you having someone else write it for you? There is nothing wrong with showing your essay to teachers, family members, and friends in order to get some feedback. In fact, I think it's a strategic thing to do. However, what is not OK is having your college tutor rewrite huge chunks of your essay for you. Any essay can be a good essay if the person writing it is a 27-seven-year-old Yale graduate who majored in English. But will colleges know that your essay was a collaborative effort of 57 people? Nope. Heck, they won't even know if your essay is based on actual events. It could be a glorified piece of fiction and they would never know.

So what did I learn overall? The college application process needs to change. But at this point, I'm just preaching to the choir. The question is how can it change? Unfortunately, the answer may be that it can't.

Kids lie on their college applications all the time. But how are admissions officers able to separate those who cheat from the rest of the applicant pool? They can't, and that really sucks, but can I do anything about it? No. All I can do is bite my tongue and do my best to explain why being the president of the knitting club, the bowling club, the gardening club, and the checkers club is so important to me.

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