Communicator (communicator) wrote,
Communicator
communicator

clever at school

I took an interest a while back in Paul Graham's on-line musings on why it is horrible to be clever at school. He remembers his school days as a time of almost unremitting gloom and misery. Why (he asks) is school so much worse than adult life? His argument is that it is because real life rewards ability, while school simply rewards 'popularity', a meaningless measure which is awarded primarily to those who pursue it above all else.

"I think the important thing about the real world is that the things you do have real effects. That's what school, prison, and ladies-who-lunch all lack. The inhabitants of all those worlds are trapped in little bubbles where nothing they do can have more than a local effect. Naturally these societies degenerate into savagery. They have no function for their form to follow.

"When the things you do have real effects, it's no longer enough just to be pleasing. It starts to be important to get the right answers, and that's where nerds show to advantage. Bill Gates will of course come to mind. Though notoriously lacking in social skills, he gets the right answers, at least as measured in revenue."


Now, Thomas Nozick, whom some of you may know (he's a very right wing economist from Harvard) comes up with exactly the opposite argument. He thinks that intellectuals oppose capitalism becuase they have such a great time at school, and spend the rest of their lives seething in resentment that 'real life' doesn't give them the easy rewards that school does. Hence, their petulant resistance to the free market.

"In the currency the schools had to offer, the smartest constituted the upper class. Though not part of the official curricula, in the schools the intellectuals learned the lessons of their own greater value in comparison with the others, and of how this greater value entitled them to greater rewards.

"The wider market society, however, taught a different lesson. There the greatest rewards did not go to the verbally brightest. There the intellectual skills were not most highly valued. Schooled in the lesson that they were most valuable, the most deserving of reward, the most entitled to reward, how could the intellectuals, by and large, fail to resent the capitalist society which deprived them of the just deserts to which their superiority "entitled" them?"


So - are smarties at the top of the bottom of the pile at school? I find Paul Graham sincere, but his experience alien. I find Nozick insincere. I think he's baiting those who oppose his economic theories. Neither of them match my experience of school.

For me, being smart gives me the opportunity to mock, to be lazy, and to do things other than productive work. These pursuits have been sources of pleasure to me since my earliest days, and I hope they always will be.
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