Too Smart for Our Own Good? - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Too Smart for Our Own Good?

It was one of the few experiences of my life featuring an uplifting lesson.

I was in junior high, sitting in the office of Mr. Maus, my school guidance counselor. I was discussing some personal problems I won’t go into here, except that one of them was underachievement in class.

At some point Mr. Maus looked at me and asked, “Don’t you think you’re intelligent?” I said no, surprised, frankly, by the question.

So he hunted up my personal file, pulled out my IQ score, and showed it to me, explaining what it meant.

I won’t tell you what the number was. Like much else about me, it has doubtless sagged with the years. Suffice it to say it was a comfortable, above-average number, below genius level. This reassurance made a difference to me. My grades went up, and I went on to college.

From time to time over the years, I’ve wondered wistfully what it would be like to be a genius, MENSA material. At this point, though, I’m fairly happy not to be one.

I’m starting to suspect that genius is overrated. It may even be a sort of disability, like hypersensitivity to light. Looking over lists of history’s most intelligent people, I note that a lot of them (though by no means all) had a hard time with the simple business of living. Nikola Tesla, a brief web search tells me, had a clean fetish and was horrified of pearls. Buckminster Fuller updated his diary every 15 minutes. Benjamin Franklin liked to stand naked at open windows. The stereotype of the absentminded professor, who can’t operate a doorlatch because he’s caught up in theoretical models, seems to have some basis.

I don’t think my dad ever knew his IQ, though I suspect he cared about it more than he let on. Dad never finished high school; he quit to take over the family farm when his father was disabled. He used to joke about being “just a dumb farmer.”

But Dad wasn’t dumb. He could weld, he could plan a budget, he could harness a horse, deliver a calf, and do minor repairs on an engine. I have no idea how many times I called on him for practical help while he lived. I don’t think he ever had to come to me for writing help. (His writing was perfectly adequate for his needs, and he spelled well.)

Dad was what John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress calls “a man of his hands,” a man good at doing practical things. That’s something I’ve never been, and I’m as ashamed of that as dad was of not having a high school diploma.

Dad wasn’t enthusiastic about his sons going to college (though we all did). Saying that automatically raises hoary stereotypes of working-class fathers begrudging their children a better life, wanting them to “keep in their place.” But that’s unfair. Dad grew up in the Twenties, when college students ran around in porkpie hats and raccoon coats, driving too fast, drinking bathtub gin, and expecting special privileges (come to think of it, things haven’t changed much). Dad wasn’t afraid of his sons being too good for him — he was afraid of his sons being horses’ backsides. Which we probably were, at least for a while, though I think we got over it.

My point is pretty much the same one William F. Buckley made when he said, “I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the telephone directory than by the Harvard University faculty.”

By all conventional calculations, I (just to pick someone at random) am better qualified to run a city or a state (I’ll say nothing of a nation) than my dad, because I have bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

But you know what? I’d defer to my dad any day of the week for those jobs. Dad knew how to make stuff work. I know how to do stuff in my head. I emerged from college knowing how to pass tests. Dad knew how to make corn grow. Which of us had the most useful skills?

“Hold on,” I hear you saying. “Are you telling me your dad was qualified to be president?”

Well, no. And dad would have lit out for the territories at the suggestion. I’m just talking comparisons. Am I more qualified to be president than he was, because I went to college?

I doubt it. I tried to run an academic library for a while, and let’s just say I won no awards. One of the reasons I went to college in the first place was my utter lack of aptitude for anything practical.

All I’m saying is, in a pinch, Dad would have made a better president than I would. He was better with people, had a wider experience of life. (Occupation forces in Japan, some flying lessons. Did a little taxidermy. I think we could use more taxidermists in Washington.)

It’s a commonplace among conservatives to point out that Woodrow Wilson was our most educated president, and a racist authoritarian. Part of the animus that many on the left held for Ronald Reagan — and hold today for Donald Trump — has to do with their lack of academic credentials.

Academic credentials aren’t necessarily coterminous with genius, of course. But when intellectuals call Reagan or Trump dummies, we all know they’re making assumptions about intelligence based on degrees.

When I think of it, maybe my dad’s resistance to sending his sons to college was about more than a fear of uppity kids.

I think he came from a long line of people who did things that were actually useful. He wanted his sons to be useful too.

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