The distinction between smart and educated

I’ve been spending a lot of time on facebook recently. There have been big steps toward gay marriage, which makes me happy, and some further eroding of the democratic process, which makes me less happy.

I ran across an article about jokes only smart people will get. I know this is just a fluff piece from Business Insider, but something about it struck me wrong (other than the egregiously misplaced comma in the one about the dyslexic). The jokes are about thermodynamics, Philip Glass, the Bechdel test, and other cultural and scientific referents.

(Because I’m a scientific copyeditor, one of the jokes I found the funniest was “How can you tell the difference between a chemist and a plumber?” You expect something horribly classist here, right? “Ask them to pronounce ‘unionized’.” It took me a minute, because I immediately thought of unions. But then I figured it out. It’s all about the ion: un-ion-ized. And it was funny and not classist at all.)

This is the whole cultural literacy argument all over again. Yes, I think that everyone should know the three laws of thermodynamics. Do I know them? Sort of, not really. Do I think everyone who knows who Philip Glass is is smart? No. Are you not smart if you don’t know who Philip Glass is? No. And that is the crux of the problem.

Smart people are often educated. But not always. Just because you have the means to get educated, doesn’t mean that you are smart. And educated people can be ginormous idiots. You should see some of the sloppy thinking I’ve seen in papers and books I’ve edited. But people forget that smart and educated are not the same thing.

All right, enough droning on. What ruffles your feathers?



17 responses to “The distinction between smart and educated

  1. I will add that education can take many forms, and only one of those involves a degree. No one on my family tree, either side, has gone to college. But my dad was smart as hell and my grandmother at 87 is more clever and politically savvy than any D.C. lawyer. We’re educated people. But we prefer to learn quietly, independently, from outside the system.

  2. The opportunity to learn and the ability to store information do not a smart person make.

    Education and brilliance without humility breeds arrogance of intellect.

    Duh, I just came up with those to show how un-educationally smart I am.

    Thermodynamic laws?
    First, second and third laws, always keep the thermostat at 68 degrees.

      • Yes, but for those laws, one needs central heating (written from [name of country redacted where it’s currently winter (so you might be able to guess) and where we don’t have central heating unless we are uber-rich)].

        The fourth law of thermodynamics? If you chop wood to heat your house, you will get warm from chopping.

  3. I’m a professional librarian, which means I am somehow superior to a clerk who has worked in my department thirty years longer than I, and who personally processed half the collection. Phooey.

    Smart is as smart does.

  4. Oh my gosh. I do know one of the laws of thermodynamics. Used it in a piece for my portfolio. What does it mean???

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s