This morning I was sitting at the table, eating breakfast with my teenage son and his friend. We were talking, (This is why I eat meals at the table any chance I get), and the topic turned to the use of the “N” word, which led to who uses it and who doesn’t. That discussion led to my son informing me that some students in his school call him “white.” His refusal to lower himself academically makes me proud because I have tried to instill in him a sense of dignity, pride, and most of all, knowledge that being intelligent is not a crime.
Growing up, I too was subjected to the same ridicule,. I will never forget using the word “prerogative” and being mocked for days. Did I care? No, I followed my path, earned my BS and my MS, their words , my motivation, not a hindrance. Fortunately, I had strong parents who cherished my education, and television only had 13 channels.
Nowadays, our kids are inundated with the message that “dumb is cool” at every avenue in their lives! And believe me, this is not an issue about race, all of our children are receiving the same message. “If you want to be cool, be dumb, or at least appear to be..” From the music they listen to, the television shows, even the news. Why would Snooki of “New Jersey Shore” fame get paid $2,000 more to speak at Rutger’s University than renowned author Toni Morrison? What message was Rutger’s sending its students? What academic, or for that matter, life, wisdom could Snooki impart?
And although my son understands the importance of education, I am certain there are times when he has “dumbed” himself down to fit in. I see it in my classrooms, year after year. Who are the most popular students in my class, the ones who do not see education as a priority. What do we call the intelligent students? “Nerds”! How many students do you know like being addressed as nerds, no matter how many times we tell them what the future probably holds for them?
Fortunately, there are still students out there who are like me when I was a little girl. They ignore the ridicule, and follow their own path, recognized by someone, somewhere. What can we do to make “being smart” cool again? What can we do to help our students and children avoid the pressure that surrounds them? Here was Snooki’s advice to the students at Rutger’s, “Study hard, but party harder.” Need I say more?