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Posted on May 26, 2016 at 9:24 AM

I came across an article published recently in The Chronicle
of Higher Education with the rather surprising title: “Are Colleges Too
Obsessed With Smartness?”

I have spent the last forty-eight years at one college or
another as a student, fellow or faculty member and for nearly all of that time
I have always thought of smartness as a good and admirable thing in those who
taught me, those I taught, and my colleagues. I thought therefore, that it
might be worth taking a look to find out exactly what he meant by “smartness”
and what he thought was wrong with higher educators being interested in
smartness. I will admit that I began reading with the idea that the contention
might possibly be misguided. I also went into that consideration aware of the
frequency with which overreaching statements made in The Chronicle of Higher
Education by retired professors really mean that they are promoting a book. In
this case the latter was true but I will not name the book as I do not wish to
promote it.

Eric Hoover, Professor Emeritus at UCLA actually appears to
define smartness pretty much the same way everybody else does “in the
traditional sense, kids who get the highest grades and testy scores.” He
objects that the “emphasis on these students” is “to the detriment of everybody
else”. He does not really provide much of an argument, in this article, how
this is to the detriment of everybody else. It may very well be true that these
students have an advantage in gaining admission to some institutions and being
awarded certain scholarships. Is this necessarily bad? I am not sure I believe
this is a problem. There are many scholarships awarded on the basis of need. Is
it wrong that some are awarded on merit?

When I served as a consultant to my local public school
system I learned that the curriculum was aimed at the average students and that
there were many programs in place to assist lower achieving students. The
smartest students were often left underserved, bored and uninterested and as a
result underachieving. I was happy to advocate and help design programs for
these students.

There are many opportunities in place where a student’s innate
qualities may be to their advantage. When I made my rather marginal attempts to
succeed on my high school football team I accepted the fact that the largest,
strongest, fastest players had an advantage. In defense of my teammates I will
note that many of them were quite smart as well. I do not think there is
anything wrong with obtaining advantage based on being smart, especially in an
educational system in a society and economy which rewards merit and
accomplishment. I could not have achieved much if I had to be strong and fast
to succeed. I am glad there was an opportunity for me to achieve and succeed
based on the things I was able to do. I am glad that others will also be able
to succeed based on what they can do.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI’s online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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