When I was a little kid in elementary school, I had a hand-me-down set of encyclopedias. I couldn’t tell you what brand, but I remember they had orange covers, littered with four or five photos contained in squares on each cover, giving you a hint of what’s inside. I don’t quite recall if they came from my parents or my grandparents, but they were either something a relative was getting rid of, or a good garage or book sale find. I know they were probably a decade old at the time, but I didn’t care. In a pre-internet age, this was a total fountain of knowledge and I can’t tell you how much time I spent just leafing through and reading that set of encyclopedias, just because I wanted to know.
Yes, I spent tons of my elementary school age just sitting in our house and reading encyclopedias (when I wasn’t running around outside pretending to be Inspector Gadget, Batman or a Ninja Turtle). You’d think that would’ve had some kind of effect, right? What the heck happened?
By the time I reached junior high, I fell into a trap I’m sure many do at that age. Coming out of elementary school with a history of As and A+s must have thrilled my parents and myself in my younger years, but at that oh-so awkward stage of new environments, new people, and new life changes, I felt…uncomfortable with having good grades. So, I started purposely answering questions wrong on my tests. A little here and there, just to bring the grades down so I wouldn’t seem like so much of an outcast. Average seemed pretty good looking compared to being a target for ridicule, or worse, the bus bullies that already were a thorn in my side.
At some point, though, that method started to just take over. Suddenly, I didn’t study as much, I didn’t put forth as much effort. Just getting by was all right, and before I knew it, my grades started dropping down to B or C level and I became just that – a very average student.
It’s something I regret oh so much to this day because I wonder just what type of person I would have been and where my life may have gone had I not taken that cliched detour off of academic row.
When I see my son, just about to turn two, ravenous for more books to read together, to want to know about things, pulling letter magnets off the fridge and telling me what letters they are, I encourage every moment of it, hoping deep inside that he will not follow in the footsteps of his father who, despite my own parents’ encouragement, decided I’d rather be accepted than intelligent. When you see so much potential, the last thing you want is to see it squashed. I can’t imagine how devastated my parents must have been when I started coming home with grades so lackluster compared to my earlier years.
I felt slight redemption in college. Looking back, I remember numerous discussions on philosophical levels that today I can’t even imagine getting into. I think of the bombardment of creative ideas and new ways of thinking that still seem impressive to me when I come across old notes or work.
But it’s often followed by the feeling of dread as I wonder just what happened to that intelligent person. Sometimes I feel so focused on my daily to-do lists of what needs to be accomplished, that my mind rarely has the moments of breakthrough it once did. Currently working at a university, I often find myself with this fear that I’ll be ‘found out’ as just a dummy faking his way through, unable to hold my own amid the academic minds I’m surrounded by.
I don’t know what quite happened, but what I know is that these days I look back and feel as though I was so much smarter at ages 7-12 and 20-26 than any other time in my life so far. And I sit here, at age 34, feeling as though it’s a lost era of myself. I hear things that I don’t quite comprehend, concepts that seem beyond me, and I can’t figure out if back then, I just had more confidence in what I knew (or thought I knew), or if I really am getting dumber and less creative with age.
Have I allowed myself to become content among a world where knowledge is a Google search away? Has the time I used to spend looking things up and reading about things, or having those intelligent conversations now spent online with a multitude of social media sites? Has the world around me just gotten smarter while I’ve stayed stagnant? Theories, all of them, but hopefully you get the point that I think about this a lot. There’s been lots of reports and criticism that the smarter the computers, phones, and other technology becomes, the dumber we as humans turn. But if that’s the case, am I not alone in my feeling? What does it mean as my life continues, what does it mean for my son?
Also, that whole Louis Armstrong lyric – “…they’ll learn much more, than I’ll ever know.” It seems so much more somber now than ever before.
Post Script – after writing this, I saw someone online share the following link, which made me feel not only better, but like a genius. So, please, if you ever feel like I did about becoming dumber the older I get, check out these – “Dumb People Across The Internet”