During the National Association of Independent School’s Annual Conference in Atlanta this week, I had the opportunity to listen to an engaging talk titled Beyond Smartness: Leading Wisely in a Conscious Society. The speaker, Navi Radjou, has written a few books and given a very popular Ted Talk about frugal innovation and creative problem-solving. In his talk Navi provided some solid arguments that, above all else, we should be teaching our children how to be wise.
Navi’s presentation supported our values at Bay Farm and the basic philosophy behind Montessori education. Smartness is a quality prized by our culture. Children are praised for being smart. In most schools, smartness earns us stickers, and stars, certificates, and grades. Schools promote being smart with honor rolls and banners. Many parents even assign a dollar value to smartness. “If you make the honor roll this semester, I will give you $100.00.” Have you wondered why we don’t do these things at Bay Farm? Is it because we don’t value smartness?
The answer is that we value smartness as one dimension of the whole child. You see, rewarding smartness with tokens like stickers or money reduces intelligence to a hollow means to an end. Children who grow up being pressured to be right always run into significant challenges down the road. Smartness by itself is driven by self-interest, and the need to be right can become an addiction. This is where wisdom comes in. Wisdom tempers the need to be right with compassion, humility, ethics and an understanding that we should all serve the common good.
Traditional schools treat children like empty vessels. The teachers are there to fill the pupils with knowledge. The students who can recall that knowledge best are rewarded as the smartest. At Bay Farm, we recognize that no child is an empty vessel. We view each child as a whole being who has feelings and ideas and the capacity to act in their world. A Montessorian would say, “Trust the child.” This is where we begin; with the whole child in mind.
A school filled with joy, purpose, and compassion teaches children empathy, and empathy might be the most important quality needed for success in life. “If there is any one secret of success,” said Henry Ford over a century ago, “it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own.” This is empathy. We work with our students to develop smartness hand-in-hand with empathy.
We are rapidly moving to a world where robots and artificial intelligence will take over more and more complicated tasks. Robots now perform surgery more accurately than any human and artificial intelligence is much more efficient than humans at discerning complicated patterns. Where then, is our advantage? As technology becomes smarter, more accurate, and more efficient than humans, we will have to rely on qualities that are uniquely human. It is the students who learn to balance action with reflection who possess ethics and discernment who will succeed in the future. Our advantage is wisdom.