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Street smarts v Academic education

by Novlet Allen 14 days ago in student · updated 14 days ago
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Allyson Beaucourt -Unspalsh

Is it fair to say that someone who is college or university educated is more deserving of respect than someone who, armed with street smarts, and is perhaps a school dropout, still managed against all odds to make a success of his or her life. This success may have been gained by less direct means than would be deemed acceptable to the academia of the central schools of thought.

I cannot think of a better introduction to this topic than this series on Netflix.


There are a ton of smart Harvard and Yale, among other gentrified learning institutions of educated lawyers within the show. Yet who gets the girl? Who is the star of the show? Who gets results from winning most of his cases (Ok!, so his wins are obtained from nefarious and shady wheeling and dealings that may have been barely legal, if legal at all). That is not the point that we should focus on. Unfair!, you say, well, life can be a tad unfair when it wishes to be.

The villain, Saul (or Jimmy) gets the girl and all of the attention.

Saul's brother is a brilliant lawyer who built his own law firm into a massive success, with oodles of also brilliant legal minds (a little less brilliance than Chucks, Saul's older brother, who is an egotistical jerk to his younger brother). Chuck was Valedictorian of his high school at 14 years old, and graduated magna cum laude from two universities.

Sometimes you wonder if Jimmy deserves the berating of his brother by the crazy schemes that he gets himself involved in.

The kicker is that whereas Chuck has book smarts, Jimmy (Saul's real name), has street smarts. Herein lies the conundrum. Jimmy worked his way up from the mail room, becoming a lawyer via correspondence school. His brother looked down on him, concluding that being a lawyer by this method did not earn one the respect that a Harvard or what not educated lawyer deserved. He therefore, sabotaged jimmy's wish to become a member of his law firm.

Yet, Chuck declined in health and life while Jimmy struggled greatly to make a go of being a lawyer. The shining light in his existence was that he was loved by a brilliant attorney, who literally saved him from himself and was the rock keeping him afloat and out of trouble, mostly. She became his conscience, so to speak. Until she sort of became a little bad herself.

Twists and turns abound. This woman, Kim, though brilliant, gets off on the questionable things that Jimmy does, making them the perfect matched pair.

This man was as brilliant as his brother was. His brilliance however, manifested in a totally different way. Where his brother identified with the gentry, he identified with the proletariat (the working class). He had been endowed with street smarts whereas Chuck was an intellectual to the core.


Are we smarter than we give ourselves credit for? Do you sometimes catch a tiny glimpse of the higher intellect that is hidden deep inside of your mind? I know that I have had little illuminating peeks of greatness within myself. There are hidden smarts than I cannot easily tap into, I sometimes get a quick moment's glance into wonders that flits into my mind, but then are gone as quickly as they came, in a flash as it were. I believe that if I can harness and hold onto my moments, I could greatly surpass my not so ordinary and become quite extraordinary.

How about you?

I can site many people who have stood the test of time by their contributions to the human race. These individuals did not have formal training, some were high school or college or lower level school dropouts. Some may even have been self taught:

Thomas Edison, probably the most famous and productive inventor of all time. Benjamin Franklin, wearing many hats such as, author, politician, diplomat and scientist among many others. Bill Gates, Microsoft. Albert Einstein, Man of the century. Naming just a few.

Ashes Sitoula - Unsplash

In Hidden Intellectualism by Author Gerald Graff; (in paraphrasing him), he argues that:

Everyone knows a young person who is impressively 'street smart' but does poorly in school. We think it is a waste that someone who is so obviously intelligent seems unable to apply that intelligence to academic work. Is it possible, he mulls, that schools and colleges might be at fault for missing the opportunity to tap into such street smarts, and channel them into great academic work.

We associate the educated life, the life of the mind, too narrowly and exclusively with subjects and texts that we consider inherently weighty and academic. We assume that it is possible to wax intellectual about Plato, Shakespeare, The French Revolution, and nuclear fission, (how many of us know that nuclear fission is when the nucleus of an atom splits into two or more smaller nuclei) but not about cars, dating, fashion, sports, TV or video games.

The fact that we associate these street smarts with anti-intellectual concerns is one of the reasons why schools and colleges overlook the intellectual potential of street smarts.

Real intellectuals can turn any subject, however lightweight it may be, into an argument used to it's greatest advantage, grist for their mill as it were, through the thoughtful questions they bring to it. Whereas the dullard will find a way to drain the interest out of the richest subject. The dullard could be the highly educated academic, while the intellectual questioner could be the one with street smarts. Graff cites George Orwell writing about the cultural meaning of penny postcards, to be of much higher intellectual value than college professors speaking on the substantial cognitions of Shakespeare or globalization.

That being said however, reading real models of intellectually challenging writing helps one to become even more intellectual. Graff recommends Orwell as a great start. Individuals should however, start this journey by reading what interests them and not the interests forced on them by others.

Rabindranath Tagore says "Do not limit a child to your own learning, for they are born in their own time".

Intellect can be found grounded in whatever topic one decides to immerse oneself into. It is in arguing, counter arguing and discussing points and ideas with friends colleague or family that we learn the rudiments and form the basis for foraging into any argumentative ideas, generalizations or grounded plans.

There is this need to stop forcing students to see only through academic eyes and broaden their scope into seeing non academic interests as just as important to their long term objectives. THERE IS A BOREDOM AND ENNUI THAT HAS OVERTAKEN THE YOUNGER GENERATION AND WHICH IS GETTING WORSE EVERY DAY. THIS IS CAUSING DEPRESSION AND LACK OF INTEREST IN LIFE IN GENERAL.

Incorporating street smarts, inviting students to write about cars, fashion, sports, video games, art and things that they enjoy through 'academic' eyes, yet in a reflective way that introduces the topics as microcosms of what is going on in the wider culture and world, could again make schooling an area of interest to the broader population of students, not just to the few.

Students are tending to tune out academic work. The world has changed. Schools and colleges are missing out on opportunities to encourage students to take their non academic interests as objects of academic study. It is self defeating to decline to introduce any text or subjects that figures to engage students who will otherwise tune out academic work entirely.

If a student cannot get interested in Mill's On Liberty or Shakespeare, but will read Sports Illustrated, Vogue or the hip-hop magazine Source, with absorption, that is a strong argument for assigning the magazine over the classics. If students become absorbed in reading and writing term papers about the magazines, chances are they will eventually come to appreciate writing and will eventually move on to more challenging assignments with greater interest. Even if they do not. The magazines will make them more literate and reflective than they would otherwise be.

It makes pedagogical sense, that from the teaching, the lesson plans to even how the classroom appears, is an attraction that will evince the interest of students. These classrooms can be developed to become units on sports, cars, fashion and rap music among any such topics.

It is the student who writes a sharply argued sociologically acute analysis of an issue in source, over the student who writes a lifeless explanation of Hamlet or Socrates who would glean the greater interest in todays literary circles.

A new day has dawned. It is time for a teaching/learning revolution.

Aziz Acharki - Unsplash



About the author

Novlet Allen

I am an aspiring writer and poet. I find words delightful. Every poem, or story that I read or write, enriches me. 'Read a thousand books (or stories), travel a thousand miles'.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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