I wasn’t sure why I pitied him, it felt counter intuitive. But as he conversationally explained to me his plans for the evening, they pity wafted up into my mind, tentatively. It caught me a little by surprise, in retrospect, and I verbalized my pity in the form of suggestions for other plans. But he was vehement; he would return home as soon as I dropped him off at his car, and then spend his Friday evening reading the latest scientific journals, contemplating tertiary protein structure, ruminating on Newtonian interference rings, and day dreaming about string theory. My childhood companion had grown up analogous to myself, in white, mildly suburban, neighborhoods dotted with sandboxes and basketball hoops held up by unmixed bags of cement. We did a lot of the same things as kids; rode our bikes down big hills, played games in the woods, watched cartoons and got overly excited about candy. But as we grew up, our differences began to become more pronounced. When I would want to take a foray on our bikes, he would want to stay inside and watch NOVA.
I have always been more partial to knowing how to act in social situations, knowing how to adapt and react to your surroundings, knowing all those quirky things that happen in life that make it so intriguing. These, in my mind, have drastically greater amounts of real-world pertinence than harmonic motion, oncolytic virotherapy, or quantum mechanics. There has long been bad blood between the broad and narrow methods of education, which often beget what we will deem “life smarts” or “book smarts”, respectively. Yes, my childhood friend was a phenom of the intellectual battlegrounds, but he was awkward, uncomfortable, and generally not well suited to life outside the physics book. He could not comfortably start conversation, had trouble dealing with strangers, and did not know how to competently take care of situations in life.
In Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat, Friedman introduces the concept that the world is constantly “flattening”; barriers are constantly being taken down by technological advancements and progress in society. The nature of economy, government, and business is changing, and the intimate nature of this new theatre of business does not bode well for those who cannot handle themselves anywhere other than the classroom and the laboratory. Take a lot at any upper-tier college’s acceptances; academic powerhouses are more and more often being denied in favor of more broadly involved and well versed students.
I love my old friend dearly, and I felt guilty for pitying him that day. But the reality is that the classic set of “book smarts” is leading many young learners down a path doomed to extinction in the modern day. I believe in a change in education to better reflect the changing climate of global business. I believe in less emphasis on memorizing all the material, and more emphasis on learning how to discuss it with peers. Simply put, I believe in being well-rounded.