There are a few things on earth, that’s if there are any at all, that I hate more than being called an “intelligent” young man, especially if it’s by people who never seem to know and understand what calling me that actually means. But notwithstanding my hate for being described with this word, I’ve had people for years describe me as an “intelligent” young man, and they do this without fully comprehending or taking into consideration what doing so actually means and this has become a bit of a thorn on my side.
Paulo Freire once said that a “word is more than just an instrument which makes dialogue possible” and, it is with this in mind that I took it upon myself to seek this particular word’s “constitutive elements” and lay them bare so that people will know and understand why I insist on not having it used to describe either me or anything that has to do with me.
For some years I used to derive pleasure from being described as an “intelligent” person. This was because of what I now believe was this self-absorbed and self-centred attitude that, without thinking about the implications involved with and without fully understanding what being described using this word meant for me.
I used to work hard to make sure that I never lost this title. I used to spend hours developing and improving traits I believed were responsible for having people describe me this way. And to my surprise, and for reasons I still find hard to comprehend, all the work I put into developing these traits yielded positive results. This was all besides the fact that the people who were describing me as “intelligent” were as ignorant and uninformed as I was.
I spent hours developing my accent, my vocabulary, researching new quotes I could unnecessary throw into conversations to make me sound smart, cramming my school work to make me look like I knew something, and doing other useless things that helped me keep my high social ranking within my many social circles. And because of that hard work I ended up being known by both my peers and others as an “intelligent” young man.
I slowly developed an American sounding accent (mainly because of all the American TV shows I grew up watching), started throwing useless and meaningless quotes into every conversation I had, read a ton of books to improve my vocabulary (which ended up becoming a great decision on my side because it was through reading that I got my wake-up call) and ended up as one of the top students at my school.
All of these theatrics and shenanigans, continued until I read a book in 2012 by Plato called Theaetetus. It made me realise that I, along with everyone else I knew at the time, had gotten the whole idea of knowledge and wisdom completely wrong. For many years, we were taught that an intelligent person is one that sounds like his/her teachers, when this in fact was, and still is, not true. We were taught, that to be considered the best of the best in our education system, one must act, sound and mimic their teachers, who are seen as the benchmark for knowledge, intelligence and wisdom.
Paulo Freire calls it the banking type of education system – where ‘education becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teachers are the depositors’
Everyone who has ever read Mr. Freire’s thoughts on how the pedagogy of oppressed needs to be executed, would know what I mean. But for those who don’t, let me take some time to “enlighten” (For the lack of a better phrase to find) you.
According to Mr. Freire’s observations, whose sentiments I share completely, ‘education is suffering from narration sickness’: 1 Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (30th Anniversary Edition, U.S.A 2005), pp. 72
The teacher talks about reality as if it were motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable. Or else expounds on a topic completely alien to the existential experience of the students. His task is to “fill” the students with the contents of his narration – contents which are detached from a reality disconnected from the totality that engendered them, and could give them significance. Words are emptied of their concreteness and become a hollow, alienated, and alienating verbosity.
It is through these self-prescribed tasks that are forcefully imposed on students, that teachers, whether knowingly or unknowingly, assume a position of power over the students (and therefore become their oppressors). This is a vertical education system where the teachers are the ones on top, and the information flows in one direction (from the teacher to the student), when they should actually be developing a horizontal “responsibility and information sharing” system where each of them – the teachers and the students – assume the roles of both teacher and student in the process of learning. The teachers, ipso facto, assume the role of the oppressors because they “are the ones who act upon the people [in this case the students], to indoctrinate them and adjust them to a reality which must remain untouched.”
The current form in which our education system is set up requires the students to lose their role as cognitive and observant beings, and thus reduces them to sub-human empty depositories, who are passive players in an ever evolving social environment, and need the observations of the teachers to be deposited into them in order for them to function. This new identity forced upon the students turns them into an oppressed group whose main objective, like that of many oppressed groups, is to become like their oppressors. They end up believing, that the mark of an intelligent man, is sounding like their teachers (whom they see as the possessors of wisdom) and celebrating those who have achieved this feat.
Without realizing that my actions were perpetuating an oppressive system, I spent years developing the traits I believed would make me look and sound more like my oppressors, and my teachers; whether knowingly or unknowingly, helped me slip deeper and deeper into the system. The many teachers I had over the years, were the key role players in the development of my narrow view of education and what an intelligent man is, and it took me years to overcome this confining narrative, and uncover the truth about what an intelligent man really is.
I spent years believing in the specialized and disconnected academic world that our teachers force-fed us, and looking back, I cannot help but to notice how detrimental that was for both me and my classmate’s ability to cognitively interact, and therefore change and develop, the world.
We were never taught to see the subjects we were taught at school, as part of an interconnected, single body of knowledge, whose main purpose is to develop a consciousness within each one of us. We were never taught to see how language, can influence one’s understanding of mathematics, or how we could use the “complex” mathematical concepts we learn in class to manoeuvre our everyday lives. Questions such as, “where am I going to use y=mx + c” and “why would you mix accounting and physical science” were very common among us because, we were never taught to see how each of these subjects could feed into the others, and as a consequence, our level of intelligence was judged based on how best each
2 Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (30th Anniversary Edition, U.S.A 2005), pp. 70 3 Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (30th Anniversary Edition, U.S.A 2005), Pp. 94
one of us, could take in and regurgitate the content of each subject (independent from the others) deposited into us by our teachers.
As I grew “wiser” and more cognizant of the fact that, there is to knowledge and wisdom more than what we have been led to believe, I began to despise being labelled as “intelligent” because I began to see how limiting that word could be for someone who is eager to learn, especially if that person is being thus labelled by people who don’t even know the word’s true meaning. As I read more and more, I began to see the interconnectivity between all the subjects I have ever come across, including the ones I had never studied before, and how we could never isolate one subject from the others.
I began to understand that true wisdom and intelligence, do not come from knowing more than other people but, from acknowledging that you do not know enough, and will most probably never know enough. I began to realise that wise and intelligent men, are the ones who see this reality of not knowing enough not as a weakness, but rather as an opportunity to learn more.
They are the type of men who are open to learning from others and go into dialectical situations and platforms, not as people who possess wisdom that needs to be imparted onto others, but as co-creators of an educated society through dialogue, because “without dialogue there is no communication, and without communication there is no true education.”
My reasons for not liking the use of this word to describe me, came after I realised that the people who used and continue to use it, don’t understand the reality it creats for me. That most of us use this word without critically understanding our own realities and what the use of this word means for, and within, these realities. That we use it without understanding the context in which we were using it, and have never taken the time to separate and isolate its “constituent elements” and therefore understand its true meaning.
My reasons for not liking the use of this word to describe me, have nothing to do with the word itself, but with what the word represents. I dislike the use of this word to describe me because I know and understand that, the true problem does not lie with the people who use it, but with those who taught them to believe it is alright to do so. The use of this word without the regarding its understanding, like many other things that are wrong in the country, is a sign that the true problems we face in this country lie not with the people who are the products of the systems found in the country, but with the systems themselves and the people we have entrusted with running them.
But I, like George Orwell once described Charles Dickens to have never imagined, don’t believe that “you can cure pimples by cutting them off” and have developed a “consciousness that society is wrong somewhere at the root.” I believe that the only way to deal with this issue, and many others we face in the country, is by fixing the systems and those in charge of them, and not ridiculing their unknowing products.
The fact is, I’m probably never going to have people stop describing me as an “intelligent” young man, and it is something I’m going to have to learn to accept. But now my question then becomes, what happens when I surpass the level of my teachers? What happens when I am no longer a replica of what they are and what they represent to my peers and become something better? (if something like that is actually possible – which I believe it is) Will people still see me as an “intelligent young man” or will I become something else? Crazy, maybe? (since this is the popular narrative in the communities we live in – someone who “knows too much” or “reads too much” will end up crazy)
4 Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (30th Anniversary Edition, U.S.A 2005), pp. 93
Because of all the reading I’m doing, I’m learning a lot about the interconnectivity of everything around me (including both the subjects I learned and didn’t learn in school), and this is opening a whole new world with whole new possibilities for me. I am learning more about “abstract” concepts, ideas and art and how one can, and should, see beyond the face value of everything we come across on an everyday basis, and this has put me outside the boarders of our normal education system and made me, somewhat of an exception to the norm.
Does this mean that my “intelligence” will fade with every step I take towards “self-consciousness” (which is something I am currently busy with), because with every step I take in that journey I slowly lose some of the constitutive elements that make up an intelligent person? (I become and sound less and less like my teachers and lose their narrow veiw of education and wisdom) Or does this mean that I’m going beyond “normal intelligence” and should now be seen as something better?
I’m probably never going to have any of these questions answered, but if there is one thing I’m convinced of, it’s the fact that I really, really hate being described as intelligent.