Why you can’t call someone stupid?

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Ever heard someone call you stupid? What do you do? Nothing? I would most probably give them a headache. This is how the argument would start,  “Albert Einsten said, If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

The thing is, can you really call someone ‘stupid’? Words like stupid and nice and good are all generic terms that hold different meanings for different things. Unless you’ve performed a standardized IQ test on a child to back up however you describe him (though I’m not sure ‘stupid’ is on the classification list), but  just because he  brings home an F in a report card doesn’t really mean he is inherently stupid. It just means that he did not perform well.

In an interesting course I am currently taking, the author of the textbook argued that students are sometimes demoralized when teachers attribute their lack of performance to a lack of inherent ability (which they have little control over) instead of a lack of effort (which they can control and would require them to work just a little bit harder).

Another line of argument is that there are many types of intelligence, and that schools do not test for all of them. But take him to the football field and watch his genius. Gardner’s theory lists many different types of intelligence (including interpersonal, naturalist and bodily/kinesthetic intelligence among others). Yet do we see those tested in the normal academic curriculum? Most schools test for verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical. So again, how would you define stupid?

We all know the negative psychological effects of labeling children. They may suffer from low self-esteem, they might be bullied by others because of this label, they might perform even worse because of the low expectation. In a famous study, psychologists Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson, showed that the greater the expectation was placed upon people, the better they performed (a phenomenon they named The Pygmalion effect). The main idea of the study was they told teachers, 20 % of the students are expected to perform better academically (even though their IQ test results were the same as others’) and later on, they discovered significant academic improvement among the 20 % of students named which lead to the conclusion that teacher expectation can influence academic achievement (especially for younger children).

So stupidity is a relative term. So avoid using it in your vocabulary because you might get a response that might give you a headache.

Dunce's Chair
©iStockphoto.com/hkuchera

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