Life as a Trained Monkey

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I received a very interesting email from a reader. He said he is helping a friend’s daughter write a college essay on xxxx speech, and “after much mutual painful time spent, she still didn’t seem to grasp it — not the language, but the principle and its application. They were only sentences to her, not statements she could understand. She is an honors grad, with many plaudits and by all accounts an excellent student. But she can’t seem to correlate the xxxx speech to modern times.”

I was engaged by his email because I reflect on this dilemma often. The answer to why people seem smart but can’t think is not so complicated as it first appears. There are plenty of (supposedly) “smart” people who can be trained, like a monkey, to cram for an exam (or exams); get a college degree; remember procedures related to an occupation; take steps to complete a task, etc., etc. It is the use of critical thinking that demonstrates the difference between being smart and possessing intelligence (intellectual ability).

As a Certified Public Accountant working for many years in public and corporate accounting, with lots of colleagues who are endowed with CPAs, MBAs, etc., I am not hesitant to say that there are many very well-trained monkeys in the workplace, but very few critical thinkers, let alone any of those really strange birds, autodidacts. Most “A grade” college students are intellectually impotent outside of the classes for which they have had to “cram.” Thus others who lack the same critical thinking skills and powers of discernment base the plaudits given to most of these kids on erroneous assumptions.

College “honors” mean zero, zip, nada. Even worse are the silly “honors” attributes bestowed on public high school students. Honor student? Dean’s list? Give me a break. These kids can be taught to study for tests and pass them with an A or B, but most of them don’t have the wherewithal to tackle and solve everyday problems in their simple home lives.

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Karen De Coster [send her mail] is a Certified Public Accountant, has an MA in Economics, and works in finance and accounting in the securities industry. See her website and her blog.

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