Book Smarts Vs. Street Smarts

Query: is culture’s perception of people skewed to the current status of the world? Maybe that question is a bit vacuous, so let me ask another.

Do people really think the same way as they did in the past?

Today we delineate between two concepts of intelligence: factual knowledge and functional knowledge. Or, in current vernacular, book smarts and street smarts. 

But did people really see that distinction in, say, 19th century America? And furthermore, is there really a difference between those two forms of intelligence? Also, which one is most important?

To directly pose an answer would be to put an abrupt halt to what is basically an unspoken culture war, so I’m simply going to discuss the issue with the usual blog treatment of disguising my personal opinions as halfway intelligent discourse.

Personally, I’m a dichotomy. I value common sense slightly more than book smarts, but I probably have slightly more school smarts than street smarts. And it’s not like I don’t try to have common sense. I have had to train myself to be street smart by learning through social interaction. Because let’s face it, I used to be as dumb as a brick when it came to social interaction.

But at some point I learned how to be social. And at some point later common sense became my obsession. Now it’s to the point where I am going to met my Master’s Degree in Communication.

This is pretty much my life’s quote, actually:

“Most people in my experience wouldn’t know reason if it walked up and shook their hand.” –Odo, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

I want that on a t-shirt.

It scares me though, because I wasn’t born with the ability to be social and relevant to today’s culture. I had to learn it. And it showed, because if you hang around me long enough, I have the tendency to get kind of awkward.  

My theory is that they’re one in the same. Street smarts is book smarts, but instead of studying facts, a person instead studies people. We only have the term now because there are enough people who spend all of their time studying knowledge that they lose the ability to be social. 

Instead of looking at it like a balancing scale, we should instead look at social interaction as just another thing a person can be good or bad at… kind of like math. And we should never ever hold it against someone if he or she doesn’t understand how to be social. 

[Thanks to Kimberly Waites for the suggestion.]


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