Sunday, February 14, 2010

Two Kinds of Smart

We were kibitzing just yesterday with a couple of the Korean kids with whom we work on the weekends, when we pretend to instruct them in the finer points of some of the liberal arts (a Chinese guy handles the math). They are first cousins, a girl and a boy, in 8th and 9th grade respectively, and both either were born n the U.S. or came here while very young. Thus they are thoroughly assimilated--the male, a husky kid with an athlete’s swagger, runs track and plays football, or did; the girl, who possesses a droll and perhaps even overdeloped sense of humor for an 8th grader, is not only good at math but draws extremely well and speaks much like our own 10th grader, with the prevailing adolescent female vocal tendency to occasionally turn a declarative sentence into an interrogatory. They also, as we probably shouldn’t add, are both very “good with people,” which we’ve noticed is not a naturally occurring trait among many Koreans in the United States. (We could be misimpressed, though.)

Our conversation turned to a third kid who’s usually with them , another Korean who’s only been in the country for a couple years and who we mistakenly thought was a third first-cousin but apparently is only a good friend. They explained he was absent because of a proir commitment having something to do with “science,” perhaps the science fair, although this engagement sounded a little more elvated than the district-wide UIL competition (maybe not, though).

“He’s really, really smart” said the girl, as her cousin nodded along.

“Yeah, but you guys are real smart, too,” said we, not only as conversational space-filler but because it’s true.

“Yeah,” sighed the girl, “but we’re, like, um ... American smart”--and here she raised her hand to eye level, giving the internationally recognized signal for about this high--”and he’s like, Korean smart”--and here she raised her hand clean above her head.

“You mean,“ said we, raising our own hand very high above our noggin, “like Korea Korean smart?"

“Yeah!” said they.

Recommended further reading and listening on this topic.

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