Sunday, August 23, 2009

Smart People Don't Get Bored

I heard a radio discussion about the high drop-out rate in high school. Some of the kids complained they were bored, and the panel chattered with great concern about these darlings who are being let down by school and society. The poor dears are unchallenged. I flashed back to a long train journey I once took with my four year old. After many hours on the train, she looked at me and said “Mommy, I’m bored”.

Smart people don’t get bored.

That's what I told her. A little heavy handed – but I believed it. This was a girl who could amuse herself for an hour with a few toothpicks. And I was determined to pass this lesson on to her because I believed it: you are responsible for engaging yourself in this wondrous world.

Fact is, unmotivated kids have come to realize that if they lack drive – are afraid to try, to engage, to succeed, or to fail – if they shun effort – they can say they are bored and parents and teachers assume they have a brilliant and unchallenged mind on their hands. They fret. What do we do to up the challenge for this sparkling soul who is being short-changed by a failing school system?

What a load of cow dung!

I’ve heard this from students and I have them figured out. There is plenty enough stimuli in this world to keep one engaged, and even more so in classrooms stocked with books, magazines, computers – with new information and projects and socialization happening at any given moment. The problem with these students is not that they are burdened with intelligence, but overflowing with attitude. The world owes them a steady flow of mindless entertainment. The world owes them a job when they show up with a festering circle of steel through their eyebrow and lip. The world owes them understanding when they commit crimes. Someone should notice their glum countenance and dirty hair and purchase their art. People should appreciate them just the way they are – regardless of the fact that they don’t participate in anything worthwhile and look down on peers who do.

Oh, it’s a shame,for sure. But these attitudes have been a long time in the making. When there was no bedtime. When there were no family meals. No family games. No family conversation. No family. And now we think they are bored for lack of challenge?

Most of these kids don’t know what challenge is. Everyone receives a trophy; everyone wins first place; there is no longer a Most Valuable Player. They are not motivated by challenge or competition for they don’t know what is! They have learned that competition isn’t about doing ones best but about be given first place with no effort. Self-esteem isn’t about earning accolades or feeling an integral part of a unit but about being dressed nice and coddled. The kids – the bored ones – are empty wells that can never be filled, sucking the world dry unappreciatively.

And teachers go home feeling drained and worried, seeking new ways to get little Miss Ho-hum engaged in the class activities that seem sufficiently engaging to everyone else. Yes—little Johnny is bored. Little Susie is unmotivated. They must be brilliant!

Because the educational system has been perplexed as to how to deal with these budding geniuses, new philosophies have emerged and taken hold. These are the “child-centered” initiatives. Educational standards have fallen far and fast, with its twisted and miserable understanding and execution of child-centered education. We need to bring back standards that acknowledge competition and rewards, not just self-regard, which is often confused with self-esteem. Which comes first -— a job well done? Or the boost in self-esteem that comes from it. These kids, who received everything except discipline, are already child-centered enough. And we see the result. We see it in test scores, in juvenile crime, in tragedies like Columbine, and the lesser tragedy of boredom.

I suffer from such ennui some days; I long to sleep just to escape. I could write, read, clean, paint, organize, research, sew, exercise, play piano, sing, walk, talk – but nothing interests me. I have those days. Perhaps smart people do get bored. But they don’t stay that way! It is not a constant state of mind. And I certainly don’t confuse it with brilliance!

My four year old, bored on a train trip, was not demonstrating her deep intellect but a desire to get up and walk around. A desire for more! More experience. Not less. Our intelligence is demonstrated in what we do – and the fact that we do it. Not by what we avoid! Now excuse me while I go find some toothpicks to play with.


  1. Oh, you need a better comment than that for such a great essay! I have days when I just don't feel like doing anything, but it's not really boredom - more like just unwinding. There is almost always a book to read, an essay or blog post to read; something to do.

    (In case she removes it, the comment before this one is spam... )

  2. Miriclaire (miracle lady)
    I have missed you and wondered about you!
    wow - how have you been?
    I have so much to tell you and I need something from you.
    wow! so glad to see you. remember 'lifelense' ?
    the poem you challenged us to write (100 words or less) my "cornerstone"
    I want to send you and email but I don't have your personal one.
    hope to talk with you soon.

    just me, Patty again :)

  4. Patty! What a delight to hear from you after so many years...this internet is amazing! I visited you blog. You gave me lots to think about re: the suicides. You made many insightful observations. I'm happy to see you have continued writing :-)

  5. As a Recent HS Graduate I can sympathize with this article 100%

  6. I actually agree with this. When I am bored, I have a whole world in my head to keep me entertained.

    I do object to one small thing though. You claim intelligent people do not get bored. That is a falsehood; we get bored, we just tend to find something to do far more quickly.

    But what do I know? Maybe I'm just being arrogant. This is my opinion.

  7. If you look for closely, Adam - at the end I say "I guess we do get bored- but we don't stay that way"


  8. yeah i have to agree with everything you said. very well put.

  9. Well said. Society is more concerned with coddling than with accountability. Many a teacher will appreciate your post (which I will be sharing with one or two). Great post!

  10. Thank you Asmaria and Emily! I appreciate the feedback and the time you took to read!

  11. I agree partially with this article. However, I find that I usually am good at things that I try and that leads to extreme boredom. When I was young I tried football and became the captain of the team. I was also the first chair on saxophone in the band. In fact, I played most sports growing up, and played them well. I was in several clubs, even the latin honor society. I performed in musicals, plays, band. Any college I applied to after high school I got into. I was accepted to one of the best grad schools in the country for what I do, music. I was even accepted to get my PhD. Basically, it gets boring when there is no challenge. I am not saying I am more intelligent than anybody, because there are a lot of things I know I can work on, like spelling. I just don't think that all children are bored due to manipulative reactions to their parents. Furthermore, I think there is something to be said for people who just figure things out easier/faster and who happen to get bored as a result. Grouping all bored people, as you did with this article, is at the very least a misrepresentation of bored people like myself.

  12. I agree with most but the bit about intelligent people not getting bored. Trust me on this one, we do get extremely bored. I'd rather not say my IQ but I am a member of MENSA. It seems to me that you believe intelligent people cannot get bored because we are more able to find things to amuse ourselves with. The fact is, I get bored of things easily, yes I am able to find things to amuse myself with but after a while, they bore me. Such as in lessons I didn't try, not because I lacked motivation -hell, I taught myself Greek when I was 7 whilst on a holiday in Cyprus because I knew I could- but it was because the work was too easy so I became disruptive, I didn't see the point in stupid preparation for tests being as I knew that I could do it without preparing, I was wasting my time with pointless things that I already knew when I could be teaching myself something entirely new and interesting. The thing is here that you have generalised people too much, intelligent people get extremely frustrated when there is no challenge for them to face and so they get bored, probably more easily than anyone else.

  13. Ridiculous assumption. Intelligent teenagers in school get BORED. VERY BORED. I can't even remember the number of times I wanted to walk across the classroom and slap a dumb person because their inability to "get it" was causing a teacher to go over the SAME EASY CRAP as she had for the last FOUR DAYS. You're not allowed to read in class, or talk, or just leave, so I had to listen to every single moron in my class ask again what Pi was. It's a miracle I didn't shoot up the school. The fact that you don't see how it's possible for intelligent people to get bored tells me you were an average student.