Dumb or Stupid?

Yesterday, my buddy Josh sent me this editorial about ignorance, and I’m excited about becoming slightly less ignorant of ignorance. (Maybe it really is bliss?) In any case, it relates to a couple of points…

A personal quote: “I may be dumb, but I ain’t stupid!”

Thus have I often begun a discussion with students about the distinction. I say that “dumb” is however smart you aren’t. It could be an IQ thing, it could be however “rasa” your “tabula” is gonna stay, it’s the cards your dealt, it’s your field to sow (dry and rocky dirt, or dark, rich tilth).

Stupid on the other hand is doing something against your own self-interest. It’s when you should have known better, it’s worse than dumb, it can be temporary insanity. For several epic examples of this, read Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly.” Sadly, crowdsourced stupidity is often disastrous.

Another great take is Neil Postman’s “The Educationist as Pain Killer.” Simply, if doctors study disease and lawyers study injustice, shouldn’t teachers study stupidity? Shouldn’t we teach kids how not to be stupid or do stupid things? Truth or consequences? We spend a lot of time on truth, or various versions of it, when perhaps we should be spending more on consequences, because that’s where those stupid chickens come home to roost.

Stupidology however, is not the same as agnotology (the study of ignorance). Ignorance is about unawareness, what you don’t know, and hopefully what you should be curious about. Stupid is usually about actions, not what you think (or don’t think), but what you do (or shouldn’t have done). However, that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t act, it doesn’t mean one should avoid making mistakes. A mistake is an opportunity to learn. Fail forward and use stupidity to get smart, to diminish dumbness, and to not be stupid…?!

We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid. ~Benjamin Franklin

To succeed in the world it is not enough to be stupid, you must also be well-mannered. ~Voltaire

Give me a smart idiot over a stupid genius any day. ~Samuel Goldwyn

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. ~Bertrand Russell

An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise. ~Victor Hugo

How is it that little children are so intelligent and men so stupid? It must be education that does it. ~Alexandre Dumas

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