Smarts Talk

Introduction to Smarts Talk

Smarts Talk scripts contain some of our most dangerous myths in education. These myths come from a very long history of thinking and talking inaccurately about intelligence.

In this section of, we’ll post resources that help us rethink the things we say about young people’s intelligence and ability!

Featured Resource

Teaching history is an essential way to stomp down a key Smarts Talk lie -- the myth that some "groups" are just "smarter" than others.  One great resource is the book Young, Gifted, and Black.

In her chapters, Theresa Perry walks readers through the historic African American quest for education through self-funding schools, self-teaching literacy, insisting on public education and access, and producing scholarship. She urges educators to share this history, to help “forge the identities of African American students as achievers, literate, and a people with a rich intellectual tradition.” It’s a great tool for flipping scripts with colleagues and youth. And all students need to hear such information! 

Perry argues that educators need to explicitly “communicate a counternarrative about (students’) intellectual capacity” and deliver to students a strong, explicit “message about intellectual competence.” In Chapter 3 of Schooltalk, I ask educators to "actively reject the myth that intelligence is distributed differently to 'groups.'” 

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I think J Luke Wood’s comments questioning “growth mindset” raise a very important core tension of antiracist Smarts Talk.

In a world where some students and whole groups of students are falsely imagined to be just “smarter” than others, how can we affirm all humans’ equal potential to grow?

In the Smarts Talk chapter of Schooltalk, I urge that educators “actively reject the myth that intelligence is an easily measurable quantity of stuff ‘in the head,’” “say out loud that no student is ‘smarter’ than any other,” “Talk about abilities as grown through interaction and collective effort, not something fixed inside students,” and “say out loud that no GROUP is ‘smarter’ than any other: actively reject the myth that intelligence is distributed differently to ‘groups.’”

I also note that to support young people through a world where folks have argued falsely for centuries that some groups ARE smarter than others, scholars demonstrate that it’s key to support students “to develop fierce belief in their own (ever-expandable!) intelligence AS a member of any social group falsely stigmatized.”

As just one example, a Native teacher designing science curricula around local Indigenous knowledge in Utah told mentor Bryan Brayboy that after years of denigrating interactions in a boarding school, she was determined to teach Indian students that they could ‘be smart and Indian at the same time.’”

This is a key Smarts Talk challenge for educators. We have to challenge false ideas that some kids are just naturally smarter than others, AND validate the “smarts” present particularly in young people who have been told they’re not “smart.”

Our challenge is to communicate that all young people have brilliance to be developed through active opportunities to keep on learning.