Monday, October 5, 2009

Smart is as Smart does

So I live in Fresno.

According to the Daily Beast, Fresno has a collective IQ (based on Daily Beast criteria) of 3. Now I am smart enough to know that an IQ score of less than 70 is considered mentally retarded (this is because the mean IQ is 100 with a standard deviation of 15; therefore two standard deviations either direction is statistically significant (with an alpha of 95%, less than 5% of the population would fall into that category)...thus 70 would be retarded (100-15-15) and 130 would be genius (100+15+15)). So where would an IQ of 3 put us? 55th on a list.

Back to my point.

I do not think it is worth pissing and moaning about how Fresno received a kick in the intellectual sack. I'll let my friends at the Fresno Beehive manage that discussion. I do not think deficit-based problem solving is the answer. Want to move up the list? Do something about it.

Below are five ways to get smarter. It's really easy and mostly free...

1) Get a library card and use it.
Our public libraries are full of good books to revisit. Remember all the required reading you were assigned in high school? Well now is the time to actually read it instead of renting the movie or relying on Cliff's Notes. My favorite revisit was The Stranger, by Albert Camus. So much more interesting after gaining perspective from life.

2) Have lunch with a grandparent (does not have to be yours).
They have something they can teach us. Spend one afternoon a month and you will want to come back for more. Get them to tell you a story like they did when you were younger. It will probably be the same story but with different meaning.

3) Try to solve a problem without using your iPhone.
This is my biggest issue. I am losing my ability to think critically. I can defer all critical thinking to an app. Unless you are developing the apps, you should probably try to solve at least 50% of your problems without picking up the phone. If you asked HG Wells, he would probably content that the Eloi were iPhone users.

4) Walk around the block.
Yes, walking actually makes you smarter (I have no proof, but it sounds good). When you walk, spend time creating a story about your what you see. Imagine what the neighbors might do for fun. Think about why people plant particular flowers. Pay attention to the design of the neighborhood and the story about its formation. If you want to get ambitious, blog about your journey. I'd read it.

5) Take a class at MIT, Yale, UCLA, or Stanford (for free).
All you need is an internet connection. Check out Open Courseware and get to learning. I'm currently taking a Game Theory class from Yale (my mom is going to be so proud). Then I want to take all the general education classes I slept through in college.

The point. If a community wants to move up the list, it must do smart things. The next challenge is to begin to apply all this new smartness. That's another post for another day.


  1. Great points Travis - Fresno has sat around and bemoaned all of the negative publicity for long enough, I think it is time we start attacking the core causes of that bad publicity and commit to being proactive instead of reactive all the time. Preach on!

  2. I love #1! Fresno libraries are pretty great compared to other library systems in this country. While you are there trying to get smart, don't forget to have fun, too--we have DVDs, CDs, magazines, and video games, too. The best part is that everything at the library is FREE.

    P.S. Side note: I once told a guy I wouldn't go on a date with him unless he had a library card in his wallet. (He didn't.)

  3. Dave,
    Can't change by bitching. I applaud your efforts at ACEL. People have to fall in love with learning again.


    PS - I love the one vote for "stupid" in the reaction section.

  4. Gina -
    Great standard. Forget eHarmony...someone should create "ReadHarmony" that will match you up based on books you've read.


  5. I wonder how many people are reading this thinking, "Yeah! I am kind of an idiot! I think I'll do these things!"

  6. Tony,
    Good point...probably not too many. I guess my hope is that the middle most will buy in. A rising tide floats all boats, right?

    We can't save everyone...

    Thanks for comment.

  7. This is so encouraging. It's time to move past the apathy and begin to change as individuals in order affect change for Fresno. I'm super excited about Open Coursework... thanks for sharing!

  8. Nice post. I like the proactive yet simple approach. We are in a nation where getting an education just takes a wee bit of initiative. Thanks for the kick in the ass. I'll go sign up for some online learnin' right now.

  9. Good points Travis, though I'd argue #3 - I'd be curious to see stats on the use of smart phones and mobile technology based on penetration (TWSS) in the top-ranked markets. It's not that these make us smarter, but I think there's a correlation between being "smart" and adapting to newer technologies. Fresno doesn't really do the latter, so I'm not surprised that we don't rank higher with the former (for other reasons, as well).
    But you're right: instead of griping, if we attach any meaning to this, we should do something to change it. Then again, blog-readers may not be in the demographic that needs targeting...

  10. I dig your blog. I must make it a regular visit. I appreciate your energy, humor and smarti-ness.

    I like the library suggestion. It's one of my fave things about America. Our local library has the cool ability to find a book for you from miles and miles around---you can pick it up in about 3 days: you come up with a book, reserve it on the computer (in the library, or at home!), and *boom* (it actually makes that sound)it arrives, and you can go get it.

  11. The solutions are pretty simple. How can we make it even easier? As Tony suggested (if I interpreted it correctly), maybe my suggestions are still a little too ideal? How much should we dumb down being smart? Come on, Fresno...a little effort never hurt.

    Keep the comments coming.

  12. Great points Travis. #5 (free college courses) is a hidden gem. Right now I'm going through entrepreneurship lectures from Stanford via iTunes U. Great stuff.

  13. Here's another suggestion: start a book group. Find a couple of interesting people and invite say five more to join you once a month. Pick a variety of books: fiction, non-fiction, political history, even beach reads and dive in. Talk, argue, oh yes and be sure to have plenty of good snacks to chomp down. Think of using themes like the Beat Generation, or (naturally)regional poets. Challenge another book group to join you on a retreat; invite a local author...

  14. Re: #2
    "Grandparents" (not necessarily yours) are great sources of learning and friendship. In Fresno, I have learned a heck-of-a-lot about Italy during WWII, immigration, learning English, working hard, being broke, and raising families just by visiting with folks over the age of 65 or 70. If you visit with the "Grandparents," I guarantee you'll walk away smarter.

  15. Hey Travis,
    I think you are totally missing the point here. Our educational attainment levels in Fresno are not low because we are lazy or unambitious. In fact, it is largely correlated with our poverty. To ignore this and encourage privileged people to go to the library more, is completely missing the point- not that I don't want to support libraries, I think they are great and I am a privileged person in Fresno. Back to my point, poverty creates instability for kids- like being homeless or living in a motel- and it makes it very hard for them to focus on the book report due next week or math test tomorrow because they are struggling to find a safe place to sleep or helping their parents earn money. Not to mention the long term effect it has on children when their parents don't emphasize the importance of education, but rather the quick buck- and as soon as thier child finds something difficult in school they check out. Anyway, just wanted to give my two cents. The issue is way more deep than just go spend time with someone's grandparents- what if a child's grandparents are longtime gangmembers? These are real situations that we are dealing with in Fresno. Without having looked at this "report" I can say I don't think you or I, or anyone looking at this blog is what they were trying to highlight- rather it was the masses of people who don't have time to check a blog, or browse the internet for free Ivy League classes. That said, I also don't think an IQ test is an accurate measure of intelligence, and some of the smartest people I know wouldn't look as smart on paper- they may have street smarts that will get them much further in life than an Ivy League degree. I hope I wasn't too harsh- just commenting in the spirit of open dialogue!

  16. May I be so bold as to suggest another #?
    Go to live performances and exhibits.
    Always a great way to feed and expand your mind is to expose it to a different culture; a different art form, and meeting the people who create these experiences will allow you to learn a new way of thinking and existing in this world. One of the main facets of stupidity is ignorance. Keeping yourself within a confined boundary of comfort doesn't give you the opportunity to grow. Step outside your comfort zone, be social and get involved!

  17. Anonymous,
    Thanks for the comment. Your points are very valid and people should look beyond IQ. Poverty and crime are real issues, but I also think we have become intellectually lazy. Maybe not the readers of this blog (maybe the writer...hahahaha), but as a society we are moving toward the Eloi side of life.

    Keep it going. Maybe we aren't going to solve all the problems, but the process is just as important.


  18. We need to focus on education because from what I hear (from teachers), is that the kids in school are not doing well - yet they get passed through. Too many parents are having kids while being kids and some are having too many kids and kids that they can't afford - anand the kids are not getting mentored in a positive, constructive way - not just for learning, but for basic nutrition. I've seen teenaged mothers feeding their babies coke and candy. It's a repetitive cycle. Religion can be a thorn too, not just poverty. In fact, I think there's a host of other factors that come way before poverty.

  19. Fresno also seems to have a shopping mentality and people tend to stay in their areas of town. There's a lot of factions not to mention a host of various cultures. In my opinion we've had poor leadership in our civic governing and there's too much leaning towards one culture over others. It would be a major overhaul to attempt to raise the intelligence level - start with family planning, mentoring kids -girls groups, boys groups, mentoring single mothers, providing assistance on how to find assistance, offer after school tutoring since a lot of parents offer little to no support there, more volunteerism, kids need to be taught to ask questions - to think critically. They need to view the world as a larger place, people need to acknowledge others - smile - there's a lot of quiet tragedy everywhere. Women and girls esp need support against the onslaught of sexual objectification. Boys need to be taught to respect girls instead of getting lost on the internet. There's a ton of things we need to do. One by one.

  20. D - You list is very much appreciated. Thanks for finding my blog. Leadership at the civic level is very important, but one of the factors impacting our collective IQ is voter turnout. We need to be more politically active as a community (locally, regionally, and nationally). I would like to personally attend more town halls and public debates. Let's talk about issues. This is why O love reading is one simple way to keep up with issues.