It's tough being bright;Friday's Child;Parting Shots

24th April 1998 at 01:00
Reva Klein says being brainy can get you into trouble

To their mums and dads, they're good children: studious, serious, eager to succeed. Their peers have another word for them. They're boffs.

Boffs are boffins. Swots. Clever clogs. They like to read and explore ideas. But that seriousness, that eagerness to learn and to probe can set them apart. It can make them a bit quiet and withdrawn.

That doesn't mean they're not likable. Other kids may admire them for whatever it is their boffishness gives them the edge in, whether it's maths or science or chess. And they may find the studious child's quietness attractive, if in small quantities.

Take Joe. He's a boff. He's so into ancient Greece that he reads textbooks about it and spends hours drawing intricate pictures of the gods and monsters. He sailed through primary school happily because everyone knew each other so well. It also helped that he had a great sense of humour and that there were a few other different, studious children like him at the school.

The teachers were sensitive to the social implications of their high abilities and avoided singling them out more than anyone else. When they were praised, it was done quietly. Looking back, those were golden years for Joe.

But things soon changed. When he started at his large inner city comprehensive in September he quickly sensed that the climate was different.

There, the prevailing social code dictates that boys conform to a distinctly anti-academic model. Lessons are things to be endured and homework is sped through as irritating interludes between the real stuff of life: playing football and video games, roller blading, listening to music loudly and hanging out with friends.

Reading, thoughtfulness and introspection are signs of weakness; they have no social currency or purpose. Life at his new school is all about being upfront. Without presentation skills, you are nothing.

Despite his swottishness, Joe is no dork when it comes to survival instincts. He's thought a lot about the message at the temple of Delphi to "Know Thyself," and has decided that although he does, he needs strategies to make himself fit in more. So he's toughening up a bit, joining in ball games and using his academically oriented mind to swot up and learn life-saving facts about what's what and who's who in premier league football.

Is this dumbing down something for his parents and teachers to worry about? It depends on lots of things, not least of all his sense of security. But even a secure and self-aware child like Joe will be grizzly and uncommunicative as he works out these inner conflicts for himself. No, it's not easy being brainy.

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