clever soupStephen’s been attending school in London for a year now. During this time, I’ve had the chance to observe some interesting practices. One thing I’ve noticed is the frequent use of the word “clever.”

At first I was uncomfortable with clever because I don’t believe in praising children for their innate ability but more for their specific efforts*. But then I thought that maybe, as an American, my interpretation of clever might be different than what’s intended here in Britain. I think of clever as being the same as intelligent or smart but clever can actually have a number of definitions.

  1. mentally bright; having sharp or quick intelligence; able.
  2. superficially skillful, witty, or original in character or construction; facile
  3. showing inventiveness or originality; ingenious
  4. adroit with the hands or body; dexterous or nimble.

Now I’m starting to think clever is fine praise as long as it’s accompanied by a reminder to work hard, try and try again, and push past the inevitable failure and disappointment.

David Goodman, a 15-year-old participant in the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (Nagty) in the UK, seems to really get that:

I’m hardly a genius or anything. I’m reasonably clever, I suppose, but I just try to work hard.

~BBC News

*Don’t miss this New York Magazine article on “the inverse power of praise.”