Book Smarts or Street Smarts?

Posted May 15th, 2009 by Mike Cherim

Book or Street? I recently had a conversation with my son about the subject of this post. We wondered if we had street smarts (wisdom), book smarts (intelligence), both, or none of the above. And we also explored our preferences to these qualities in those we associate with. It turned out to be an interesting subject for us. My son says that I have both street smarts and book smarts. I won’t argue with him. I’ve had a wild past and street smarts have kept me out of trouble on many occasions. But I do grasp things academically and have always had a solid understanding of the sciences and other subjects. My varied past had a hand in that, too. I also read a lot and that helps. My son is street smart and growing, and still schooling.

Regarding my preference to these qualities in others, well, I tend to get along with most people, though I have some difficulty with uneducated or ignorant people unless they compensate with a healthy level of street smarts or adaptability. It’s not a dislike, per se, it’s just a lack of commonality I think. Looking at my life, most of the people I hang with are predominantly street smart, more so than book smart. Most are rough characters who like to party hard and have a good time. I once traversed Canada by pick-up truck, camping along the way, and I ended up making friends with an entire biker gang with whom I shared the road. I tend to gravitate towards good people who are wise in ways some can’t imagine. Most of my friends are not college educated and most do not work in professional careers.

Can you relate to this subject? Where do you fall? And socially, who do you gravitate to?

16 Responses to: “Book Smarts or Street Smarts?”

  1. David Zemens - 1955 Design responds:
    Posted: May 16th, 2009 at 11:30 am

    Now it all makes sense. No wonder I like you! Street smarts and biker gangs, and gravitating toward people without college degrees! Cool beans.

    I prefer the “no shirt and tie” look and also to associate with those who don’t wear them. Normally, that means I prefer street smarts over book smarts. Although sometimes the lines cross. But not usually.

  2. Georg responds:
    Posted: May 17th, 2009 at 7:35 am

    “Not all are bikers”
    You’re right about that (I find bikes too noisy) :-)

    I’m a book-worm who got tired of being limited to the refined but often pretty incomplete world one finds in the academic world. So, I took my books with me into the real world.
    I’ve become familiar with most street types by now, but If I have to choose one I’ll go for the mostly quiet life on a small farm.

    Now I only have two wishes: 1: that I can spend the rest of my life alongside these hilly dirt roads, and 2: that one day I will get a proper digital connection that’ll make it easier to be a part of the academical world I never really left.

    What that makes me - street smart or book smart or both - I don’t know, and I’m not sure I really care. Life is funny, and it keeps getting funnier for each day that passes by ;-)

  3. Stomme Poes responds:
    Posted: May 25th, 2009 at 6:01 am

    I used to think it didn’t matter– I grew up lower-middle-class, and then partway through my childhood we moved (for tax reasons I think) to just outside a small town that had just started growing rapidly and eventually got a lot of new-rich types, whose kids laughed at holes in my shirts and how I didn’t know the latest of cable tv shows. My mom went through culture shock, she said– people put on makeup just to go to the grocery store! Since then my development went a different path, and I find I absolutely cannot relate at all with a close childhood friend who remained in that neighbourhood. Since high school I haven’t owned a tv that could get colour, and eventually that went too from lack of use (became addicted to public radio instead). I have almost no street smarts, and no, you can’t make up for that with book smarts. And so now, it shocks me, I get these immediate judgment thoughts when I meet people who talk dress and act in certain ways. My husband has it too (he was raised by activist-hippie types), and we keep saying “those people” or “those kinds of people” (basically anyone outside our “group”, which is a lot of groups of people). It’s something we keep thinking about. Why do we have these initial thoughts? What do they mean? How does this limit us? Because it does, absolutely, limit us.
    Those who have this seemingly automatic easiness and “clicking” with anyone and everyone, I see as talented (either through genetics or hard work or both) and I envy them.

  4. MetaSpring responds:
    Posted: June 13th, 2009 at 1:51 am

    You need a healthy mix of both to survive in today’s world. Both of them individually will only get you so far. A combined knowledge of both would be unstoppable!

  5. Ahmad Alfy responds:
    Posted: June 13th, 2009 at 10:52 am

    hmm, book smart I think I am… and that has been keeping me away from biker gangs so far!
    Graduating from faculty of medicine totally changed the way I communicate with the people. In a good way I mean but It created a distance between me and street smart guys.

  6. Alan responds:
    Posted: June 13th, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Stomme Poes,

    Bias and prejudice are just normal human traits. Not in a bad way. This is whats keeps us in or out of trouble. We gravitate and then hold on to friends that have like minded ways of thinking about things. It’s all in what makes us who we are. Granted there are times that this way of thinking keeps us from making new good friends but, it is the same thought process that keeps us from making bad friends as well. It’s one of life’s grand “give and takes.”

    I know I am street smart. i like to think of myself as book smart as well. I have had some turmoil in my life and it is really true that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I’ve been close to both sides on several occasions. My two best friends are a little of both as well. I think that’s why we can go just about anywhere and always be able to talk to people and have a good time. There is nothing wrong with and what makes being a middle of the road type work so well.

    For the most part I can be introduced to new people and find some common ground that makes me either not think about just walking away and the same for them.

    Looking back on some past times that seem so long ago, I can see this too. One of my good friends “back in the day” was a middle of the road type. Of course their “I’m better or know more than you” attitude would surface and ruin things on occasion. Then there were those times we would run into ’strangers’ and at the end of it all have made friends. Didn’t matter what they did, what they thought, where they were from or who we thought they really were.

    As humans I believe you gravitate to like minded individuals. Sometimes it’s fun to sit down and discuss things. Sometimes you just want to toss down a few cold ones and rant about nonsensical gibberish for hours.

    And although Stomme Poes you mention you envy these types, it’s harder to be that way. What you end up with is a smaller group of close friends. On the outside you have a load of acquaintances. None that are truly friends but none that are truly enemies.

    I wouldn’t trade my life experiences for the world. For better or for worse, they have made me who I am. I do believe though that you can’t choose this. Some are born to be more street smart and visa verse. Some are just destined to be in the middle.

  7. Sue responds:
    Posted: June 23rd, 2009 at 4:43 am

    hmmm…. food for thought.

    Our “group” is both but different! Hubby and I work and live in an aviation world and while some “book smarts” are required, it’s not the university undergrad or graduate academia-type “book smarts”. We’ve all also spent great chunks of time (measured in decades) in very small communities in the far north which require a certain level of “street smarts”. In addition, most of us have a moderate to high level of wilderness-smarts and those of us who have “paid our dues” and are now living in our dream locations, are in smallish houses on large-ish rural properties.

    I’m going to bring this up at our next few discussions and see what, if any, consensus we come to. Great food for thought and conversation starter!

    I just stumbled upon your site tonight as it’s annual “Fix up the farm website for fruit picking season” time. Lookin’ for a few CSS tips or tricks. :)

  8. Dave T responds:
    Posted: August 1st, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Interesting post, I think you need a bit of both to be honest. Well thats whatI think from over here in the UK.

    Nice blog too, I found you listed on wierd where the world of blogging can lead you too!

    Take it easy

  9. Alan Pappachan responds:
    Posted: September 1st, 2009 at 12:07 am

    I feel both book and street smarts are equally important. The key to cultivating both is to not be judgmental about life and to take things in your stride. To have the confidence in your abilities rather than in the way you look and project yourself to others. Another key ingredient (at least in my case) would be that while I definitely enjoy good company, I am also very comfortable being alone. You have to be comfortable with yourself to grow in two opposite directions.

    And what’s that thing about birds of a feather again? I got goosebumps reading the likes / dislikes of people who’ve posted here, because they mirror mine:
    No college education (I dropped out :-)
    No suits / ties (I run a software company, so sometimes client meetings force me to wear them, but otherwise I am always in t-shirts and jeans)
    Impatience with unintelligent people (they can’t help it, neither can I)
    Get along well with most people
    Books (read, read, read)
    Open roads (ride! ride! ride!) - I love motorcycling / driving long distances
    Small house in a large rural property (not yet, but getting there)
    Love the wilderness
    And while I’m not a photographer, I do take decent pictures!

  10. gage toohey responds:
    Posted: February 23rd, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Knowledge can be acquired from many sources. These include books, teachers and practical experience, and each has its own advantages. The knowledge we gain from books and formal education enables us to learn about things that we have no opportunity to experience in daily life. We can study all the places in the world and learn from people we will never meet in our lifetime, just by reading about them in books. We can also develop our analytical skills and learn how to view and interpret the world around us in different ways. Furthermore, we can learn from the past by reading books. In this way, we won’t repeat the mistakes of others and can build on their achievements.
    Practical experience, on the other hand, can give us more useful knowledge. It is said that one learns best by doing, and I believe that this is true, whether one is successful or not.

  11. Käyntikorttien responds:
    Posted: March 5th, 2010 at 6:37 am

    I think its both. But without street smart very hard. There lots of thing you need to know and these things you can not learn from books.

  12. Roberto Stoops responds:
    Posted: August 4th, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    You gotta have both. Unfortunately you can’t learn the street smarts from a book unless there is one out there that I don’t know. I guess it is the same as with “experience” which only seems to come the hard way :)

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