An assumption just as spurious as the one being questioned by the OP.
I think The Fury is asking the question of primary importance here. After all, if you define intelligence as the ability to pass tests, then academic ability does, in fact, equal intelligence. I’m not convinced that the two things are perfectly similar, but nor am i convinced that there is no correlation.
Another problem is that we confuse intelligence with erudition. That is, we confuse how intrinsically capable a person is of using his or her brain, on the one hand, with the accumulation of knowledge through the education system, on the other. A person might have the native intelligence of an Einstein or an Emerson or a Plato, but if that person has never been given a basic education, his or her chance to show that intelligence in modern society might be severely circumscribed.
I’m always bemused by the notion that original thinking is discouraged, even beaten down, in universities. I’m even more bemused when such critiques come from the business sector which is, which a few notable exceptions, a veritable ocean of stale ideas and conventional wisdom wrapped up in nonsensical bromides and colorful powerpoint displays.
I’m not saying that university students are wellsprings of original thought. Nor am i saying that we who teach undergraduates expect our students to discover something brand new and exciting with every class. Hell, some of the history i teach has been so well-studied and so frequently written about by historians that it would be hard for anyone to have an original thought about it. Go on, i challenge you: give me an original (and supportable via evidence and research) thesis about the origins of the US Civil War or the consequences of the New Deal.
The thing is, the sort of people who are really intelligent, who are really going to increase the wealth of human knowledge in some substantial way, will probably do it at some stage or another anyway. They’ll do it whether their teachers are great or mediocre, they’ll do it whether they get good grades or average ones.
In the meantime, we who teach undergraduates do the best we can to pass on what we consider to be essential knowledge, as well as a certain set of skills. For me, as a historian, its a knowledge of history and its importance, as well as skills like close reading, analysis, synthesis, writing and communication, argument and debate. It’s also, when possible, as sense of the wonder of the past, of its mystery and its banality, of its strangeness and its familiarity.
Most humanities teachers will admit that one probably doesn’t have to be supremely intelligent to pass a history or an English course. It’s also possible for very intelligent people to fail, not because they don’t understand or can’t do the work, but because they fail to turn up for class, or fail to hand in assignments. I agree that the low grades such students receive are not necessarily a reflection of their intelligence, but until someone gives me the ability to mind-read, the only way i can assess my students is by what they show me in their class discussion and their written work. If a student misses half the classes, and hands in essays that have obviously been thrown together in an hour with no thought or effort, then that student might be the smartest person in the world, but i cannot, in fairness, give him or her an A.
And, while it might be relatively easy to pass a history course, i do think that it’s hard to get a very high grade. For me, an A student will show a level of engagement and understanding well beyond the average, and will be able to deal with complexity and nuance in a way that other students cannot. I fully concede that history is not some arcane or specialized subject that only a few geniuses have access to. In fact, for me, one of the attractions of history is that anyone with the desire and the time can understand it and appreciate it. But i also think that, however imperfect the system we have for evaluating students, we do our best to reward the sorts of abilities that reflect a certain amount of intelligence on the part of the student.
There’s also a certain paradox when those out in “the real world” criticize academia for its grading systems. I know plenty of academics who would be happy to abolish the grading system altogether, and to teach in an environment where each student simply takes from the class what he or she feels is useful and necessary. We would also like to teach only students who are really interested in being in our classes, rather than a bunch of students who are forced to take certain subjects or courses for their major, or whatever.
But the “real world” into which we send our students—the business and government and organization world—insists that we come up with a system for ranking them. At the same time as many of these places mock academia, they rely on it to weed out people that won’t fit in to their structures. While declaiming academia’s lack of originality, they often reject anyone who shows any tendency to buck the system or go his own way. While claiming that grades are no measure of “real world” success, they will often throw out the application of any candidate with a GPA under 3. Despite claims about “ivory tower” aloofness, academia is, in many ways, simply a reflection of the society in which it dwells.