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March 24, 2011 / vegan betty

Judging fish on their ability to climb trees

“Everybody is a genius.  But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.”  ~Albert Einstein

Have you ever thought how ironic it is that schools have posters of Einstein in the classroom? Do people actually realize that Einstein loathed the educational establishment and believed that he became who he was in spite of school?

Intelligence is a problem. If Einstein said that ‘everyone is a genius’ then it must be true. And I see that in my own children. Elijah, for example, is a genius at drawing. Literally. He was looked at by art people as a three-year-old who couldn’t believe his ability to convey real life in his drawings. They said that a ‘normal’ child of his age ‘doesn’t draw people in such exact proportions’. He can navigate a computer better than many adults. He’s been Googling since he was three. He taught himself to read at three. His reasoning ability is scary – especially when he uses it to render me speechless and get his own way. He’s a master debater. But if you ask him 6 + 3, he’ll flippin’ freak. He doesn’t have a clue about numbers. As far as I can see, he has no numeracy skills. So if you had a conversation with him about the universe, you would say he’s intelligent. But if you talked to him about numbers, you would assume that he’s stupid. And this is the heart of what Einstein was saying: Elijah’s a fish who swims like a pro, but if we sit there and quiz him on things that a fish simply doesn’t do [climb trees] and we make him out to be the village idiot.

Rather, we stick to the things he’s good at. I let him amaze me all day long and then throw in a little bit of something he finds difficult towards the end because his confidence is so built up that he has the strength to try. If I just said, “Ok Elijah. You’re rubbish at math so we’re going to only do math until you get it” then he would ‘spend his whole life believing that he’s stupid’ as Einstein said.

When the lady at the checkout counter found out that I was home schooled, she’d throw around some numbers just to check that I was smart. Or the mailman. Or the guy on the corner. Whoever. Society seems to feel entitled to throw pop quizes at children at a whim. Ya know…just to check. This is how we measure intelligence. American universities don’t want to know how brilliant you are. They just want you to take the SAT. Ya know…just to check that you’re up to snuff. Because clearly, only a genius can answer multiple choice questions.

I’m amazed [yes you're right...I'm 'amazed' a lot] at the way humans throw around the word ‘genius’. Apparently, Steve Jobs is a ‘genius’. Darwin was a ‘genius’. The Facebook guy is a ‘genius’. But all of these people have shortcomings. They’re all bad a something. We also use the word ‘genius’ to describe people like Oprah and supermodels. I follow some celebrities on Twitter. And I am [yes, amazed] by the spelling and grammar that comes out of some of them. These are supposed to be geniuses!!! Genius actors, yes…scholars? Um…no. Yet we overlook the fact that they don’t actually have a grasp on their own language and continue to praise their brilliant minds. And I’m ok with this. Just as long as we can use those same overlooking skills to see the genius in our own children.

-Elizabeth

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