So the story goes that when someone once asked Einstein why he didn’t try harder to memorize his own phone number, he replied, “Because I have no intention of calling myself.”
Had he been born today, enlightened behavioral scientists and child psychologists would have labeled Einstein as twice exceptional – someone bearing both an exceptionally high IQ and documented learning disabilities. The would have likely thrown words around like Autism Spectrum, Aspergers, Memory Processing Disorder, Dyslexia, and Dysgraphia. But with or without a diagnosis, most of the misperceptions which plagued Einstein would still exist today. Teachers and doctors would still wonder if he was mentally retarded when he didn’t start speaking until age nine. His failure to learn how to spell along with his inability to memorize random data such as times tables or names on a map would still result in most teachers thinking Einstein needed to focus on these failings to “catch up” with his peers. And for those teachers who actually saw the spark of genius behind the learning disabilities, many of those would believe he was playing them and lying when he tried to explain how he lost yet another assignment. They would never believe that someone that smart could be that forgetful.
It seems Einstein’s bane was keeping up with an umbrella. He lost them everywhere he went, and stories are recorded about his wives complaining about him constantly losing things.
So why am I writing about Einstein? Because I can’t understand how we can celebrate this man’s quirks as part of his obvious genius and contributions to society – and how we can understand that in great part his genius was because his brain was created so uniquely – and yet we persist in trying to shove all of our unique thinkers of today into the same box that people tried to fit Einstein in. How is it that our education system hasn’t evolved to the point that when a teacher sees these same quirks in a child today – the forgetfulness, the gaps in standard skills like spelling and memorizing, the out-of-the-box answers – that there isn’t this lightbulb that goes off that maybe, just maybe, we have the gift of another “Einstein” for this generation?
In the course of the past few months, I’ve received emails from my child’s teachers accusing him of not making enough effort to memorize important material for a test, of purposefully “playing” the teacher – that no one could forget an assignment that many times in a row, of being lazy (that one might be a bit fair; he’s a teenager). But my favorite has to be the teacher who told him to get help so he didn’t “turn in the same kind of crap” he did on his last assignment. That’s right. There is a teacher certified to teach special education that believes that this is how we should be talking to our students. All I can say is that he has no idea how hard my son tries. I watch the hurt in his eyes, and I see him being tempted to give up just a little more every day – and because I see the brilliance of his mind and the possibilities of what he can contribute, I get just a little more frustrated every day. My son is lucky. He has parents who see him for all he has to offer, and he has a few in the school system who are advocating for him (and for those I am so grateful; they make it bearable). But all in all, it is disheartening that this is what we are doing to our children in our public schools. Mine is just one of how many who face this every day?
If you haven’t yet seen it, I highly recommend listening to the TEDxABQ talk this year by Alix Generous, a brilliant thinker of today whose mind has generated such unique approaches to current problems that, barely in her twenties, she has already addressed international audiences with her insights. She advocates more eloquently and effectively than I ever could for the need to protect – not “fix” – the unique thinkers of our day.