Another brick in the wall

| April 11, 2017 | 0 Comments

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein1

So how should a fish be judged? “By the brightness of its eye, which indicates whether it is fresh enough to pop into a pan.” – Jamie Oliver2

According to many apocryphal accounts, Albert Einstein’s schooling years were unsuccessful, to say the least.3 His genius remained unrecognised during this time. But I have sympathy for his teachers. What did he expect of them – that they should steer away from the three Rs and, instead, devise tests to judge him on his ability to make up famous equations??

And encourage him because, hey, everyone’s a genius, and what if this strange little lad with the big nose is onto the theory behind … oh, let’s say, the biggest weapon of mass destruction ever conceived? Picture the unlikely scene: Teacher: “Now class, here’s a little test to see if those of you who struggle with reading and writing, to say nothing of arithmetic, should rather be examined on other things like, oh, let’s say, your grasp of the theory of relativity. Now, listen carefully. Can you complete the following equation: E = … (pause). Hmm? Anyone? Anyone? How about you, what’s your name again? Eins-? –? Eins, zwei, drei, vier… ha-ha, I’m joking! Don’t sulk, young Einstein. Oh come on! Get over yourself, Albie, and give it a go. Nobody will call you stupid. The question is, E equals… what?” Young Einstein: “Er, Sir, E = … is it… m? And, er… b squared?” Teacher: “I’m amazed! Oh so close, Albie!

Do you know, I think you might have potential after all…” Einstein would have applauded how teachers, these days, are so encouraging of individual ability. But, how shall we put it, it can have unintended consequences. As we all know, teachers have favourites. This one kid absolutely crept into all of our hearts. Alwyn Alberts was just so likeable. He was just so cheerfully retarded – his genius lay in his charm. He had the endearingly engaging smile of the truly stupid. And he was so self-effacing about his clumsiness and his lack of coordination. But he tried so hard. And so teachers could never find it in their hearts to fail him. Although he did fail his driving test.

Many times. On one occasion, with the driving examiner in the car, it was because he found himself behind a stationary bus. He looked carefully to check there was no oncoming traffic, then looked carefully in all his mirrors to see that there were no cars overtaking, and then, just as carefully, drove into the back of the bus. But we still made sure he got a matric – what harm could it do? He left school with our blessing to pursue – what career? We didn’t know. As the years passed, we heard nothing more about Alwyn. Until I happened to board a plane destined for Europe. Over the intercom, I heard words that sent deathly chills into my already flight-nervous heart. “Good evening. This is your captain, Alwyn Alberts, speaking. We will be taxiing out shortly…” The person responsible for my survival in this heavierthan- air machine was the driving school dropout!

Would we even make it to the runway, let alone through the air traffic around Heathrow? Einstein may not be totally right. Even at the risk of believing they are stupid, fish should definitely be made aware that tree climbing (or flying for that matter) is not for them.  Bruce Pinnock had a long and prestigious teaching career. He denies ever having called a child “retarded”.

References: 1. See, for example: 2. Apocryphal. 3. See: quit-school.html.


Category: Autumn 2017, Featured Articles, Regular Columns

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