My brother is a genius.
You probably wouldn’t think so if you look at his grades—above average for a normal person’s standards, but extremely disappointing compared to my report card, decorated with an obnoxious abundance of “A’s” and “Advanced Placement”, almost as if my life depended on it.
You probably wouldn’t think so if you look at his writing and reading abilities either. He painstakingly struggles for hours over writing an essay, that when read, hardly makes any sense, partially due to the fact that he has consumed no “real” book longer than 300 pages in his life.
Now you probably are thinking that it is some extraordinary power, like he has memorized a thousand digits of Pi or has cured a rare form of cancer or can run a sub 4-minute mile.
Unfortunately, this is not the case either. Let me explain.
When my brother was about six years old, he discovered coins. It began as a simple hobby of collecting state quarters which he inserted into a cardboard map that probably cost more that the value of the quarters. But nevertheless, he was hooked, soon abandoning the mediocrity of these quarters in exchange for pricy metals—gold, silver, etc.—and more valuable coins.
By the age of ten, he had successfully memorized The Official Red Book, a 417-page price guide for US coins, and fluently spoke the language of coins, knowing the age, value and history for most of them. He invested his $2-per-week allowance, birthday and Christmas money into rolls of half dollars which he meticulously picked apart in search of the 90% silver ones, recognizing that they were valued at a price about fifteen times more than their newer contemporaries. Bank tellers knew him by name, as he regularly visited them in search of these prized rolls.
A couple of years later, my brother had amassed a collection that easily outgrew the shoe box sized lock box that had held those first coins. However, by this point, his interests were changing: he visited the bank less frequently, he rarely checked the gold price, and The Official Red Book, with its soft, worn pages, was set aside to rest.
His next obsession was anything related to blowing stuff up. Youtube tutorials were his textbook, as he concocted mixtures out of household items and built rockets: a great show in all, although there was much questioning from his friends’ parents about adult supervision, or lack thereof.
Guns, bow and arrows and slingshots followed soon after. It started with simple bows made out of sticks and strings. But recently, for an English project, he made a wood and metal cross bow that shot fairly fast and accurate, not to mention the commotion it caused with campus supervisors en route to the classroom. When it got to the point of him wanting a gun, it took a lot of convincing argument with my parents, who were not enthused by the idea.
“If you let me have a gun, I can shoot the turkeys on our property for dinner.”
An argument that he held up, despite the fact that he had never killed a wild animal and had no experience cleaning and butchering one. But, once again, trusty Youtube tutorials and natural instinct proved successful and an hour after he shot the bird, four pink pieces of meat lay neatly on a plate ready to cook.
My brother may not fit the conventional definition of a genius: Straight-A student, Ivy League bound, “Most Likely to Succeed”, Valedictorian, the list goes on.
But neither does Thomas Edison, who spent exactly 3 months in a formal education setting; Walt Disney, who never received his high school diploma; Bill Gates, who left Harvard junior year; names that have undoubtedly changed the world because of their self taught knowledge and apt for innovation, found nowhere in a school textbook.
I am not condemning the education system for its inability to produce intelligent, hard working contributors to society, because it already does a good job of that. However, society’s concrete way of deciding which subjects are most valuable, and judging students based on their aptitude for these subjects, is extremely flawed. Those who spend their time studying the gold price—a direct application of economics—those who teach themselves how to build rockets—unknowingly using principles of physics—those who memorize the value and history of coins—reading comprehension anyone?—will be considered intellectually inferior, merely if their report card is not up to par.
Geniuses are everywhere. But we cannot expect to uncover them until we realize that there is no “A” in success.