Do geniuses need school?

From time to time one hears the idea that geniuses don’t need school. It is a popular myth that sometimes gains new life. The last resurfacing I saw of this myth was with the more and more popular internet memes. I don’t know if the reader is aware but it is a form of humor that is gaining more and more space and relevance. Although some are of dubious taste, others are a great exercise of humor. If you’re interested you can find more about internet memes in this wiki article.

But this week, when having a laugh with some memes I stumbled upon one that was making fun of the fact that dropping out of school and leaving education does not inhibit you from becoming a genius. The meme is this one. It is really just listening to very intelligent people that at some point in their academic life dropped out of school. Although this is more of a joke than any other thing, it reminds us of how education makes it difficult for creativity and intellectual freedom. And in a day and age that, through social media, a lot of young entrepreneurs are succeeding early in their life, the discussion regarding how school should adapt to this changing society has never been more current. And it is very interesting to read what these young entrepreneurs are saying, as you can read here.
Albeit of the relevance of reading opinions of how young entrepreneurs view the future of education, looking back is of the utmost relevance. And the research done by statistician David Banks is a great tool to understand how education can foster intelligence and creativity. On his research, he looked into epochs of history that have had more geniuses appearing than any other times and tried to identify patterns in these epochs and societies. And the conclusions are very interesting: The first conclusion was that these were epochs and societies, in which there was a lot of human mixing, a greater number of different cultures combined. This is a finding that can only emphasize the importance of intercultural education.
The other two conclusions that Banks research gives us are the ones that I would like to emphasize a bit more: the importance of education (all of these flourishing cultures pioneered new forms of teaching and learning); and the development of institutions that encourage risk-taking (as the example of the Renaissance Florence, which benefited from the willingness of the Medici to support new artistic forms). Both these patterns found by Banks research bring important insights for the future of education. The first one is that education is terribly important. In spite of our funny meme telling us the genius often quits school, history tells us that it is when education assumed importance and relevance (and applied new methodologies) that more geniuses had the chance to develop and benefit their society. The second insight is that education needs to give the opportunity to students to take risk and develop their ideas. This is of relevance, not only for first and second level education, but even more critically for higher education, where these new ideas from bright minds can start benefiting our society.
Of course not all these ideas will succeed but as it was put by Jonah Lehrer: “Many of these ventures failed—Shakespeare wrote several bad plays—but tolerating such failure is the only way to get a Hamlet.”

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