by James Gutteridge
Few things sadden me more than when I hear my students declare that they will never be successful, that they don’t have a dream, and that they don’t know what makes them happy. This is such a pessimistic outlook that one really has to wonder where it originated. And it’s not something they’ve been told.
It’s something they have learned. It is interesting that we hold up those who have university degrees to be the pinnacle of society. Perhaps the quality of society could be measured by community cohesion and the happiness of its members than by the number of people with university degrees?
As a result of this academic pursuit of knowledge, schools do their best to educate people to enter university. We therefore value those disciplines that are most closely aligned with academia. The arts aren’t as valued, and we commonly hear the phrase – “you can’t do that, you won’t get a job!” Yet who do we pay most to be entertained by? Actors, chefs, dancers, musicians, sports women and men, and authors.
It is a mistake to make students feel stupid for not fitting in with the academic demands of school. There are, of course, those who thrive academically, and their best contribution to society may require that particular pathway to expertise. There are also those whose contribution to society will be aspiring to the likes of Jamie Oliver, Johnny Depp, Michael Schumacher or J.K Rowling. Whatever makes us happy, providing of course that it does not involve harming others, should be our pursuit.
A.S. Neill, founder of the world-renowned Summerhill School, famously stated that he would rather educate a happy street sweeper than a neurotic prime minister.
Albert Einstein also famously stated that “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."
Optimism, as Martin Seligman writes, is the key to success. But when many students feel as stupid as a fish feels that cannot climb a tree no matter how hard it tries, society will continue to be filled with pessimistic people.
Despite this, I’m optimistic it can change! People just need to realize their inner genius.