Saturday, March 29, 2008

Creating a genius

-- Driving my car one day, my friend sitting next to me... a sudden ramming into the breaks somehow set off a spirited discussion between us about kinetic friction and inertia and other mechanics of motion...

-- I watched the movie 300 recently. Hunk-watch-excitement aside, I was intrigued by the non-fantasized parts of the spartan lifestyle and the Battle of Thermopylae depicted in the movie. Soon after the movie, I caught up with the real, whole story of spartan history on wikipedia...

(Apart from flaunting the tiny undercover geek in me) why are these of any significance? - Well, these are hand picked instances of how much excitement I have been getting oflate from learning and discussing such topics... which is interesting because these (physics and world history) were my least favorite subjects in school.

Not that I did not bother to leaf through my physics or history textbooks in school - I did... and did it well. But the motivating factor was almost always scoring points in exams.

But now, I could devour all my physics and history text books in zest... in an unrequitted love for knowledge.

So, I have been wondering why this cognition-thristing-me did not happen 10-15 years ago... and in general about what it takes to impart this kind of a passion for knowledge in students early in their lifetime... what it takes to create a genius... what it takes to create many geniuses.

Dont most of us remember that one teacher who imbued us with a profound passion for his/her subject? So does the answer lie in making more great teachers?

I have stared at pages of laplace transforms or details on the second battle of panipat wondering what in "real life" anyone could possibly do learning all that. Is it about having us realize early-on how real they really are?

If some kid did have the learning-lust, would he/she score as well in exams as would his textbook-cramming counterpart? Maybe not. In all probability, the learning-luster would have wandered off to realms beyond his/her textbooks, and fall behind on the kind of questions which you could answer only if you had read the 4th word on the 7th line of the 52nd page of the textbook. Should the evaluation system change to credit the avant-gardist?

My recent interest was further piqued by books such as 'The Cartoon Guide to the History of the Universe' and 'A Short History of Nearly Everything' that convey much the same principles and facts as did our school textbooks, but in a much more fun manner. Should textbooks be re-written to make them more engaging?

I can ramble on and conjure up ten other ideas for spawning prodigies... but I would love to help.


sandeep said...

I share this thought in its entirety !

Harini Sridharan said...


The spur for writing this and wanting to do something is by a good measure triggered by conversations with you guys. I have to add "being with motivated peers" as one other way to create a genius :).

Anand said...

Cramming through text books is not necessarily bad. Even though it may not be as much fun at that point of time, what you end up memorizing for exams helps immensely in an intangible manner when you read something related later on in life. Sometimes learning the basics through "hard work" sets the stage for enjoying more advanced topics in the future.