Is that wisdom pouring out of the mouths of babes?

Updated: 2012-11-26 17:48

By Jules Quartly (China Daily)

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Is that wisdom pouring out of the mouths of babes?

I don't equate education with intelligence because it doesn't add up.

While I understand that such a statement depends on the definition of intelligence and how it is measured, most people realize there is not a direct correlation between the ability to think abstractly or pass exams, and common sense or success.

In fact, the absent-minded professor and divorced-from-reality genius, like chess player Bobby Fischer, are stereotypes for good reason. Top politicians it would appear are generally reasonably well educated, but not intellectuals. On a lighter note, research shows the best-educated women are the least likely to reproduce. I'm not judging a childfree lifestyle, on the contrary, but it would be a Darwin Award winner by default.

Rich people aren't usually the best educated, even if they are obviously intelligent. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were all college dropouts. China's richest man is Zong Qinghou of Wahaha Group, which sells beverages. He worked on a salt farm after secondary school. No one thinks he's daft though.

Which brings us to Feng Shaoyi, a precocious 10-year-old from Zhuhai, Guangdong province, who says he doesn't have time for further education either.

He has reportedly skipped three grades due to his excellent academic performance, but when he posted online a kind of manifesto explaining why he wants to drop out of school, it also touched a nerve, the country's doubts about its rote-learning educational system and not producing enough fully fledged Nobel Prize winners.

Feng writes in his appeal to his parents and teachers: "I apply to drop out of school because I don't want to bury my ideals in meaningless exams."

The only point of education is to get a better-paid job, and this would be a waste of "beautiful youth".

He says he doesn't want to be president because he would have to wear a hypocrite's mask and spout things he didn't mean. If he were a scientist like Albert Einstein or an inventor like Alfred Nobel, he would be responsible for inventing weapons of mass destruction. If he were an inventor like Karl Benz, he would create cars that polluted the planet.

"What destruction was not caused by those who had great ideals?" Feng rhetorically asks.

He reasons that he can only find meaning in another person: "I might as well find a girlfriend now, roam the globe with her and stand aloof from the world.

"I have given it serious thought, it's absolutely terrible for a person like me with a high IQ to have great ideals. Supposing I became Hitler, Nobel or Einstein in the future, it would definitely be a disaster for humanity!!!"

I think I had similar feelings, though at a later stage and after studying for a joint honors degree in philosophy and literature. And I'm sure I'm not the only one. But there is more to Feng than pre-adolescent angst.

His criticisms of the school system are accepted by a lot of people in China, either parents who are roped into helping their child through mounds of spirit-sapping homework on long nights and weekends; or the Ministry of Education calling for teachers to be less didactic and form a more conducive atmosphere to creative, individualistic thinkers.

For others, including students themselves, it looks as if education is merely a form of social engineering creating compliance, like robots stuffed with code.

Feng is just 10 years old and as they say, sometimes a little information is a dangerous thing. But if he does represent some fraction of the future, then it shows there is some hope for those who think outside the box.

He should be congratulated for being different and perhaps if Feng was offered an environment suited to his talents, he would have a more rounded viewpoint and actually become an asset to society and do himself a favor at the same time.

For sure, I don't think education is a bad thing, but passing an exam by having a decent short-term memory is no guarantee of intelligence or future success, and can crush real thinking. I think Feng has got a point here and it would be wise to bear it in mind.

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