Though I was a straight-A student for most of my high school and college years, I failed kindergarten. I have told this story many times but I realize that I have never dedicated a blog post to it.
I ended up with a PhD from a top Canadian university and some of my research as an academic has been impactful.
But, as a kid, I wasn’t a good fit for schooling.
I could not tie my shoe laces. You might think that I was particularly lacking in hand-eye coordination, but I don’t think that’s the case. To this day, if you meet me, there is a good chance that my shoe laces will be undone. Yet while I am not an athlete, I can beat some hard video games that are demanding as far as reflexes and hand-eye coordination goes. I don’t know exactly why I am not good with shoe laces. I can do knots, as I was a boy scout. For some reasons, I am just not good with shoe laces. Yet it was one of the tests you had to pass in kindergarten.
The other test you had to pass was to learn your phone number. To this day, if you ask me for my phone number, I just don’t know it. I have to look it up, copy and paste it. So I failed this test.
You had to learn to count up to 10. I decided that since I was 5, it was fine to only know how to count up to 5. So I failed this test as well.
I probably failed all sorts of other tests as well.
So I was put in a class for students with learning disabilities. It wasn’t a punishment, I actually enjoyed it.
In the end, I would get really good grades. But my troubles were not over. Like Mandelbrot, I never learned the multiplication tables, instead I learned tricks to do multiplications in my head. Teachers tried really hard to prevent such an approach and you had to hide your schemes. I also never learned the quadratic formula, instead I figured out (on my own probably) how to complete the square quickly enough.
What I did learn, apparently, is independent thinking. Because I had a difficult realtionship with teachers and what they wanted, I think I learned to figure out what I wanted to learn on my own.