“In what year Einstein,”asked the history teacher, “did the Prussians defeat the French at Waterloo?”
“I don’t know,sir,”
“Why don’t you know? You’ve been told often enough.”
“I must have forgotten.”
“Did you ever try to learn?” asked Braun.
“No, sir,” Albert replied with his usual unthinking honesty.
“I can’t see any point in learning dates.One can always look them up in a book.”
Mr Braun was speechless for a few moments.
“You amaze me, Einstein.” he said at last. “Don’t you realise that one can always look most things up in books? That applies to all the facts you learn at school.”
“Then I suppose you don’t see any point in learning facts.”
“Frankly, sir, I don’t, ” said Albert.
“Then you don’t believe in education at all?”
“Oh, yes sir, I do.I don’t think learning is education.”
“In that case,” said the history teacher with heavy sarcasm, “perhaps you will be so kind as to tell the class the Einstein theory of education.”
“I think it’s not facts that matter, but ideas,” he said. “I don’t see the point in learning the dates of battles, or even which of the armies killed more men. I’d be more interested in learning why those soldiers were trying to kill each other.”
“That’s enough,” Mr Braun’s eyes were cold and cruel. “We don’t want a lecture from you, Einstein.You will stay in for an extra period today, although I don’t imagine it will do you much good.It won’t do the school any good, either. You are a disgrace, I don’t know why you continue to come.”
“It’s not my wish, sir,” Albert pointed out.
“Then you are an ungrateful boy and ought to be ashamed of yourself.I suggest you ask your father to take you away.”
Albert felt miserable when he left the school that afternoon.”I don’t think I’ll ever pass the exams for the school diploma,” he told his friend.
When his cousin Elsa came to Munich, he shared his despondency with her.
“I am sure you could learn enough to pass the exams,Albert, if you tried,” she said, “I know lots of boys who are much more stupid than you are, who get through.They say you don’t have to know anything- you don’t have to understand what you’re taught, just be able to repeat it in the exams.”
“That’s the whole trouble,” said Albert. “I’m no good at learning things by heart.”
“You don’t need to be good at it.Anyone can learn like a parrot.You just don’t try.And yet I always see you with a book under your arms,” added Elsa.”What is the one you’re reading?”
“A book on geology.”
“Geology? Rocks and things? Do you learn that?”
“No.We have hardly any science at school.”
“Then why are you studying it?”
“Because I like it. Isn’t that a good enough reason?”
“You’re right, of course, Albert, ” she said. “But it won’t help with your diploma.”
-Excerpt from “The Young Einstein” by Patrick Pringle
(I was lured to write this excerpt today, because in the afternoon, I had called one of my friends, Nitish, and I was amused to learn that he had been studying a book on Geology. I told him he had made me remember young Einstein’s story!
As I revisited this old chapter, later in the evening and read this episode once again, I felt like sharing this story with everyone!
I like Einstein’s passion to learn, that is, in the spirit of knowing the essence of things, rather than memorising and repeating the facts. It is a blessing to be curious that way! But this passion comes with its own set of woes, which this tale very nicely captures.)
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