OPINION: 'Our Dangerous Addiction To Intelligence' by Ofili Speaks

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

This is a question that almost every person has been asked at one point in their life. The answers we are most likely expected to give include Accountant, Engineering or Medicine. But John Lennon of The Beatles gave a different response…when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, John Lennon…who was barely five years old wrote down the word “happy.”

But his teacher did not accept the answer “happy” they wanted something else…an occupation and definitely not a feeling. They accused John Lennon of not understanding the question…

That clash between a 5 years old’s innocent mind and an established and aged educational system, generated a classic response from John that exposed one of the greatest and most critical flaws of our educational system. In the words of John Lennon…

“They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

And that is the truth, because for decades our educational system has not understood life. We seek to train students, with a goal to make them the most intelligent so that they can get the best jobs. We teach them how to answer questions and pass tests so that they can get the highest grades. But in the midst of all the craziness we forget to teach them about life, about happiness and about kindness. John Lennon in his response simply wanted to be  “happy” and judging from his track record on humanitarian efforts it is safe to say that his happiness was centered on others being happy.

But education teaches otherwise, the focus is on intelligence. They teach us how to derive, integrate, permutate and postulate but fail to show us how we can use any of that to make people happy. The focus is simply on intelligence and I daresay that we have an addiction to intelligence. And that addiction can be a dangerous one…

Sometime ago I stumbled across a primary school Mathematics word problem and it read:

Ada HAD 8 sisters. 6 of her 8 sisters ran away due to domestic abuse and violence and of those 6 that ran away, 3 of them died from malaria. How many sisters does Ada have left? see answer here

This is a trick question as you probably know and you have to read between the lines to get the answer. But, before I tell you the answer, let me tell you a story with a much simpler Math’s problem…

When I was in primary one, my parents were very worried. I had just completed my Mathematics exam or test…not sure what they called it in those days. But that is not important, what was important at least to my parents and teacher was that I had failed my Mathematics exam. I knew something was up because the teacher had called for a special session with my parents and my Dad showed up. For my Dad to take time off of work to come to my school, it meant that the situation was very bad. The teacher spoke about my exam failure…and probably how I was the lowest in class.

I sat down as they talked…all vague memories. Except I knew that my Dad was worried about what he had heard. Apparently I had reversed my “plus” and “minus” signs in the Math’s test. By reversing the signs, I was guaranteed failure in that test. I remember the look of worry on my Dad’s face as we drove away in our lime green Peugeot 505. I remember the car, because it was our only car at that time that had a working air-conditioner and I hated the color “lime green.” It made the car look cheap, we later painted the car ash grey, but this has nothing to do with the story.

I remember the car ride from school back home, it was long (or at least it seemed long) and my Dad kept on talking about my poor grades and me needing to step up and all. I guess he was worried that his son would grow up not being intelligent…The irony of it all is that if the teacher actually re-reversed the minus and plus signs on my test papers, she would have found out that my answers were surprisingly correct. But I learned quickly that all that was irrelevant in our educational system. You either got it right or you got it wrong. There were no 50 shades of grey just one shade of black! And that shade of Black was that you were intelligent.

When I look back on that day I laugh…not because the situation was funny but because in reality Primary 1 was too early for any parent to be worried about their child’s academic future. But this was Nigeria, a country were everyone’s Father or Mother came 1st in their respective classes or at least told stories about coming 1st. Nigeria, a country were having bad grades was basically the same thing as not giving your life to Christ or being a born again….and if you indeed had bad grades, you were looked at as deficient. It did not matter if you had the sweetest smile or voice…as long as you were not topping your class, something was wrong with you. So parents spend sleepless nights worrying over their son or daughter who is coming 10th in class instead of 1st. So worried that they will do every and anything to ensure their kids get to the top whether they are in Secondary school or Nursery school. From screaming to extra lessons to even fasting, nothing is off the table as they use whatever they can to feed their addiction to intelligence. It reminds me of psychologist and business executive Lac Su.

As a child Lac Su was an introvert and a perceived slow learner. Characteristics that did not go down well with his parents, who were particularly preoccupied with his lack of progress in school. Fixated on the idea that he was a slow learner and confusing his cautious approach to learning as a sign of incompetence or a lack of desire, his parents resorted to extreme discipline…from flogging to social isolation from any form of fun or friends. But no matter how hard Lac worked or obeyed their commands, his performance was just never good enough…his parents wanted intelligent but to them all they got was Stupid. So when the mind games and beatings didn’t make him intelligent…his parents resorted to an ancient Chinese cure for stupidity.

So one Saturday morning when Lac Su was just in 3rd grade (the Nigerian equivalence of Primary 3), his parents sat him down at the family’s kitchen table and plopped a throbbing, round lump of pink flesh, the size of a softball onto a plate in front of him. It landed with a loud splat. It looked like a piece of raw meat, but that definitely could not be what was in his plate.

Turns out that the oblong hunk of flesh aka the Chinese cure for Stupidity was actually an actual Cow’s brain! His parents believed that by consuming the brain of a cow, their son would become smarter and eventually intelligent. So every weekend for the next 365 days, his parents made him eat the brain of a cow! Sadly, this is not some sort of movie, it is something that actually happened. One that occurs in many variations across globe and in Nigeria. Parents that are willing to do anything to ensure that their kids are intelligent so that they can feed their own intelligence addiction. And for what?

While nothing like this has happened in Nigeria to my knowledge…I am willing to bet that if the brain of a cow was slightly rumored to make a child smarter, there would be a shortage of cows in Nigeria, I even predict that cows would have become endangered or extinct in Nigeria by now! Because we have our own cow brains, they are simply replicated in the form of prayer, discipline and extra lessons!

Back then I would finish school (primary school) at 1 pm and then stay 2 extra hours for school lessons till 3 pm, only to come back home to a private tutor lesson teacher for another 2-3 hours. The only memory of television I had was during the weekend or from stories from classmates, which I told other classmates just so I maintained my coolness factor. And it did not help that my mum was a teacher, which meant that on the days our lesson teacher did not show up, she took their place and made us do exercises upon exercises. I still wonder why parents especially Nigerian parents make their kids go through all this hassle…maybe it has to do with a critical flaw in our Nigerian educational system? One that has to do with the answer to the earlier question…How many sister does Ada have left, if 6 of her 8 sisters ran away due to domestic abuse and violence and of those 6 that ran away, 3 of them died from malaria. see answer here

This article is PART 1 of an advanced excerpt of Ofili’s TEDxZumarock Talk: Our Dangerous Addiction To Intelligence. To find out the answer to the question “How Many Sisters Does Ada Have Left?” visit here

Ofili is an award winning Drink Mixer motivational speaker, author, success coach and karate kid entrepreneur who blogs about life, success and entrepreneurial excellence. Follow him on twitter , facebook or subscribe to his blog for more success TIPS!” To bring Ofili to your school or organization as a speaker simply go here. His latest book is titled HOW LAZINESS SAVED MY LIFE, to find out how it saved his life click


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