“It’s OK, Even Einstein Flunked Math!”

einstein-645461_640Taking our cue from Ken Jennings, this week at 4 Mothers we are examining some myths and legends we pass on to our children.  So we have established that it is ok to eat raw cookie dough and that the Five Second Rule is totally true (even if we pretty much knew that it is gross to give kids food from the floor).  How, how do these rumors get started?!  I’ve spent how many years fretting over the dough?

Well, for this next one, look no further than Ripley’s Believe It or Not, if not for the origin of the rumor then for spreading it like wildfire.

My eldest celebrated his 12th birthday this weekend, and as we gathered with his friends around the fire to make the celebratory birthday s’mores, talk turned, as it often does, to Einstein.  (The kids are much occupied with end-of-year matters like exams and grades and whatnot.)  Several of them opined, in a self-soothing way, that, “Hey, even Einstein flunked math.”

I am pretty sure that there is a parenting award out there with my name on it, because, even though I had just read that this is, in fact, not true, I kept my trap shut and just kept roasting my marshmallow.  Right around the time that Grade 12 Calculus whipped my ass, and my teacher gave me the whole “I told you so” speech about how I had, like Milton’s Satan, aimed too high and now must fall, I, too, once self-soothed with the idea that the great Einstein had flunked math.

The problem with this homily is that we need a better life example, because Einstein was a spectacular math student in his youth.  He laughed in 1935 when a Princeton rabbi showed him a Ripley’s Believe It or Not cartoon claiming that he had bad grades as a child.  “I never failed in mathematics,” he replied.  “Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus.”  In fact, Einstein was so far ahead of his peers that he was largely self-taught, out of advanced texts he parents bought him.  At the age of eleven, he worked out his own novel proof of the Pythagorean Theorem, which seems to be pretty good evidence that he was, as my kids’ teachers say in parent conferences, “working at or above grade level.” …  In 1929, when Einstein was fifty, the headmaster of his old school got so tired of hearing the “Einstein flunked” rumors that he actually produced his old pupil’s childhood report card, and sure enough, his grades were excellent.

Is this why we let the rumor persist?  To allow successive generations of kids feel better about their academic struggles?

Who knows.  All I know is that yet another of my world views has been shattered, but I’m saving the disappointment about this one for myself.

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