“You are a genius” Uncle Wellington, our Economics teacher years back when I was in SS2 once told Raymond, my classmate. I had caught a glimpse of Raymond’s face immediately, and what I saw was a pleasant smile that permeated Raymond’s naturally stern face; it must have felt so cool for Raymond to be acclaimed a, “genius”, and throughout our Senor class that would justify his arrogance and forwardness. What had qualified Raymond as a genius? What had made him feel so prized being one? Well, the simple answer is: around here, one does not come across geniuses everywhere; a genius is supposed to be a special breed that is able to attain certain pinnacle the society sets, so its big deal when anyone attains that height and so it was for Raymond. And what pinnacle had Raymond attained? He had scored 100% in an Economics examination! – That’s the way we define exceptional intelligence around here; marks, grades and other vain achievements. At the higher levels, one is a genius if one graduates with a first-class; become a professor at 40, in business, it’s usually how much money one amasses within a short period of time, in civil service, it’s one’s ability to get promoted before one’s colleagues and get to the highest rank there is, in the market place, it is a person’s ability to secure the most clients, etc. The danger of this mentality of ours and our flawed view of success is that it blurs the lines between creativity and mediocrity, we unconsciously celebrate mediocre; scare talents, intimidate ingenuity, underestimate creativity and disregard our human ordinariness.
By placing much value on marks, grades, money, personality, prominence and other material accomplishments, we have unconsciously killed the creativity of many and our preference for these things has led us into a primitive acquisition of wealth. We kill creativity and breed mediocre by dissociating from virtuous beginners, talented people with million dollars worth of ideas and zeal but zero Naira worth of money. As a result of our crass materialism, we care solely about the end and not the means; we are too impatient to give a chance to the young and talented ordinary people, so, these ones are right down the ladder, languishing in man-made dearth while their talents remain unexploited and their creative ingenuity is bloodlessly murdered.
From the elementary stage where a pupil is regarded second-class if he or she doesn’t solve Mathematics problems on the go, to the offices where one has to virtually lick the boss’s stinking legs to be promoted; we breed mediocre by blotting and blocking the chances of great minds who somehow seem not to appeal to our hazy sense of judgment.
I love education and I know education is very important in every child’s life but there is a danger in placing education above all other human undertakings; judging people’s capacity by their ability to read English comprehension passage and give verbatim answers. We breed mediocre when we revere people with University degrees and disdain those with other supposedly “lesser” qualifications; we kill creativity because we believe that it is only failures that should attend the technical schools. We kill creativity because we are only interested in employing certificates not skills – the best we can have is an unproductive society despite huge number of professors; the best we can have if we fail to value individual talents is a nation where there are superfluous chartered accountants while the nation is in deficit.
What if Raymond knew and recognised the fact that all his classmates were equally geniuses in their own unique and different ways; what if Uncle Wellington acknowledged other students who although didn’t score 100% in Economics, would do very well in other non-academic activities, what if we do not look down on the messengers in our offices just because we see their jobs as menials, but we value them because their job is likewise very important and they are also professionals in their fields. Imagine farmers being accorded respect just like those in other professions like medicine, realizing the importance of food to any nation; imagine that education becomes a commodity for all, yet not a standard for judging anyone’s innovative feat, imagine a Nigeria where citizens respect one another as human equals despite human differences; it is only in an atmosphere where there is room for every individual to express themselves creatively without any bias whatsoever that we can indeed breed creativity and help development our nation into the desired state.