Many years ago, a mother was desperately searching for her son around the house. After a frantic hunt, lasting nearly two hours, she decided to check their less-ventured-in storeroom. As she stepped in, she was amazed at the sight. Her son was trying to balance himself in a very difficult half-seated position on an egg, so that he wouldn’t break it. He was sweating due to his long and intense effort. The mother, as expected, decided to give him a piece of her mind. When the boy saw his mom moving towards him, he quickly motioned for her to stay silent and stop. But the mother, in her volcanic frame of mind, ignored all warnings and requests and just marched forward, scolding him. Frustrated, the boy got up and complained: “Just another hour and the chick would have hatched!”

Flabbergasted, the mom said: “What?”

The boy was visibly disappointed: “You ruined my experiment. I was sitting on this egg to find out how long it would take to hatch.”

This amusing boy was Thomas Edison (1847-1931), a self-educated scientist with over 1000 inventions in the world. Like many other geniuses, he did not fare well at school. In fact, he was branded as a poor student: someone the parents could not mention with much pride.

At another time, in England, there was another boy who was branded as a failure. His parents spent their hard-earned money to get him a decent education, but he only brought them shame. Not able to tolerate the humiliation, they sent him away to a boarding school and did not even visit him because they were so upset with him.

Giving up hope of the boy’s admission to university, the parents tried to send him to the armed forces that apparently required less academic intelligence. After their son’s two failed attempts to clear the entrance test for the army, the parents hired the country’s most expensive tutor who had a 24-year track record of excellence.

After battling the young man tooth and nail, the teacher managed to get him into the forces by a narrow margin. The boy was the last on the list of the recruits, and hence, the teacher’s honour was ‘saved’ along with the sanity of the parents.

This boy was Winston Churchill (1874-1965), a winner of the Nobel Prize in literature and twice Prime Minister of England. Highly regarded biographers state that: “Great Britain is great because of Sir Winston Churchill.” Please note that he, too, was labelled a poor student by the conventional schooling system.

A teacher of Albert Einstein said the following about him: “Mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in foolish dreams.” He was seriously advised not to consider studying science as he was termed weak. It was fortunate that Einstein paid no heed to that advice, or the world would have been deprived of a great mind.

What is intelligence?

This has been the world’s favourite subject for the past three thousand years. Ulema, thinkers, and researchers have all debated over it. The last hundred years have seen educational psychology come into existence. Some thirty years ago, Mr. Howard Gardener, the Dean of the Faculty of Educational Psychology at the prestigious Harvard University, researched for six years the first stage of his theory of multiple intelligences. He headed a team that studied a large cohort of two thousand children. It was established that Gardener’s theory did indeed hold true and his research received much attention in academic circles.

According to Gardener, intelligence is not a singular entity but is multi-dimensional. So it cannot be measured in any one area but has many domains. In this way, all children are intelligent, just in different ways. They can solve problems and create products of value. This phenomenal discovery has impacted the world of education significantly in the past twenty years. Kids can survive and excel through any one of the discovered intelligences and so they should be permitted to grow and develop in and master a specific area.

What the geniuses and experts in education state

“Everybody is a genius; but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” (Albert Einstein)

“Kids go to school and college and get through, but they don’t seem to care about using their minds. School doesn’t have the kind of long-term positive impact that it should.” (Howard Gardener)

“Human intelligence is richer and more dynamic than we have been led to believe by formal academic education.” (Sir Ken Robinson)

Why children fail?

“Curiosity is the basis of every child.” (Imam Ghazali) At birth, every child is an intelligent being of Allah (swt). However, as children venture into the world of grown-ups, many adults, based on their acquired knowledge and skills, term them as unwise and, at times, downright stupid. Let’s draw a comparison: if we, as adults, know nothing, or very little, about automobile engineering, our motor mechanic will consider us to be ignorant and stupid, too. We treat our children in a similar manner and kill their intelligence by:

  1. Doubting them;
  2. Sharing our doubt with others;
  3. Telling our children our own doubts about them and eventually making them doubt themselves;
  4. Making them believe that they are actually unintelligent.

Why don’t we take our kids’ interest seriously? There are three characteristics of interest:

  1. Sustainable interest. A child shows self-initiated enquiry and original pursuit for something. However, interests switch fast from 0 till 10 years of age. There is a difference between wish and interest. Wishes to be someone or do something disappear as fast as they appear, while interests remain strong.
  2. Urge for excellence. The child demonstrates a natural desire to do his/her best at something of his/her intense liking and doesn’t need to be reminded, pushed, or pulled in any direction. The child doesn’t mind investing himself in it and enjoys every moment of engagement.
  3. Expression of creativity. He/she finds a means to express his/her intelligence. Sometimes the child can also excel in a more than one area. For example, an apt writer can also be a brilliant illustrator or a child with strong social skills can also be a great mathematician.

Charter of children’s recognition

  1. Listen to, and acknowledge, children without losing your temper. A child may come and show you his scribbles today. But he could be an artist of tomorrow in the making.
  2. Recognize the individuality of every child instead of comparing kids. With adults, we tend to do this in their absence. But with children, we are audacious enough to do it in their presence.
  3. Treat children with unconditional respect and trust.

This is challenging for parents and educationists to implement and internalize.

Our Prophet (sa) recognized people for their unique intelligence and channelized it for Islam. Every Sahabi was distinct in his conduct and contribution. Together they were a constellation of stars under the brilliant guidance of the beloved Messenger (sa). They were as diverse as the world Allah (swt) has created for us with all its splendour and marvels. In the words of Howard Gardener: “Anything that is worth teaching can be presented in many different ways. These multiple ways can make use of our multiple intelligences.”

Muslims critically need to conquer each and every domain if they want to rise as global leaders and ignite their multiple intelligences. Within the boundaries of Shariah, there is a vast open field. We should not be hobbling and limping in shoes made by others. We were meant to fly by leaps and bounds.

Tu Shaheen Hai Basera Ker
Paharon Ki Chat’tanon Per
(Allama Iqbal)

Adapted by Rana Rais Khan, based on a workshop conducted by Mr. Siddiqui.