Our Dangerous Addiction To Intelligence #TEDxZuma

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“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 anger management coach motivational speaker, author, success coach and cook 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.

He has written two books, How Laziness Saved My Life and the best-selling How Stupidity Saved My Life, to find out how they both saved his life visit ofilispeaks.com or text STUPIDITY or LAZINESS to 33110 to immediately begin reading the ebook version on your Blackberry (Only available for MTN Blackberry Users).


Author: Ofili

Words by Okechukwu Ofili of ofilispeaks.com
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39 comments on “Our Dangerous Addiction To Intelligence #TEDxZuma

  1. This hit close to home! My nephews and nieces close from school at 3:30pm, get home some minutes past four(Lagos traffic), receive extra lessons from a home tutor till 6pm, do assignments till 6:30pm or so, bathe, eat, watch tv and sleep. Very boring routine…. And my mom still fasts for me. She says her enemies are behind my decision to withdraw from medical school. LoL. Very well-written.
    Owgee latest post is THE OTHER HALF OF THAT YELLOW SUN.My Profile

  2. Brilliant! Your sense of humour is amazing .. Laughed so hard the way you described the lime green 505 lol! I’m sure TeDxZuma will be a fantastic event,no doubt. Unfortunately I’m not in ABJ atm to attend, but I’ll sure follow up the activities after the event. Errm … Can i reblog this on my Blog??

  3. Nicely composed Ofili. If our nation would achieve it’s full potential, it’s because our people have realized their individual and collective potentials. Career choices are important and go beyond academic qualifications. In any case, people like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates have proven that such qualifications do not necessarily mean career fulfillment. They are super wealthy and didn’t bother finishing their undergraduate degree.

    We must begin to refocus our parenting so that children develop skills that align with their passions and talent while they also learn moral lessons driven by the need to add value to society.

  4. It’s something I’ve always said, “no be everybody suppose go school”. If a child takes more than 1/2 the time his mates take to grasp the same level of education, perhaps the problem is no longer with the student but now with the teacher. Why torture the little kid into conforming when it’s clearly not working? Why not try something else? There rarely is one solution that is the answer to all problems. Just as some English Premier League fans are quick to point out that a certain Frenchman has been coaching a side using the same tactics for close to a decade with continually negative results but this said manager is unwilling to change his approach much to the chagrin of die hard supporters (no sub intended). But alas, the teacher is never wrong, authority (our parents, elder siblings, government, religious leaders) are NEVER wrong. Thus, we have a bred a whole generation of ‘yes-men’ who rarely, if ever, question anything, as long it comes from the top (I could write a book on this twisted mentality and what it has done to many of us, but that’s for another time and place). I’ve had friends who were gifted artists stuck in Engineering, and gifted artisans stuck in Humanities just to get degrees for degree’s sake. Most young people don’t discover who they really are until they’re done with school and have some level of independence to explore and find their niche. The worst case scenario is when they never realise who they really are or who they should/could be, drowning in a river of cultural and social bias towards the ‘smart’ & ‘successful’. This picture is just the best description I could find of the intelligence conundrum: http://www.9gag.com/gag/5522336

  5. First, it was the S-word syndrome of our society. Now, it’s a seething look at our dangerous addition to intelligence. Ofili, I really wonder what telescope you use in peering into the fabric of our society, because you find the stains.

    I am a product of that cycle, although my parents let me play and watch tv a lot. I guess it paid off, as my perception has not become this reality. But similar stories abound around me, as I became a reference point for parents to cite ‘intelligent’ children to theirs.

    I believe P is for PLAY, and our imaginations put into play, become a foundation for our dreams and creativity onwards. Gladly, I won a ticket to watch you complete this story, and am eager.

  6. Ofilli, you always fascinate me with your writings; as a fellow author, you’re a source of encouragement. Still lets face it, you are a product of your upbringing: bad or good, fair or unfair, Nigerian or American. I say Kudos to you mum, and pls express my gratitude to her for purchasing my book during our last year book presentation.
    Kudos my friend and remember AUTHORS DAY PROJECT IS ON THE WAY, you must attend.

  7. Jennietobbie on said:

    Almost the story of my life. If you went to IELC/DISS, you just can’t excape extensionlextension lessons, Saturday Lesson, even we occasionally wore ” mofti” to school on independence fay. Then we had the ‘ August extension lessons ” and we were expected back to school early September. Oh did I forget the private lesson teachers too? Wow. Just wow. The irony is that after years of learning this “intelligence helplessness” it’s always hard to unlearn it. Great article, Ofili. And the nearly impossible PTA meetings and disciplinary notes????? After years of graduating from secondary school, most of my classmates who got disciplinary notes and gave their parents executive frequent visitors pass due to their “poor academic performance” turned out greattttttt—unapologetically smashing all our expectations. Lol. God dey o. I shall now end this rant.

    Great job again 🙂

  8. I probably have the best parents ever. None of us were ever forced to do extra lessons. Ok maybe I was for a while, but they used be as a guinea pig for my siblings. My parents were one of the few Nigerians to understand this concept of letting a child express himself. By my primary 5, every of my mates were doing extra lessons except me. I know a friend who was doing better than me but always got a beating if he ever came back after each term with less than 1st position. My younger ones had an even shorter stint of extra lessons. I guess my parents trusted us too well, and though we disappointed once in a while, the trust they entrusted us with just pricked our conscience and, on our own, we decided to do better, no pressure

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  10. Gbemisola on said:

    Oh my goodness..a lime lime green coloured Peugeot! with AC inside… that’ll be perfect for a rock star entry to a show! And why did Ada’s sisters run away? and they also died from malaria, that must have been too much to bear! *Pausing for one second so I can grieve*…. still grieving. em… what was your piece about again??

  11. Jaco Oluyemi on said:

    Good job Ofili. The illustrations are down to earth compelling to have a better view about life and finding happiness. Keep it up!

  12. Dats a wonderful piece. I wonder everyday what kids learn in school from 8-3 or 4pm. I mean, I went to a public school from about 12 – 6 – schools had d morning and afternoon sessions then- and I think I still learned what was required at that level. So wats the extra that’s being taught dat 6 hours can’t cover? When I was preparing for JAMB exams, I looked at the brochure and no course appealed to me because the only thing I was interested in was being a tailor. But how do u tell your family that that was your chosen career? So I chose to read something that wasn’t “professional” because ‎my family wanted me to read Law and I told them, “boring.” I finished school but still wanted to b a tailor. Infact, it became like an addiction, I dreamt it, ate it sweated it, talked about it, all I could think about was designing, cutting and sewing on ‎my machine. But I was told I needed a job. So started the search for a job for 2 years until I got one. But ‎my sole purpose of working was to save enough money to go to fashion school. I hated the job because it wasn’t me, wasn’t what I wanted to do with the reat of ‎my life, I wasn’t happy because I was addicted to ‎my dream. I held the fort for a year and half, saved some cash and took a bow. Right now, am through with the first stage of ‎my sewing course and am thinking of getting a job so I can afford the second part but come hell or high water, I am going for the second part of the programme next year. The whole aim of ‎my boring piece is I am sooooooo happy because I finally get to be a real tailor and not just in ‎my mind. ‎my mum said then that I should go for ‎my Master’s and I told her the only school I am going to is fashion school. Right now I can go back to school if I want to or get a desk job if I want because I got ‎my first love in me.

  13. Agofure Eguono on said:

    I am the human who goes by the name @studio_chic@ on twitter and just asked you for a #FF.

    The article is a good one and yes I have read the conclusion as well, and while I totally do agree with you i also think you did not add some very necessary points.

    Our educational system was not created to enable us understand life. It was created to manufacture submissive humans with no ability to think for themselves. Humans who know what to do but unable to tap into that socially conscious part of themselves to actually do it. Look at that 14year old kid (sorry child as kid is a goat’s offspring and represents how the young are viewed by the fathers of education) who already has inventions to his name and plans to make living easier for his community. He was recently discovered and was given the opportunity to go to the United States among other things and I know with time he will be offered scholarships to study in some of the so called best universities in the world and then he will be given the best education (in reality the best programming) and then he will continue inventing but forget the reason he started inventing in the first place (to make life easier for his community). I bet he will even relocate his family to the United States so they get out of the suffering (at least to make his conscience feel better). Well it might not turn out like I have predicted but that is how the book has been written for him.

    You are ofilispeaks because despite all the programming you went through in the Educational system, you never forgot that real passion that you believe you were created for. I believe what you studied in the University has no correlation with what you currently do.

    So where am I going to? Your article is superb and people will give you kudos (rightly). However majority will never stop to think beyond to the reality. It is about our addiction to intelligence but more about the Education used to bring forth that intelligence. Our Educational system is tailored to make us zombies and it is only the few who either had the true Education from home or were too restless not to question conventional society that have broken from this zombie mode. I won’t say modern Education is bad because I myself have had a lot of it however it should never be taken as all there is because it produces lazy minded humans who can’t think outside the grid. I remember after my final paper in the University (while others were taking pictures and rejoicing that they were about to graduate), there was this emptiness I felt and I remember telling friends I didn’t feel like anything special had happened because I wasn’t sure I had learnt anything special after the four years of rigorous Education. Our Educational system should be re-written by us for us and young minds should be allowed to question everything before accepting anything.

    The article is superb but would have been better if it tactically highlighted what our Educational system is tailored to do. Our parents believe they are giving us the best so as to enable us survive in the ever changing world. Our teachers believe they are trying to do their best to instil in us what we really need to know. What both parties (parents and teachers) however fail to realise is that they are instilling minds with what they do not need for survival.

  14. This is so spot on. Funny thing is my recent blog post touched on this. It is amazing how much focused it placed by the educational system on being brilliant at school. What happens after school when it is time to get into the real world? This competition continues, thus creating individuals who judge their abilities based on others.
    Chika Efobi latest post is Why not me?My Profile

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  16. Yanang on said:

    First this was both funny and really disturbingly sad.

    I’m not saying we have a great educational system in Nigeria or anything but we’re not the worst of the lot in this department. I left Nigeria after SS1 and moved to Uganda. I went to a Day school. We got to school at 6:30 so as not to be late for morning prep which started at 7:00 am and school officially closed at 5:45pm and then on some days there was mandatory extra curricular activities. We’d get home when it was almost 8. And people in boarding school had it worse. It was a 4:00 am- 11:00pm affair (both primary and secondary boarding schools)
    Btw, did I mention we had to do remedial lessons during the holidays too?
    Just glad my parents didn’t make up stories about being 1st. They said “I was good at this subject at this level and not good at this other one etc”. Also were not obsessed with passing. And guess what, we passed!!!
    Thanks for writing this. Enjoying reading your blog.

  17. Fantastic article. I had been verifying regularly this kind of website using this program . inspired! Extremely helpful info specially the very last section 🙂 My spouse and i handle such information a good deal. I had been in search of this specific facts for a while. Thank you so much along with all the best.

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