Ever since “The Day of the Vision” (see July 10th blog), I have been deeply fascinated by babies and young children, especially how they think and learn.

Here is a strange tale to ponder about Isaac Newton, “the greatest genius of the human race.” He was never known or loved by his father, who died four months before his birth. Born on Christmas morning of 1642, Isaac was so premature and tiny that he could be placed inside a quart pot. No one expected him to survive, and key people in charge of his care largely ignored him. And as a final blow, when he was only three years old, his mother deserted him entirely, leaving him to be raised by his grandmother.

How did this serious, silent, thinking little boy who was deeply lonely, shy, secretive, and suspicious come to be considered the greatest scientist of all time? He turned to nature and solitude for his strength and became an “autodidact” – – a self-taught person. Conducting nature experiments, creating little mechanical devices and trying to make order so he could gain security in his life, he was simply THINKING HIS OWN THOUGHTS. He viewed schooling as a nuisance; his teachers labeled him as “very negligent,” but when he wanted to learn something for his own reasons, he taught himself by finding the books he wanted to study. He soon did groundbreaking work on the nature of light and then built the first reflecting telescope.

Even after he became a student at Cambridge, when he realized he needed math for his own investigations, he quickly taught himself both geometry and trigonometry. It was during the two years of the plague, after he returned to the countryside and was entirely AWAY FROM SCHOOLING that he had his most profound insights and thus

* Discovered the second law of motion.
* Discovered the third law of motion.
* Discovered universal gravitation.
* Was able to predict exactly the positions and motions of the stars and planets, (causing him to be called the father of astronomy).
* Invented integral calculus (considered the most important achievement of modern mathematics).

I have found repeatedly, in my research on human potential, that it is this “taking matters into one’s own hands” that uncovers and releases great gifts. The autodidacts are the ones who supercede mediocrity. They become active instead of passive.

Schools as we know them produce masses of compliant and passive students who are made to believe that they’ll get ahead by sitting still and doing as they’re told. As passive adults, they often live lives based on mere waiting – – and hoping. My advice? Take your personal learning firmly into your own hands. Become an autodidact. With the entire world at our fingertips through the Internet, it’s almost a given that this is happening.

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