Sir Peter Medawar was a Brazilian-born English scientist.
In 1960 he was the co-winner of a Nobel Prize with Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet for their pioneering work in tissue grafting which is the basis of organ transplants, and their discovery of acquired immunological tolerance
It’s fair to say that he, unlike me, was something of an academic. Grant me a little poetic license as I use the word scientist and academic interchangeably.
Over to you Sir Peter…
“To be a first-rate scientist it is not necessary (and certainly not sufficient) to be extremely clever. One of the great social revolutions brought about by scientific research has been the democratization of learning. Anyone who combines strong common sense with an ordinary degree of imaginativeness can become a creative scientist, and a happy one besides, in so far as happiness depends upon being able to develop to the limit of one’s abilities.”
“A scientist is no more a collector and classifier of facts than a historian is a man who complies and classifies a chronology of the dates of great battles and major discoveries.”
“I believe in “intelligence,” and I believe also that there are inherited differences in intellectual ability, but I do not believe that intelligence is a simple scalar endowment that can be quantified by attaching a single figure to it—an I.Q. or the like.”
However in schools, academic excellence is reflected by a single figure – the ATAR in Australia, or the GPA in the US, or Grades in the UK. And these figures can be achieved for the most part by collecting and classifying facts; students often pursue this at the expense of exploring the limits of their ability due to the fear of failing.
Are we really pursuing academic excellence or are we just producing kids who succeed in school?
And while we’re on the subject of succeeding at school, what it is the prize of doing so? A university place?
If that’s the case then 70% of our kids are “failing” school, as only 30% of students in any one cohort go onto an undergraduate course.