Bear is a genius and I forget everything

My husband (who I refer to as Bear in everything I write)  is kind of a genius. OK, he’s my husband, so obviously I think he’s great, but I’m serious: the man is abnormally smart. He’s smart in the perfect-score-on-every-standardized-test way. In the BA-and- MS-at-Stanford-in-four-years way. He’s smart in the thinking-about-the-world-in-surprisingly-unique-terms way. He’s smart in a way that allows him to be able to solve any problem you put in front of him, whether it’s fixing the toilet, programming a computer , comprehending the details of every kind of derivatives trading, or somehow figuring out what’s bothering me when I get really sullen. He’s smart in a way that enables him to be modest and never talk about how smart he is, and listen to other people instead.

All of this is amazing, until I’m lying in bed with him and he is taking a world geography test for fun, and asking me if I remember the capital of Sri Lanka. I do not. And then I don’t remember where Uzbekistan is on the map. Oh my god. A whole country, and I have no idea. It turns out there are other countries I can’t identify by shape. Many of them. Bear is telling me about how the ethnic minority in such and such a place, which is called this gigantic word that I’m sure he’s pronouncing correctly in a language I can’t identify, has a really interesting alphabet, with a really interesting history. And then there’s their currency. Which he also mysteriously knows everything about. He seems to expect that I will at least know something about the Malay Peninsula. He always casually expects that I know everything he does, like knowing that much is normal. It’s flattering. But also scary.

(I should study this. source)

He’ s just lying there, looking at maps on the laptop, and talking happily about the world, and I am thinking about how incredibly uneducated I am. And immediately, I start thinking about unschooling. It’s all the same stuff I’ve always thought every time I didn’t know something other people knew, or expected me to know. “They will think I should’ve gone to school. I’m making unschooling look bad.” I wonder if I just forgot, for my entire childhood, to study geography. Did I somehow never study any geography, ever? Is that even possible. I feel slightly panicked. Oh my god– what else haven’t I learned? There are enormous gaps in my education! Can I scramble eggs? I’m a failure! The jig is up!


I pick up my phone and stare at it, pretending that I’m concentrating on something important, while I try to figure out how much of a failure I am.

I remember Dad sitting on the floor with me and going over a map of the United States every evening when I was eight or so. I remember this series of books I loved about kids growing up in all these different countries. The kid from the Amazon Basin was especially cool. I remember Mom reading stories set in African countries to us, and then pointing out the places on the globe and in her giant maps of the world book. She always kept it close by. Actually, she made my brothers and I figure out where on the globe everything we read took place. And we listened to geography tapes. And we drew maps. I think at one point we briefly studied mapmaking.

OK. So I can’t blame unschooling.

It’s me. I have a terrible memory. I mean, I actually forgot my social security number for like 30 seconds today, when I needed to remember it. I’m sort of oblivious by nature.

Do kids who went to school remember more geography than me? Some of them definitely do. Most of them, I think I can say with absolute confidence, definitely do not.

But I feel like I should know everything, or at least everything relatively basic, because I didn’t go to school. So that no one can ever blame unschooling for the things I don’t know. As though, if unschooling failed me in one little way ( scrambling eggs, for example), it must be a complete failure. As though Bear must on some level know so much more than I do about so many things because he went to school, rather than because he is absurdly smart.

I am not a genius. But I like my mind a lot. I like to learn. I am interested in the Malay Peninsula. And there’s no reason why I can’t learn about it again, even if Mom already pointed it out several times in her map book.

I think I’ll give unschooling a lot of credit for that part, actually. For teaching me that there isn’t a point when learning starts and stops. It just keeps going. My education isn’t over. It’s everywhere. It’s endless. Which doesn’t mean I’m not embarrassed anyway, when I forget the things I think I should know. Or never knew them in the first place. But let’s just call that normal, and move on to the fun stuff.

And anyway, when it turns out I don’t know anything about geography, Bear doesn’t mind. He thinks I’m awesome. He thinks I’m really, really smart.

(I want one of these. source)

16 comments to Bear is a genius and I forget everything

  • Julie

    Do you, by chance, remember the title of any of the books about the kids growing up in different countries–I’d love to read them and think my daughter might too. 😉 Love the blog and your outlook on life. I wish I was able to unschool my daughter. I keep hoping I might be able to some day . . .

    • kate

      See, this is one of those times when my terrible memory gets in my way…
      I don’t remember. I think they were published by Scholastic. And that’s all I’ve got. If my mom remembers, I’ll let you know!

  • […] New post at Un-schooled, about how Bear is obnoxiously smart, and sometimes it makes me feel like I didn’t receive a real educati…. […]

  • Tamar

    Ugh, I know exactly what you mean. I know I’m smart, but my memory is absolutely hopeless, and I feel like it makes me look dumb. And it is especially frustrating when my boyfriend can literally draw and label the ENTIRE globe in a few minutes. (He carved it on a jack-o-lantern one time.) Maybe it’s a boy thing. ::cringe::

  • Firstly, I am your husband. Well, not actually him, but I am very much like him. I love tests and take them for fun, I am the genius in our relationship. I get excited at the thought of studying. I want a degree in math, and science and english and … I am working through a book list of classic literature and plan to get my old calculus books out and give myself a refresher… oaky you get the picture.

    However, I don’t know geography either. I don’t know the capitals of any country other than my own (except maybe France, England, China and Japan). I would not be able to find many countries on a map. I always thought Spain was in South America (and such is my confusion that as I type this I am thinking, maybe it is and I am wrong about being wrong).

    I am also a high school teacher (math & IT) and a proponent of a change to the way we teach. I am a huge fan of unschooling (obviously) and considering it for my children. Do you know my biggest fear about unschooling is not that they will miss out on any knowledge, but they will doubt themselves because they think that they have missed out.

    I think school is stupid. Why do we re-teach trigonometry every year for five years? Because every year we forget it again. I trained as a Mathematic and IT teacher. I loved Math and wanted to join a Math department. I scored 97% on my university level Advanced Calculus course. When I became a teacher I wound up teaching IT and never teaching a single Math lesson. Two years down the teaching track a senior student in my class was moaning about struggling with his Math class. I told him to get the books out and I would help him, I told him that I loved this math stuff. Do you know that when his books came out I looked at things and couldn’t help. I could remember knowing what to do, I could remember tutoring all my mates at university, I could remember loving it. However two years of not doing any calculus and I had forgotten how it all worked.

    While I have no doubt that, given an afternoon and a textbook, it would all come rushing back the point is that this kind of learning does not stick unless it is constantly used.

    Don’t stress about what you don’t know. Unschooling is awesome. Formal schooling would do better to pour money into night lectures and educational opportunities for adults (but that is another soapbox).

  • Grace

    I think the book might be called Children Just Like Me. It was one of my favorites as a little kid.

  • Barbara

    I aced college chemistry. Yet, years away from it, when I tried to help someone through it, I found that it was gone! If you don’t use it, you lose it, regardless how you learned it in the first place.
    But that Bear is clearly a genius. Not just in the SAT test way. He found you, married you, and knows you are really, really smart. :-)

  • I was schooled in geography. In U.S. History I had memorized where every state was and knew its capital and flower! Well I knew that for like a week in fourth grade. Then like the rest of what I learned in school, I forgot it all. I still know the capital of all the places I’ve lived and where they are on the map, but I don’t know any of their flowers.

    While some people have crazy minds that can remember all sorts of important stuff, for the rest of us, I say, thank goodness for Google Earth and Google Maps and thank goodness, I can now access them on my mobile phone.

    Oh, and funny. I called my sig other Bear too. :-p

  • High School Student

    I am bad at geography. I avoid it like the plague when signing up for courses. I can remember stuff only just long enough to puke the information back up on a test (well, geography stuff). There are some states and countries that I know, but the rest I’m kinda like, “Well, this… is in this general vicinity here.” 😛 So I guess public schoolers and unschoolers alike can struggle with this. With that said, I think that one of the biggest problems with public school is the notion that you’re only learning something long enough to pass, and then it becomes unimportant. From what I’ve read of your and other unschooling blogs, it seems as though unschoolers are taught that what they’re learning is important for life, whereas many teachers will just tell you, “Fine, you don’t like it. It’s a state standard, so you’ve got to learn it. Just remember it long enough to pass and then I don’t care, you can forget it for the rest of your life,” which is totally not a cool attitude to have! I mean, I’m definitely not saying that all teachers are like this, but I have had far too many like that in my nine and a half years of attending school, and these are the people educating our youth! :s

    I also definitely understand feeling like you have to know everything about something so that people don’t throw your whatever back in your face. In your case, it’s unschooledness; in mine, it’s veganism. I feel completely obligated to know anything and everything about nutrition, health, cooking, animal rights theory, etc., so that I’m not dismissed, and it can lead to me being super-hard on myself.

  • Lots of geniuses were forgetful weren’t they? Beethoven, Einstein? And there must be truth to the stereotype of the absent-minded professor.So maybe genius does not mean you have a great memory-only a great memory for things immediately relevant to what you are working on at the time.

  • Stephanie Rowland

    I unschool my 3 kids. 20, 14, and 11. My 20 yr old son is so much smarter than most of his friends( well they all are, but he is “finished”). If he doesnt know something, he knows how to find out. That is unschooling. He wants to know therefore he does. I believe alot of schooled people dont have that natural “want” to learn anything they are not forced to do. Thats the secret.

  • Kate, i love that your posts are such good advice.
    whether homeschooled, unschooled, public schooled, past our perceived school age, ..

    you are modeling how people think. how people live.
    you are spitting it out so clearly.
    you are walking us through our most ridiculous assumptions. making it easy for us to say. ah… me too.
    and carry on.

    you are changing the game from defense to offense.

    and i love it.

    huge grazie.

  • Mere

    My husband calls me geographically challenged. I went to public school. Nuff said. :-)

  • For those that didn’t read the Onion piece that Dylan is referring to, stop and read it. If it is not a complete outline of what middle American is now facing then I don’t know what is. new films

  • I just made one… cheers for the inspiration!

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>





A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.