Why was Einstein so brilliant?

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Albert Einstein? The theory of relativity? The atomic bomb? An image of a wild-haired genius?

How about fairy tales? Seriously. He was a huge fan.

Here’s what he said . . .

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.
If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.
When I examine myself and my methods of thought,
I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me
than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.”
—Albert Einstein, Scientist (1879-1955)

Photo Credit: Toronto Public Library 2018

Yes, Einstein was a scientist, as everybody knows. But he also called himself artist . . .

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination.
Imagination is more important than knowledge.
Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”  
–Albert Einstein

That quote I hung on the bulletin board when I taught art.

Einstein had more to say about imagination . . .

“Imagination is everything.
It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

“Logic will get you from A to Z;
imagination will get you everywhere.”

–Albert Einstein

So where did he get his brilliance? Was his genius nourished in school? Did he “wow” his teachers in grade school? Was he valedictorian of his class? Listen . . .

“The only thing that interferes with my learning
is my education.”

“Education is what remains after one has
forgotten what one has learned in school.”

–Albert Einstein

I wonder if he had the same kindergarten teacher I had. Those types keep reincarnating.

I’m definitely an advocate of education, but I believe it should be inclusive and address the whole person, go well beyond the three Rs. A sad day is when schools cut their fine arts programs, relegating them to the frivolous, as an unnecessary luxury.

Photo credit: Tom Simpson on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Educators need to look at Einstein. And L. Frank Baum,  who had similar negative experiences with school. Thank goodness Baum never swayed from writing books that young readers could live and thrive on. Well, he almost did, but the children begged him for more!

Incidentally, Einstein was considered a loser early on. His speech was delayed. When he did start talking, it was with great difficulty. He had a quirky habit of repeating himself as he practiced each sentence. One teacher said he would never amount to anything.

Einstein later shared that his slow language development is what gave him time to observe and wonder, starting him on his lifelong course.

Though very motivated to learn on his own timetable, with his own books, Einstein  managed to keep up with the dismal formal education. But he disliked school to the point that he persuaded a physician to give an official diagnosis of “neurasthenic exhaustion” as an excuse for leaving his boarding school in Germany to return to his family.

At age 16, even after studying physics all summer, he failed an admissions exam to Zurich Polytechnic, and spent a year preparing to retake it.

Thomas Edison wasn’t fond of school, either. He preferred being self-taught. Besides not talking till age four, he lacked concentration and was deemed unintelligent.

So take heart if your child isn’t on everyone else’s timetable. And if he doesn’t like school.

The fact is, Einstein’s mother read him fairy tales! And the rest is history.

Well, it’s not that simple, but you get the point.

Incidentally, Canadian scientists who studied Einstein’s brain in 1999 discovered that the inferior parietal lobe was fifteen percent wider than normal brains. That’s the area that processes mathematical thought, spatial relationship, and 3-D visualization.

Surely that’s the area where we imagine. Where we visualize a story we’re reading. A fairy tale.

Imagination starts with being able to visualize something in our heads. Something that only exists in our mind’s eye.

So if you’re not feeling creative, or it you’re worried about your kids or grandkids not being creative, go to your nearest fairy tale bookshelf.

What fairy tales have you been drawn to over the years, or was a favorite in your childhood?

Please add your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,


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19 thoughts on “Why was Einstein so brilliant?

  1. I enjoyed reading the back-story of Albert Einstein! My favorite fairy tale that come to mind is the Princess and the Pea. Carol Burnett brought that one to life for me as she played Princess Winifred on her show. So funny! Later she played the role of the Queen in “Once upon a Mattress.” Other favorites are Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Ugly Duckling, Pinocchio…. I have so many more! It’s fun to think about them again!

    1. It’s fun to see what happens when people create their own versions of known fairy tales. People have rewritten them, novelized them (Just Ella and others), animated them (from Disney to Shrek), created TV series, and written politically correct versions, too. Then there are spoofs. Carol Burnett is always good for a laugh, whether doing fairy tales or not!

    2. Carol,

      I remember the Carol Burnett piece on her show and the movie as well. Her acting was so good and she was so funny it would bring tears to my eyes!!!!

  2. I remember the Princess andthe Pea too! I did Aesops fables, and all of the Greek mythology tales. And then I morphed into the fantasy worlds of CS Lewis. My son was enthralled with Brian Jaque’s and the world of Redwall.

    1. The Redwall series has mainly animal characters. It’s fascinating how a good author can draw a reader in just as effectively with animals as with humans. Plus, Aesop and C.S. Lewis’s Narnia have plenty of animals, too! Including a favorite lion.

  3. I suppose the true power of fairytales is that you can never have a fairytale ending without believing it will happen first. And a healthy diet of fairytales is what gives us the hope to believe. I would never have known who the perfect man was for me if I hadn’t run away from him first (thank you, Cinderella), but I also wouldn’t have had my fairytale marriage without believing in a happily ever after. I am glad that I never woke up to peas in my bed though or had to deal with hair dragging behind me on my morning run. The other beauty of cherishing fairytales is that you can choose which ones to believe in 😉

    1. That’s a unique take on Cinderella I hadn’t thought of before! And thank goodness we don’t deal with peas in our beds or Rapunzel-like hair. That’s the beauty of living vicariously through characters. However, those peas and that hair show up in different ways in our own lives . . .

  4. My Scottish grandmother used to lie in bed between my brother and me when we were small, telling us fairy tales to help us go to sleep. I remember Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk. But my favorite was Hansel and Gretel. Grandma told that one so well! She also sang us tunes that were popular when she was a young girl. I sang those same songs to my children when they were small. Once we visited Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO. My oldest was just a sapling at the time. A group of minstrels was traveling around the park singing old songs. Anna joined in when they started singing, “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.” They were so surprised! “How does this little girl know show tunes from World War I?” they asked. I had to laugh. She had learned them from the great-grandmother she never met.

    1. What a wonderful memory! I love that your Scottish grandmother didn’t just read the tales but told them. Did she ever share any Scottish folk tales? A favorite of mine is “The Woman who Flummoxed the Fairies.”

      I love that your daughter knew the “Apple Tree” song! What a legacy you passed along from your grandma to your children!

  5. My favorite fairy tale over the years has been Pinocchio. We bought a VHS of the Disney version for our daughter when she was just a preschooler. One day, my wife’s cousin graciously volunteered to babysit, and our daughter made him suffer through that movie four times in a row. First, we laughed until we cried, then we told him that you can actually say “no” or “enough” to a child!!! But that is the reason Pinocchio has been a favorite for many many years. The ultimate was when Clem and I traveled to Venice. We were able to purchase some Christmas tree ornaments there of Pinocchio! But, this is not to say that I don’t enjoy most of the fair tales we grew up with. Each year, Clem’s Spanish students have to collaborate in small teams to rewrite a famous fairy tale in Spanish, video it, and play it for the whole class. It is absolutely amazing to see what teenagers can come up with when you let their imaginations run free!!!

    1. How sweet that you got mementos of Pinocchio all the way from Italy! And what a great idea to have students rewrite and videotape fairy tales in Spanish. It certainly is fun to see what kids will come up with for such projects.

    2. Brad, any chance you ever saw the Sandy Duncan version of Pinocchio? I love that one, especially the songs! (although my kids think I’m nuts.)
      For a creative arts program I run, I used to dress up every year to advertise the theme, and several times I dressed up like Geppetto with my daughter as Pinocchio. It was such fun!
      Glinda from the Wizard of Oz also made several appearances 🙂

  6. My local library carried a series of biographies written for children, and I read about Einstein’s struggles with school when I was a child. It forever changed my perspective about the importance of formal education and encouraged me to follow my own interests outside of school. But, having said that, we need to reform the educational system. We’re not educating factory workers anymore. We don’t need rote learning and kids who follow the rules. The 21st century demands creativity, and we need to incorporate that into our schools.

    1. I agree. It would be ideal for school to be the place that blends learning with creativity and innovation–with all the arts intact. Fortunately, some schools do this, and even utilize a project-based curriculum for this very purpose. Unfortunately, other schools are so plagued by curriculum and test requirements that neither teachers nor students can venture outside the box.

  7. Cinderella’s always been my favorite. So many different versions from many different cultures. I’ve especially loved the Rogers/Hammerstein musical, The Slipper and the Rose. I saw it first as a child at Grandma’s house and spent the rest of the week dancing with the sheets on the clothesline.
    Decades later, I was so excited when my kids found the DVD for my birthday— I loved reliving it— unfortunately my kids thought it was corny. “She’s dancing with a shoe, Mom. A SHOE!”
    But that was Cinderella’s imagination! Her own fairy tale.

    1. I, too, love all the different Cinderella stories, across the cultures, as well as the YA novels and the movie Ever After with Drew Barrymore–definitely putting a new twist on the stereotypical passive servant girl. I’ve never heard of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Slipper and the Rose! I grew up loving R & H’s 1965 TV version of Cinderella. A generation later, in 1997, along came another TV Cinderella–a black one–with the same 1965 R & H music. That’s the one my daughters loved. When I showed them my favorite 1965 version, they about fell asleep.

      1. Oops–correction. Not Rodgers and Hammerstein. Slipper and the Rose (with Richard Chamberlain as the Prince) was created by the same people who wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Shermans). In fact, you can see some of the same sequences in the dances.
        And while my kids think it’s corny, they LOVE the song “Tell Him Anything but that I love him”–sung by Cinderella when she has to leave. Oh, goodness… I think I’m going to have to watch it tonight!

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