Home » Why Being Smart Doesn’t Help You Find God: Emma Stoks (Transcript)

Why Being Smart Doesn’t Help You Find God: Emma Stoks (Transcript)

Full text of entrepreneur Emma Stoks’ talk titled ‘Why Being Smart Doesn’t Help You Find God’ at TEDxAmsterdamED conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here:


Emma Stoks – Entrepreneur

A few months ago, I was at a primary school, and three six-year olds came up to me. They had a very important question, because they wanted to know if God has created the world, and all their attempts at finding the answer had failed.

Their Plan A was looking in a book called Everything about the Earth. But that book didn’t have the answer. They couldn’t read yet, but they looked at all the images and none of them looked like God. So it probably didn’t say if God has created the world.

Their Plan B was going on YouTube and looking at the really old videos, because if you go to the really old ones, God must be in them. Unfortunately, He was not.

So they moved on to Plan C, which was coming to me the first ground up they ran into and asking for my help. I asked them a couple of questions and we ended up having an interesting discussion about whether God is a man or woman, a star, or more or less human, and whether God exists, even if some people may not believe that.

And when I look back at that afternoon, I can still see their red cheeks and sparkling eyes. They were hungry for the answer and to me, this is the perfect example of what learning looks like: They were curious, they were fascinated, and the question mattered to them.

Unfortunately, they only get 2 hours a week to be swept away by their curiosity and the other hours they have to sit still and do what the teacher tells them to.

I have a one year old niece and every time I see her, I see her learning. Last week, for example, she discovered that our neighbors have a big pond full of fish and she also discovered that if she would stand by the hedge and sing this song about a little fish, somebody would come up, pick her up and show her the pond. So she would sing the song all afternoon and we would be picking her up.

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You could say that she learned how to manipulate that day, but I think that she learned how her behavior can cause behavior of others. Just like a baby when he’s dropping his toy isn’t learning how to manipulate, but training his muscles to pick up and let go.

We know that children are always learning. We just call it playing. And at the age of six, when “real school” starts, we take all the learning and call it education. And from that moment you have to listen to the teacher. Which is kind of funny because we don’t know what the future holds.

And with the world changing faster than ever, we don’t know what young people need to be fully equipped for the rest of their lives. As a matter of fact, we can’t even keep up our educational content right now.

Young people studying computer science already call their modern coding class as history class, because it’s so far behind what they’re seeing online.

Okay, so we know already that we don’t know what the future holds, and that we need independent people who can learn and adapt.

What we do, however, is starting at age six, we hijack the concept of learning. And from that moment, a teacher tells you what to learn, when to learn, and when you’ve succeeded in learning.

We tell young people for years that they have to sit still and obey, and then we expect them to be independent. We make them follow, and then right before they leave high school, we tell them: ‘So, Emma, it’s time to pick a University. Where do you want to go? Listen to your heart, follow your passion, and be the change you want to see in the world. Make sure you pick the right one. It’s your future after all.’

You see, I’ve always been a straight A student, and the high grades I got gave me a lot of freedom. I was able to go to University at age 15 and was allowed to miss even more class to work on all kinds of projects.

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And one day a friend of mine came up to me and she told me, “Emma, I wish I was as smart as you, because then I could learn other things too.”

And I knew that I wasn’t any smarter than this girl, no more talented. The only difference was that my grades and my teachers had always told me I succeeded at learning, and I was good at it. And hers hadn’t.

I had heard, oh Emma, you’re so smart for so long that I got kind of attached to it. It was a nice feeling. I thought that getting high grades as being a good student and being a good student is being a good kid. Right?

So I decided to believe in myself, listen to my heart, follow my passion, and I applied to the University I had always dreamed of…. I applied to Harvard, and then I didn’t get in, and I had no idea what to do.

I wanted to go to Harvard because that’s where the smart people go, right? Wasn’t I smart enough?

I was under the illusion that getting good grades is the same as being smart. So that would qualify for going to Harvard, right?

I had no idea what I was supposed to do. And when I had to face this big disappointment, I was challenged to redefine what learning is to me, it’s far more than getting high grades, and it’s definitely more than taking tests.

I was the ideal outcome of the educational system because being a straight A student is the ideal outcome of the educational system.

But I didn’t know how to design, organize, or track my own learning. And I was definitely not prepared for my future. And I can only imagine what it must feel like to having to learn all this if you’re already believing that you’re not good at learning.

If your grades and your teachers keep telling you you didn’t succeed in learning, if you’re average, be below average, maybe you should try something more hands on.

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How can the intention of education be to make young people feel like they’re not good at learning? Education should never have the power to make someone feel like they’re not good at learning. Because we are already good at learning.

You’ve already proved that you’re good at learning by having learned to sit up straight, having earned the money to buy a ticket to come in today, listening to what I’m saying, understanding what I’m saying, hopefully.

We can choose to make young people feel like they’re good or not good at learning, but we can also help them learn. And this is not only the case for young people, it’s for anybody learning. So that’s all of us, even as a manager, you can choose to make your people feel like they’re good or not good enough, but you can also help them learn.

We can choose to make someone feel smart, stupid or help them learn. And I think that choice is simple. Let’s make it today, let’s make it every day.

Resources for Further Reading:

When God Talks Back: Tanya Luhrmann (Transcript)

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