Daniel Lemire's blog

, 2 min read

My kindergarten story

Though I was a straight-A student for most of my high school and college years, I failed kindergarten. I have told this story many times but I realize that I have never dedicated a blog post to it.

I ended up with a PhD from a top Canadian university and some of my research as an academic has been impactful. I had good grades at the end of high school… I probably was the top student in a large private school.

But, as a kid, I wasn’t a good fit for schooling.

I could not tie my shoelaces. You might think that I was particularly lacking in hand-eye coordination, but I don’t think that’s the case. To this day, there is a good chance that my shoelaces will be undone. I don’t know exactly why I am not good with shoelaces. Yet it was one of the tests you had to pass in kindergarten.

The other test you had to pass was to learn your phone number. To this day, I don’t know my phone number. I have to look it up, copy and paste it. It is embarrassing because everyone seems to know their phone number. So I failed this test.

You had to learn to count up to 10. I decided that since I was 5, it was fine to only know how to count up to 5. So I failed this test as well.

I probably failed all sorts of other tests as well.

So I was put in a class for students with learning disabilities. It wasn’t a punishment, I actually enjoyed it.

My troubles were not over. Like Mandelbrot, I never learned the multiplication tables. Instead I learned tricks to do multiplications in my head. Teachers tried really hard to prevent such an approach and you had to hide your schemes. I also never learned the quadratic formula, instead I figured out how to complete the square quickly enough.

What I did learn, apparently, is independent thinking. Because I had a difficult relationship with teachers and what they wanted, I think I learned to figure out what I wanted to learn on my own.