The dangers of half a story: breaking the myth on successful school drop-outs


Every so often, you see an article entitled “Ten People Who Did Nothing, Knew Nothing and Still Became Like Totally Rich, Famous and Influential“. Okay, you will never see exactly that heading, but you know exactly what I mean.

These stories keep popping up because they are a salve to the lazy, an elixir to the dreamers, and a ray of hope for the terminally incompetent. “Perhaps if it can happen to them, it can happen for me,” they think, completely ignoring the fact that nothing worthwhile ever came easy.

Pastors are rather fond of this old trick too. “This time next month, you will walk into a job you do not deserve! Some will call it luck, my God calls it favour! Can I get an AMEN?! Now, offering time? Blessing time!” Hope is an addictive drug. But it is a dangerous drug.

There is an article on Business Insider titled ‘Wildly successful people who dropped out of high school‘ and as one would guess, it’s gone viral. Not because these people will share their wealth with any of the post’s likers, but because it gives hope.

A balanced view is important though, so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to review each candidate and offer a more truthful state of events:

Richard Branson: this is one of the most legendary examples. Dropped out at 15, they cry! Now a multibillionaire, they shout! But wait. Richard is the son of a barrister and a world renowned ballet dancer. He attended three of the best private schools in England and certainly wasn’t going to Akara and Puff Puff Secondary School before he did eventually drop out. He struggled with classical education because he is dyslexic and there was no alternative methods of education at the time. Even his principal told him at the time that he would either end up in prison or become a multimillionaire. This means his gift was always recognised – it was just a case of if he would end up using it for good or for evil.

And as for his first forays into business, does anyone think he was standing on the street corners begging for tuppence before he got his first bit of capital? Hmmm…read your book o. You and Richard no be mate.

David Karp: The founder of Tumblr quit high school at 15 to concentrate on setting up the social media website. He sold the blog-hosting company to Yahoo for $1.1 billion in 2013. What you DON’T hear is that he is a web wunderkind who dropped out of an elite school of science in the Bronx, New York. Skill + Genius + Influential Schooling. Are you starting to see a pattern? Read your book. David no be ya mate o!

Okay, let’s do a Nigerian, shall we? Philip Emeagwali: Considered one of the founding fathers of the internet, Emeagwali is a globally respected engineer and mathematician who in 1987 came up with the formula for allowing a large number of computers to communicate at once. He dropped out of school at the age of 13 due to the civil war and even joined the Biafran army at the age of 14.

But wait, he didn’t sit at home playing Nairabet. He self-studied and WORKED like a dog to raise himself to the equivalence of school leaving certification. His brain would not stop and he was restless for knowledge. Every book he could find, every access to knowledge he could get, he soaked it up.

Success is hard. Getting to the top of your game is hard. Many people fail with optimum education, many more besides fail with less education. Don’t believe the hype. Believe the grind.

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