High school is tough, and the classes are often the least of a student's worries. Between social navigation, hormones, and parental pressure, it's a miracle any of us make it out of that jungle alive. Still, it's only high school, and surely history's greatest geniuses would skate through.
Or would they? High school as we know it is a relatively recent invention, and many of history's greatest geniuses would be ill-equipped to learn in such a regimented environment. Even those who might flourish academically may find themselves challenged in other departments, or face social challenges. But who would make it through and who would flunk out?
To answer this burning question, we're assuming the geniuses are dropped into a contemporary high school with nothing but what they already knew in their era. They don't get to spend a lifetime soaking up the knowledge of this new century - they must simply sink or swim. Obviously, this puts the more ancient geniuses at a disadvantage. However, even more contemporary examples will face considerable challenges, as teenagers today are expected to have a very different knowledge base than they did in the past. Still, perhaps some of history's greatest intellects would make it out intact. Some might even thrive.
Their Contribution: The foremost scientific genius of the 20th century, Einstein is most famous for both his special and general theories of relativity and the mass-energy equivalence formula E=mc². These are far from his only achievements, but are the best known.
When Is It Now Taught? Students most likely begin learning about Einstein in their history classes, but along with Newton, he would dominate any contemporary physics class.
When Would They Flunk Out? There is a myth that Einstein flunked out of a math class. The truth is, he failed the life science and language portion of an entrance exam for college and he promptly retook it and passed. Einstein would only flunk out of a contemporary high school if he felt he had better things to do. Which he might.
No Degree? What Now? Assuming that Einstein did find school tiresome and chose to leave, he could likely simply continue his mathematical work and continue to write earth-shaking papers until he was awarded an honorary doctorate, which would happen in short order.
- Age: Dec. at 76 (1879-1955)
- Birthplace: Ulm, Germany
Their Contribution: Considered by many to be the foremost genius of the Renaissance, da Vinci contributed to fields too numerous to list completely here, including art, science, engineering, mathematics, architecture, geometry, and anatomy.
When Is It Now Taught? Da Vinci comes up often in modern high school courses, although primarily in the visual arts and anatomical science.
When Would They Flunk Out? This is a tough one, because even if da Vinci were dropped into a contemporary high school with no context, he would likely be able to apprehend calculus, physics, and other challenging subjects with ease. However, da Vinci was an intuitive genius who solved problems his own way, and it's entirely possible that his unconventional way of doing things might bring him into conflict with the school system, possibly leading to expulsion.
No Degree? What Now? Lack of a degree would present no challenge whatsoever to da Vinci, who could turn his mind in any direction he chose. His artistic skills alone would open many doors for him, or perhaps he would simply pursue his passion for invention, get a couple of important patents, and live like a king.
- Age: Dec. at 67 (1452-1519)
- Birthplace: Vinci, Italy
Their Contribution: Archimedes stood out, even among the remarkable scientists and mathematicians of the ancient Greek world. His work on geometric problems contained some early forms of calculus, and his inventions were legendary in the Greek world (including, legend says, a giant heat ray that defended a city from attacking ships).
When Is It Now Taught? Because his work underwrites much of mathematics, Archimedes's discoveries permeate every level of math taught in high school.
When Would They Flunk Out? Frankly, he wouldn't. His mathematical work suggests a basic understanding of calculus and other advanced mathematics. Any new science would simply be a matter of assimilating the new facts into his already expansive worldview.
No Degree? What Now? If Archimedes left school, it would likely be of his own accord, and it's safe to assume he would quickly get a job at a major tech company and begin constructing incredible feats of engineering, like the giant crane arm he used to defend the city of Syracuse.
- Birthplace: Syracuse, Italy
Their Contribution: Essentially revolutionized optics and developed calculus. Oh, and came up with the theory of gravity. No big deal.
When Is It Now Taught? Newton’s contributions are taught throughout the school system, but most notably in physics and calculus.
When Would They Flunk Out? It’s safe to say that contemporary high school courses in mathematics and science wouldn’t present a significant obstacle to Newton. Skilled in Latin, he would also likely do well in foreign languages. However, today’s P.E. requirements would stump Newton, a small and sickly child, and the social side of school might cause him to simply leave of his own accord, as he had a singular talent for attracting bullies.
No Degree? What Now? Newton was an autodidact and a genius, so the lack of a degree wouldn’t present much of a challenge. He would likely take a little work simply to survive, then experiment in his spare time until he invented something that would catapult him to fame, fortune, and honorary degrees.
- Age: Dec. at 84 (1643-1727)
- Birthplace: Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, United Kingdom