Famous People Who Were Smart And Overcame Their Learning Difficulties

Some kids struggle. Their backgrounds, socioeconomic conditions, strengths and needs, abilities and disabilities, and their journey through life may vary, but they all struggle with learning. Some, as the following vignettes show, win the struggle and become successful individuals who make extraordinary contributions to the world.

He was from an upper-middle-class family. His mother was musically inclined and his father was an engineer. He was a very quiet child who did not speak until age 3. He hated school and disliked authority. He did poorly with rote learning. His teachers said he was a slow learner who would never amount to anything. Later, he became interested in science, math, and electrical engineering, but failed the exam for entry into an engineering program. Because of his interest in abstract and mathematical thought, he was interested in becoming a teacher. However, he believed he lacked imagination and practical ability. His name was Albert Einstein, the famous mathematician and physics genius.

She came from a socially prominent family. Her father was an alcoholic and she lived with her maternal grandparents. She had little affection for her mother who called her “Granny” because of her appearance. She was sickly, bedridden, hospitalized often, and wore a back brace due to a spinal defect. She bit her nails, had phobias, was shy, felt rejected and ugly, craved praise and attention, was insecure, and had deep feelings of inadequacy. A daydreamer, she often preferred to be isolated. After many years in school, she began to exhibit leadership qualities. She proved to be altruistic and wanted to help the elderly and poor. Her name was Eleanor Roosevelt, the famous reformer, humanitarian, and philanthropist.

He was the youngest of eight children and was of Cherokee descent. His father was a successful rancher and banker. His parents wanted him to be a minister, but he wanted to perform in a circus. He was well-coordinated, but careless in his personal hygiene. Although he excelled in history and social studies, he received poor grades in school, did not complete his work, and was expelled. His special skills included a sense of humor and recitation. His name was Will Rogers, the famous entertainer, orator, and nominee for President of the United States.

She came from a low-income family. She had two sisters; her mother was a domestic worker and her father was a minister. She was overweight, and later developed multiple sclerosis. A very quiet child, she had a certified emotional breakdown and was temporarily removed from school. However, she possessed a sense of humor, was charismatic, eloquent, humble, and a leader. Ambitious and hardworking, her name was Barbara Jordan, the famous Congresswoman and orator.

He came from a middle class family of seven children. His father was a carpenter. He had an enlarged head at birth and was not able to talk until he was almost 4 years old. He was enrolled in school 2 years late due to scarlet fever and respiratory infections. He lost his hearing and had a high-pitched voice. His attendance in school was poor. He was stubborn, aloof, shy, self-centered, and disengaged with the learning process, and he did not seem to care about school. One teacher said that his brains were addled, even though he had an excellent memory, read well, displayed perseverance, asked questions, and was a good problem solver. He liked to build things and wanted to earn money. His name was Thomas Edison, the famous inventor.

Born to an undistinguished family, he moved often with his father, sister, and brother. His mother died when he was small and his father, a farmer, remarried. He was once kicked in the head by a horse and thought dead. He had Marfan syndrome, a genetic disease that affects connective tissues, including those around the heart, skeleton, and nervous system. He briefly attended school and was considered lazy. He excelled at sports, was an avid reader, and liked practical jokes. He was a good debater and thinker and also liked to argue. Interested in sales, he wanted to open his own business. His name was Abraham Lincoln, the former President of the United States.

She was a fatherless child whose mother struggled financially. Suffering from dyslexia, she could not read, write, or do mathematical problems. Teachers described her as a class clown. She left school at age 16. Her name is Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPiere—Cher—the famous entertainer.

These are profiles of famous people who were smart and overcame their learning difficulties. Think about all our kids sitting in classrooms today who are smart, but struggle in school. Their school experiences may mirror those profiled above. Unfortunately, they may not have the resilience to succeed despite their circumstances.

Imagine the impact if all of these kids were given the tools that could ease their struggle, and the contributions they could make if they were given the tools to succeed.

Contributed by Rich Weinfeld, Linda Barnes-Robinson, Sue Jeweler, & Betty Roffman Shevitz
Smart Kids with Learning Difficulties

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