Imagine . . .
It’s your summer holiday, and you’re walking along a beautiful, deserted beach. The wet sand oozes between your toes. The salt breeze blows in your hair. The seabirds run up and down as the waves roll in, then recede.
In the water up ahead, a strange shape catches your eye. As you approach, the waves wash it onshore. When you get close enough, you see that it’s some kind of old jar. No, wait—it’s a bottle, the glass so dark it’s almost black. And sure enough, it’s sealed with a cork that is covered with red wax.
“Cool!” you exclaim.
The wax is old and brittle, and with a bit of effort you are able to pry it loose. After some tugging, you succeed in pulling out the cork.
If there was ever something inside that bottle, it evaporated long ago. You turn it upside down and shake it, but nothing falls out and nothing rattles.
Oh well, you think. At least it’s a cool old bottle.
Then a thin trail of mist begins wafting up out of the bottle, growing into a cloud that hangs in the air just in front of you. Suddenly—bang!—a genie appears where the cloud had been. A genie! Just like in the old stories, dressed like someone out of The Arabian Nights, with one ring through his nose and another in his left ear.
“Greetings, my friend,” says the genie, bowing slightly. “A thousand thanks for freeing me from my imprisonment. I am ready to grant your wish.”
“Whoa!” you say. “This is so cool! What’ll I wish for? Hmm . . . I could wish to be the richest person on the planet, or an Olympic athlete, or a famous singer, or—”
“Hold it!” cries the genie. “Let me explain. I’m not like those genies in the stories. I’m an Education Genie, and I only grant wishes that have to do with education.”
“What?! You mean, out of all the genies in the world trapped in bottles, I have the rotten luck of freeing an Education Genie?”
“If you’re that disappointed,” says the genie, “we can forget the whole thing, and I’ll just be on my way.”
“No, no,” you say. “Wait, I’ll think of something.” Then, an idea. “Could I wish for my math teacher to take early retirement?”
“No,” says the genie. “I’m not a School Genie. I’m an Education Genie. It has to be something about education.” Seeing the puzzled look on your face, he adds, “About learning.”
“Oh,” you say, unable to conceal your disappointment. “Okay, let’s see, three wishes about learning . . . .”
The genie clears his throat. “Who said anything about three wishes?”
“I don’t get three wishes?”
“You’ve been reading too many old stories,” says the genie. “You get one wish.”
Oh boy. So you start thinking. You could wish to be a genius. But Melvin, the guy in your class who’s closest to being a genius, isn’t the most popular kid around… and he doesn’t even get the best grades. He always seems to be thinking about something totally different when the teacher calls on him. So maybe being a genius isn’t the best idea.
You ask yourself: what’s the one thing you don’t have, that you really need to help you do better in school? Hmm . . . No idea.
That’s it! Ideas! Wouldn’t it be great to be one of those students who’s always got an idea, or even several ideas? Like Lucy Dobner. She’s got ideas and inspiration to burn. Maybe you should wish for inspiration.
But then you remember that Lucy Dobner, for all her great ideas, is the most disorganized person on Earth. She forgets stuff all the time, her homework is always late . . . and she doesn’t get the best marks, either. Maybe inspiration isn’t the best thing to wish for.
Who does get the best grades? It’s usually either Janice or Chris. They’re not the smartest in the class, so what do they do that’s so successful? Well . . . they always pay attention, they write down all the assignments, they turn in their homework on time, and they never seem to have to cram for tests. They just have really good work habits.
That’s it! Habits! You start thinking about your own habits and realize that they could certainly stand some improvement.
“Okay,” you say. “I’m ready. My wish is to have great habits.”
“Are you sure?” asks the genie. “I’ve had many unhappy experiences with people making wishes and then wishing they’d wished for something else.”
“I’m sure,” you say, “I’ve thought it all through carefully. The best thing to improve my grades would be if I had better habits. That’s my wish.”
“Did you consider other alternatives?” asks the genie.
“Yes,” you say, growing impatient. “I thought about being a genius, but that’s no guarantee of success. And I thought about being inspired with great ideas, but I don’t want to risk having great ideas without being able to follow through on them. So the best thing to have is good habits. Let’s get on with it. I should have been back an hour ago, and I’m getting hungry.”
“All right,” the genie sighs. “Your wish is granted. From now on you will have excellent habits, and as a result you will earn much better grades.”
“You don’t seem very happy about it,” you say.
“You made the wrong choice.”
“You made the wrong choice,” he repeats.
“But why? I reasoned it all out very carefully!”
“If a genie offers to make your wish come true,” he explains, “you should wish for something you couldn’t possibly get on your own. You can improve your habits, if you really want to. You can even do things to become more inspired. But no matter what you do, you can’t turn yourself into a genius. You should have wished to be a genius.”
With a groan, you plop down onto the sand. “I’m such a loser!”
“Well,” says the genie, “I must be off now. Good luck!”
“Wait,” you say. “I have one more question.”
“Make it quick.”
“You say anyone can improve his habits. How?”
The genie seems a bit offended by such an easy question.
“It’s nothing difficult,” he replies. “Read this book.”