Jason Robért was in the lowest learning group in elementary school and was among the slowest readers. His one success at home was that he and his Dad would solve math problems together on a little chalkboard. But one day in school, his teacher snarled that he didn’t do math right either because he skipped all the steps.
Unknown to his teachers, his IQ was 166. It wasn’t until high school that his teachers realized he was really great at math.
Two years ago, Robért wrote and self-published The Lab Puzzle Book, a collection of 18 high-level math puzzles.Then he established a company, Labyrinth Puzzles, that sells the book, and later set up an unregistered nonprofit organization, Philanthropic Mathematics, to donate free copies of the book to 737 high schools across the state of California.
Stories of him appeared in the Los Angeles Times and PEOPLE magazine. “I was really proud of myself,” he says. “If there is just one person whose life I affected, then I’ve succeeded.”
Goal only to help
Robért raised $1,000 from area businesses to fund the printing and distribution of the book. He also sold copies for $10, but sales have not exactly been booming.
His goal, he says, never was to get rich, adding that in fact, publishing the book ended up costing him about $100 of his own money. His goal was only to help other young people realize their potential.
“I didn’t care to make money. The only reason I wrote the book was to get it out to students. I just wanted to help other people like me.”
What encouraged him to write the book, he says, was that earlier he had published puzzles in a high-IQ journal called “Oath” and had received letters from around the world from other math lovers seeking solutions to his problems. The Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa, California, added his book to its math curriculum. “I was so proud,” he says.
Math is fun
Robért says that mathematics has a really bad image, but that it can be great fun if presented the right way. “Most kids hate math. But I wanted to make it fun. That’s why I wrote puzzles.”
He says he dislikes the pressure on high school students to memorize formulas rather than creating original ones. “There’s no originality in high school,” he says. “We’re just feeding off the great minds of Einstein and Euclid. They already came to these conclusions; replicating what they said with formulas is not really learning.
“I never thought I’d ever be at MIT,” he says. “I’d always thought I’d just go on to the local junior college, do my work there, then try to get into a state school. That’s just where I saw myself.”
When he was accepted to MIT, he says, his old friends were amazed. “I feel a lot better about myself now. People in elementary school were cruel. They said, ‘You read so slow, or, how can you study so much for a test and still do so bad?’ But I finally got really good at something.
“I was at the lowest level and then all of a sudden, I was at the highest. I realized that little people actually can do something in a big world. When I published the book, it was really fun. I was so happy because I was finally succeeding.”
The 18-year-old freshman from Lake Forest, California, has a father who is a real-estate broker, and a mother who is a receptionist in a dentist’s office. He also has one younger sister.
Robért, who plans to major in management, says his dream is one day to become a highly successful businessman. “Business always has been my passion. I don’t know what kind of business I’ll have. All I know is I just want to do something really creative. I want to think for myself, and see where my mind can take me.”