Saturday, October 23, 2010

Thomas Edison, The Homeschooler

Some years ago, the National Education Association unveiled a new standard curriculum that omitted mention of certain historical figures, including Thomas A. Edison.  One has to wonder if the reason might have had something to do with the fact that Thomas Alva Edison was home-schooled.

When Edison was in grade school in Port Huron, Michigan, the precocious young inventor and budding entrepreneur was viewed by his teacher as a hopeless dreamer. One day young Edison overheard the teacher telling his supervisor that the boy was "addled" (unable to think clearly) and "not worth the time wasted on him." The boy burst into tears and reported the words to his mother. His mother, who had herself been a teacher, sternly rebuked the teacher and took Al, as his family called him, out of the school. For the remainder of his school years, Mrs. Edison taught her son--and taught him well.

Thomas Alva Edison patented 1063 inventions, including the electric light bulb, the phonograph, and motion pictures. His companies provided employment for thousands, and investments in his companies increased the wealth of our nation. More important than the individual inventions themselves were the concepts he brought to light (no pun intended). Edison's much scoffed at concept that electricity could be converted to light led to his invention of the incandescent light bulb, but it also opened the door to converting gases, such as neon, to light. His concept that sound could be recorded and played back led to his invention of the gramophone, a cylindrical recording machine for which the "Grammys" are named, but it also cleared the way for tape recorders, compact disks, and MP3s. The same for motion pictures. In 1888 Edison filed papers with the patent office describing what he call a Kinetoscope, something that would "do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear." Edison's concepts were grand and profound. They changed our daily lives in myriad ways.

So it's strange, don't you think, that educators would consider Edison unworthy of mention in the curriculum of our public schools? Or maybe its not so strange. He was, after all, a capitalist, an intrepid entrepreneur, and, oh yeah, he was home-schooled.