Sunday 1 July 2012

Inspired by Edison

I am writing this post as part of a blogging carnival held by 'Out of the Box' blog writer Katie Pybus.  We are to write about successful home educators that are famous, or not famous.  I chose to write about Edison because, as it says in the title, I have been so inspired by him and he has inspired me to home educate my children in the way that I do.

Thomas Edison was born February 11, 1847 in Milan, Ohio. He was the seventh and last child of Samuel Edison, Jr. and Nancy Elliot Edison.  He was actually known as Al by his family, short for Alva, his middle name.  His mother was a school teacher and his father had no particular trade. 

Thomas did suffer with bad hearing; he was deaf in his left ear and could barely hear out of his right.  He suffered with a lot of ailments which probably made his hearing worse; I read somewhere that he had said that he hadn't heard a bird sing since he was 12 years old.  Because of his childhood illnesses, Thomas started school late, aged 7. He did not get on well with his teacher though.  He was a very curious child who asked lots of questions, his teacher, Reverend Engle, thought him stupid and referred to him as 'addled' (meaning confused)  this angered Thomas and when his mother came in angered her too.  His life at school only lasted 3 months before his mother decided to school him at home. 

I don't know about you but I find this so typical of the teacher not understanding the child that thinks out of the box!  How frustrating it is when a teacher does not understand concepts that children have just because they have the ability to produce things and create things that the world has never seen before!

Anyway back to Edison.  His mother gave him an education better than any school then or now could offer.  Not because she was already a teacher and knew how to teach, because she was devoted and didn't have a classroom full of many others to teach.  His parents were not rich; on the contrary they were rather poor.  So what was it that made Edison's education so successful?  Like all home educators it was having the flexibility to find his best learning style and creating for him a love for learning.  It was also nurturing his learning with love; "She avoided forcing or prodding," wrote Edison biographer Matthew Josephson  "and made an effort to engage his interest by reading him works of good literature and history that she had learned to love-and she was said to have been a fine reader."  Interestingly, his mothers not forcing is what led him to learn what he loved most.  This is how they learnt of his love for science.

Before he was 12 he had read works by Dickens and Shakespeare among others.  The very first science book Thomas Edison read though was R. G. Parker's School of Natural Philosophy when Edison was just 9.  This is the book that taught him to do some of his very first chemistry experiments.  Edison said it made learning fun.  Learning is always fun when it's something you enjoy what you are learning about though and I think this is one of the main points made in this post.  He became quiet hooked on chemistry and bought in many chemicals.  By the age of 10 he had made himself his own science lab in the basement of his parents house and cleverly marked all the bottles 'poison' so no one else would touch them!

Sometimes his father, Samuel, would offer Edison a penny to read another book.  Edison would often do so but only to raise money to buy new chemicals, his real love.

By the age of 12 Edison got a job selling newspapers and candy on the trains of the Grand Trunk Railway.  Even then, in his free moments he would try out science experiments on the train.  On one occasion, a jar of his chemicals fell and started a small fire.  The conductor, so enraged clipped his ear - yet another possibility to why he was so deaf.  He also lost his job through this incident.  He continued the same job but at the stations instead of in the trains.

I read in one book that it is believed that Edison saved a 3 year old boy from being hit by a train.  The father of the boy, a telegraph operator, was so grateful that he offered to teach Edison how to work a telegraph, to which Edison was most ethusastic about.

We know that Edison turned out to be a great inventor.  He actually became America's most prolific inventor with a huge 1093 patents - the microphone, telephone receiver, phonograph, office copiers and the incandescent light being only a few of them.  But what was his first invention?  Well, it was an improvement he made to the original telegraph.  He was 16 and was working as a railroad telegrapher.  Telegraphs back then used morse code.  Edisons duty was to tap out a message every half an hour to show that he was awake.  Unfortunately - or fortunately depending how you see it - Edison found it very difficult to stay up all night so he hooked up a clock to the telegraph so the messages went out automatically.  This was his first invention, although not the first he patented!  Being in this job was most likely what taught Edison what he knew about electricity, how batteries worked and how to wire up circuits. 

The first of his 1093 patents was an electric vote-counting machine in 1868.  Not many people saw the need for one though.  He found himself in New York City in 1869 with a dollar to his name.  A friend let him sleep in his office where he found a broken telegraph machine, he fixed it.  Then he invented a better telegraph machine - this was his first big success and sold the patent for $40,000.  Edison was rich as that's about $941300 in today's money.  This is when he became a full-time inventor.  When did he invent the light bulb?  1879.  There are debates about this invention but in short he perfected the filament.

So would Edison have been as successful without the education he received from his mother?  I don't think so!  That's why I do my best to follow my children interests and do my best to keep learning fun, what it should be really.  I really, hand on heart, don't care what my girls decide to do when they go out into the world of work.  All I want for them is to do a job they enjoy.  I was saying to Chiara the other day, whatever job you do choose one that feels like it's your hobby.  Her response was, I'm going to be a vet then.


  1. Thanks for sharing this story about Edison! He truly was an amazing figure, it truly is a testament to the greatness home schooling can unleash in kids.

    1. You're very welcome. I really enjoyed writing this and wouldn't have done had it not been for Katie Pybus. I agree with you he is a brilliant testament to home-schooling. Give a child room to grow and who knows what will happen! :) Thanks for commenting Jocky. Much appreciated!

  2. What an inspiring man! Truly amazing figure. So lovely to read that his mother never gave up on him, even when others clearly had - she always believed in her baby and that's priceless. Fab post. x

    1. Thanks! It is a great true life HE story I agree. Whatever some people say about him, he was a truly successful man and best of all he was successful at something he really loved doing :) x