Thomas Edison is famous for inventing the incandescent light bulb, which revolutionised the world. He invented many other things that many people do not know about.
He also invented the forerunner of the modern ‘turntable’ found in discos, which, in his day, was called the phonograph. The first words ever played back by his phonograph were “Mary had a little lamb”.
Many people know about the turntable as being an invention of Edison. But there were more, including motion pictures, the electric vote recorder, the magnetic iron-ore separator; a device to record X-rays, and the car battery, besides many others. Clearly, he had an exploring mind and was bright – very bright, in fact. He ended up with 1 093 patents.
But it is not his inventions that got me thinking about him and others. When he was a little boy, he did not initially go to school and when he did go, at age 12, he only went for a few months.
The teachers called him a poor student, and one teacher called him “addled”. Young Edison ran home to his mother, crying.
Later in his life, Edison said: “One day I overheard the teacher tell the inspector that I was ‘addled’ and it would not be worthwhile keeping me in school any longer. I was so hurt by this last straw that I burst out crying and went home and told my mother about it. Then I found out what a good thing a good mother is. She came out as my strong defender. Mother love was aroused, mother pride wounded to the quick. She brought me back to the school and angrily told the teacher that he didn’t know what he was talking about, that I had more brains than he himself.”
So, after his mother bawled the teacher out, she taught him at home. At age 16, he set out to be a businessperson and inventor. We all know that he was successful. He founded 14 companies, one of which was General Electric.
I think that he was probably too bright for his school classroom and was probably bored. Such boredom often results in the child’s mind wandering, which becomes disturbing in class, so the teacher labels the child a nuisance, confused or ‘addled’.
Another famous such case was Albert Einstein. He was also labelled a total pain at school because his mind wandered and he argued with the teachers about maths and science. So, he also was thrown out of school and studied at home with his mother. What he did was study the things he liked, such as maths and physics. He never ever wrote the equivalent of matric exams, so, when he went to university, he had to write an entrance exam. He failed it. He cracked the maths and science, but failed a subject like German, yet he was German speaking. He was instructed to go and learn his German literature and other nonscience subjects and then to rewrite the entrance exam. He did and got into university.
My point is that very bright people like these are dreamers who can ‘see’ things that other people cannot see. They often cannot be bothered to do things in the formal logical way, as taught, because they can easily see the answers by another route.
Obviously, a teacher has to take the whole class into account, so he or she instinctively concentrates on getting the lower third of the class to pass. This often means careful rote learning and attention to formal methods and procedure. When a bright child then bypasses rules in class, the teacher tends to label that child a troublemaker or one who is a dreamer, and not paying attention.
It is not only in school but also in later life that we need to nurture these dreamers. It is the ‘hop, skip and jump’ mind of the dreamer that leads to new thought, new ideas and new innovations for mankind.