From “Addled” to Inventor

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Thomas Edison was the youngest of a large family. A hearing problem and a disconnect with his attention span (“prone to distraction”) made it difficult for him to learn. Or perhaps, it would be correct to say that it was difficult for a teacher to teach him. At any rate, his school teacher labeled him as “addled”. After twelve weeks of being in school,  his mother pulled her hyperactive child from the classroom and taught him at home.

Instead of stifling her son, she allowed him to fill his appetite for books and for learning.  She managed to do this with him learning independently.

According to the story told by Thomas years after his mother’s death, he was homeschooled after that comment from the teacher. He recalled that his mother did visit the school to speak with the teacher about the term he used to describe her son.

From that day forward, she taught Thomas at home. She recognized his abilities and encouraged him to learn and to stretch himself. She also understood his problem with being easily distracted.

Not once did she treat him as someone who was unable to learn. Not once did she focus on his seeming learning disability. She knew her son, and she knew his capabilities. With that in mind, she encouraged him to learn under her tutelage.

That young boy became a famous inventor. Were it not for him, our world would be so different now. There is no doubt that the response of his mother pushed him in the right direction to use his mind and become an inventor. That boy was Thomas Edison.

As mothers of children who are in school or out of school, there are some things we can learn from Mrs. Edison.

In today’s world, a teacher labeling a child with words like “addled” would send the parent straight to the principal or the school board. No doubt the mother would be blasting it all over social media, developing an instant following whereby she could prove that there was nothing wrong with her child, that the system was flawed, and that the teacher or school was at fault and was failing her child. This child would become entitled, feeling that all the world is a stage and he is the central figure, today and always. All the world is a stage, and the child’s performance is the best he can do and cannot be measured or downgraded by anyone. For, after all, he is a child and the world owes it to him to let him succeed.

Tell me it ain’t so!

This does not just happen among parents who are not believers. It happens in every school setting there is. A child gets his feelings hurt and one or both of the parents rush to his rescue, declaring war on the teacher, the school board, or the school system. Sometimes it happens in our own churches. A Sunday school teacher reprimands a child, and the parent gets upset.

A teacher invokes a consequence and parents get in an uproar. A rule is handed down and enforced, and suddenly the world is unfair and no child should be left behind or be made to endure such a hardship.

Mrs. Edison taught, by her example, that even when life is not fair, we can rise above that unfairness. She took an unfortunate situation and turned it into something positive – and in turn channeled her son’s mind, developing an inventor the likes of which we have not seen since.

What would have happened to Thomas had he remained in that school?  Who knows. Perhaps a teacher would have come along who encouraged him, who saw the potential in his little mind and bolstered it by her support and applause.

For Thomas, it didn’t happen. And he was none the worse for the school system that failed him BECAUSE his mother did not allow this to defeat him or to defeat her.

Her attitude shaped his world and he gave us the light bulb, the telephone, the telegraph, and so many more things. The unfairness of a label did not stifle his mind because his mother did not allow that to happen.

Thomas didn’t know life was unfair, for his mother took the situation and turned it into something positive for Thomas. She rose to the occasion, rose above the unfairness, and succeeded in outfitting her son with developing his full intellectual potential despite the unfairness of life.

Had Thomas Edison been raised to be “entitled” to have the best education, the best help for his mental distractions, the best advantage possible, think how different his outlook would have been. Instead, he had a mother who rose above the label given her son, who didn’t fault or blame the teacher or principle and proclaim it loudly for everyone to hear. We have a mother who faced the battle squarely in the eye and won the conquest.

Not only do we have Thomas Edison to thank, we should also applaud his mother.

Moms – when you think you need to right the wrongs for your kids, when you think it’s time to set things straight, when you want your child to have always and only the best, remember Thomas  Edison and his mother.

Remember that life is not fair – and the sooner your child learns it, the better he will succeed. Help him learn to rise above the difficulties instead of bailing him out. Help him accept what limitations he has, then encourage him to reach for the stars. Cheer and applaud, but don’t trample others underfoot in order to achieve success for your child. Don’t addle your child by focusing on the label. Focus instead of who he really is.

I am not saying that when adults are wrong we should applaud them. I’m not saying that speaking with an adult in private is never in order. I’m simply saying this: when we respond wrongly to what happens to our kids, it can mar them for life. Is that really what we want?

We tend to want to make sure that no one else does something that will mar them, yet we fail to consider how our own attitudes and actions can cripple them. We can raise bridge builders or we can raise delinquents who always expect others to fight their battles for them instead of owning up to their own weaknesses and wrongs.

Choose the high road; help your child respond positively when life is unfair instead of encouraging him to wallow in the mire of a wrong mindset. Teach him that in Jesus, he can do all things. Instead of trying to make an adult pay for hurting your child, model to him that nothing is too hard for God and He can help us rise above what is unjust and untrue.

When you think life is not fair for your child, remember Thomas Edison and his mother. Respond like she did. Who knows, you might be raising a son who, because of your attitude, will contribute a wonderful good to society.

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