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Albert Einstein…would he have fallen through the cracks? June 23, 2007

Posted by Joselyn Todd in Educational Technology.

I’m back… I have been gone on a 6 day adventure to Lake Cumberland, KY on a houseboat trip with family. No Internet. Little cell phone coverage. No T.V. Alot of fishing, board and card games with family, and some wonderful new insights regarding the lives and extraordinary times of Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin (recommended reading for the science enthusiasts and history buffs) both by Walter Isaacson.

I’d like to focus on just a couple of points in “Einstein, His Life and Universe” by Isaacson that really got me thinking. (Isaacson does a masterful job of interweaving the story of the man while also keeping fairly true to the science. It is a very readable book although it helps to have an interest in physics.)

A prominent personality trait that Einstein sported was that he rebuked arbitrary authority and questioned many the established theories of the day in theoretical/experimental physics. A second important quality was that Einstein believed in the essential nature of freedom of thought to maximize the potential for creative and intellectual ventures.  As I have been reflecting on these two items, I have been thinking about how Einstein might have faired in our current educational system. These are all just hypothetical questions but I think they are worth putting out there.

Would Einstein have enjoyed technology and if so, what web 2.0 tools would he have used?

Would he have embraced the Internet as a source of information for his thought experiments?

If Einstein had been in a public school, how might have the No Child Left Behind Act affected the development of his scientific genius?

Would he have been labeled as student with aspergers, a mild form of autism?

Would he have been put on medications that might have dulled his amazing drive to pursue answers to the kinds of theories that theoretical and experimental physicists struggle with today?

Could he have ended up in a special education program as he was “difficult” and odd?

We do not and will never know the answers to these hypothetical questions. But these questions have raised my consciousness to the fact that never before have we had the tools and resources to reach out to kids that learn differently, socialize differently , or develop in any capacity differently. Moreover, technology can provide learning opportunities as never before for blind, deaf, and otherwise handicapped children.

But where is this happening? How regularly is it happening? Are we developing teachers that have the ability to know how to use technologies to help these children? Do we even know HOW to best leverage current technologies to educate these same children? Are current national and state education paradigms thwarting or helping bring technologies to the hands of those who are “different” (aren’t we all different, really?) in our educational system? Are the testing programs in so many states helping foster independent thinkers?

Finally, as we live in a world that faces enormous challenges such as global warming, the AIDs crisis in Africa, political strife that has existed for so long in the Middle East, etc., I think we NEED the intellectual and creative “genius” of every child out there. Don’t we NEED a system that questions arbitrary authority (just because we have done things a certain way for the past 100 years, it may very well be time for a change 🙂 )? As well, we need an educational system that provides room for freedom of thought so that children can best develop their intellectual and creative “genius” whether it is artistic, qualitatively inclined, quantitatively inclined, etc.

I will get back to “Emerging Ed Tech” tools in the next couple of blog entries. Meanwhile, I am going to think about how many “Einsteins” (Einsteins- referring to any individual with dignity and worth and with the ability to make positive contributions no matter what their inclinations) are falling through the cracks because their intellectual or creative needs are not being nourished in our current educational system. Moreover, how many of these “Einsteins” can’t hear, can’t see, can’t speak, or don’t socialize in culturally appropriate ways?

In closing, I hate to think of a world that might never have known and benefited from the creative and intellectual genius of Albert Einstein, and I keep thinking of the loss we would have incurred had he never been able to rise to the forefront of theoretical physics. E = MC2, the General Theory of Relativity, and the Photoelectric Effect… A strange man, eccentric, brilliant, often antisocial, extremely focused… Disheveled appearance, no socks, a cotton sweater in nearly every temperature… Thank god for the spectrum of intellect that included Albert Einstein’s mind and mental abilities and his resilience to pursue his interests against all odds. It is sad to think that in this current state of wonderful technological advances that children may not rise to their full intellectual potential. We simply have to rise to the challenge and leverage the technology at our hands to allow the best in each child to flourish.


1. Dawn Critchley - January 9, 2008

I loved reading this, and I agree with you!
I’m at college at the moment, have the pressure of revising for lots of exams.. when I’d much rather have more freedom in science to think on, at this stage, and have more of an opportunity in eductaion to be creative, that’s where the fun is in subjects (im sort of reffering to science here.. favourite physics and maths which Im going to be doing at university) and I think its sad that no time is dedicated to getting all/or even some of this excitement across to students !
thanks for writing what you did, about such a truely great man too.

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