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Thomas Edison Exploring Education

A good education is a better safeguard for liberty than a standing army or severe laws

-Sears' Family Instructor

One family motto says “every life is an amazing story,” but few are documented and published. Another motto states “we need more books about good people and less about great people,” but we do enjoy reading and learning from the lessons of others. Edison, by Edmund Morris, gives a detailed description of the education, experiences, and inventions of the real Thomas Edison who has become a cultural icon in American history. The book’s chapters are broken into the decades of Edison’s life and Morris confusingly arranges them from the end of Edison’s life to the beginning. A chapter finishes and the next starts twenty years previously. If I read the book again I would read the chapters in reverse order for a familiar biographical experience and better understanding of when the influences around Edison first appear.

Education is core to the human experience. It is also the foundation and ongoing ingredient of the successes and failures of our lives, which is also true of Edison. Education has had many formal structures and informal impacts on societies throughout time. I’m fascinated to learn about the methods used by others and how we can prosper from them. Edison covers this in the last few chapters as it describes his personal idiosyncrasies and the problems that the traditional schoolhouse approach caused him. His mother, therefore, resolved to teach him in his early years at home. As he developed, he better understood his own passions and transitioned to self education for the remainder of his life. His scientific experiments and mechanical tinkering led to a legendary career and status as an inventor.

Two influential books that Edison studied in his youth are First Lessons in Natural Philosophy, available at Amazon

and Sears’ Family Instructor, available at

The custom education that Edison received was far different than our current one size fits all government school system. While the free market continues to drive offerings down to the individual level, government and the political realm creates increasing divisiveness with its forced all or nothing solutions. The United States, a country dedicated to Liberty not tribalism, and founded to protect the individual in pursuit of their passions, has very little remaining competition in the educational sector. What remains is a shell truly useful to few and with no direction or purpose, exactly as expected when designed by politicians.

I never questioned the purpose of education growing up and that realization was shocking when I became responsible for educating my children. As a young husband and wife, our family moved along the spectrum from government school, private school, adding spiritual instruction, Christian school, supplementing with “homeschooling” in the evenings until finally committing to full time homeschooling. It became obvious to us through this journey that seeking Godly truth had to be the basis of our education and lives. How enlightening it would have been to read the following entry on Education from Sears' Family Instructor which was published in 1845. How comforting it would have been to live in a culture where this was commonly understood.


Every boy should have his head, his heart, and his hand educated : let this truth never be forgotten.

By the proper education of his head, he will be taught what is good, and what is evil—what is wise, and what is foolish—what is right, and what is wrong. By the proper education of his heart he will be taught to love what is good, wise, and right ; and to hate what is evil, foolish, and wrong ; and by the proper education of his hand, he will be enabled to supply his wants, to add to his comforts, and to assist those that are around him.

The highest objects of a good education are to reverence and obey God, and to love and serve mankind : everything that helps us in attaining these objects is of great value, and everything that hinders us is comparatively worthless. When wisdom reigns in the head, and love in the heart, the hand is ever ready to do good ; order and peace smile around, and sin and sorrow are almost unknown.

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