Happy birthday, Albert Einstein!

NOTE: Much of this information is taken from Jason Haas’s biography for kids, which is referenced below.

If Albert Einstein were alive, the father of the theory of relativity would be 133 today. Was Einstein one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists of all time? Yes. Did he change the way we think about our universe? Yes. But it’s Einstein’s boundless curiosity that makes him, in my opinion, one of the coolest people ever to walk the planet.

Here’s one of my favorite Einstein quotes:

“When searching for a needle in a haystack, other people quit when they find the needle. I look for what other needles might be in the haystack.” — Einstein

Einstein’s interest in science began when he was very young. His father and uncle installed electrical equipment, and Einstein found the “magic” of electricity fascinating. At age five, Einstein’s father gave the young boy a compass to play with when he was sick. Einstein’s father explained the Earth’s magnetic field. Some say this was when Einstein knew he wanted to learn the mysteries of the universe.

Einstein and traditional German schooling — with its rote memorization and drilling — didn’t mix. He often got into trouble for daydreaming in class when he was bored. At age 10, he started homeschooling himself, reading everything about science that he could. A college student who lived with the family introduced Einstein to Euclid, Darwin and Kant among others.

Einstein eventually returned to school to finish his degree and was admitted to the university. There, he also failed to shine, skipping classes and passing courses only because his friends lent him their notes. So, when Einstein published his theory of relativity, he wasn’t a physics professor. Instead, he was a 26-year-old patent clerk.

As a parent, Einstein’s story causes conflict. I want my children to model Einstein’s insatiable curiosity. However, I don’t want them to follow in Einstein’s footsteps when it comes to the school environment. I think the takeaway is that curiosity — and intelligence — cannot always be measured by how well one does in school. And one can achieve a rich and fulfilling life in many different ways.

If you and your children would like to learn more about Einstein, here are some good resources:

  • Great article by university student Jason Haas explaining Einstein’s development as a scientist, as well as the Theory of Relativity. I used much of his information here.
  • The National Science Teacher’s Association recommends Kathleen Krull’s middle-grade Einstein biography, Albert Einstein
  • Learning Through History has a timeline of Einstein’s life courtesy of NOVA, as well as activities, like building Einstein’s favorite toy, the compass.
  • PBS’s Web site has an Einstein portal, which includes teacher resources. Under teacher resources, you’ll find recommendations for classroom activities.
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17 Replies to “Happy birthday, Albert Einstein!”

  1. Happy Birthday, Einstein!

    Great information here, Kirsten. I can certainly see how it would be hard to strike a balance between admiring Einstein for all he’s done while still saying, “But school is important!” I applaud the “takeaway” you’ve found in this. Love the quote about looking for what other needles might be in the haystack!

  2. Happy Birthday, Einstein, from one quirky, eccentric German to another. (Notice I didn’t say from one genius to another. )
    The line I love in this post is;
    “Einstein and traditional German schooling — with its rote memorization and drilling — didn’t mix. He often got into trouble for daydreaming in class when he was bored. ”
    It breaks my heart to think how many quirky, bright kids are being turned off to school bny the “drive to excellence” , which should instead read as “drill to exhaustion”.
    Fingers crossed that young minds can generate their own inspiration until schools get back on track with true investigative, constructive learning.

    1. Sandy, as a parent of an upcoming kindergartener, I am hoping traditional (probably private) school will captivate and inspire him. I have a lot of friends who homeschool, and I love the idea, but have not committed to the challenge.

      1. Kirsten, please don’t misunderstand that my concern is about the inadequacies of public schools. I’ve worked in public schools for forty years, major urban and suburban, and there every child can be challenged, explore, and reach full potential. The fear I have is for the increasingly restrictive curricula imposed by testing/superficial standards. ( Note your reference to repetitive, traditional German schools.) Sadly, many parochial and private schools take that very model as well. (speaking as a product of parochial education).
        I don’t see homeschooling as a challenging option, either, since the brightest kids are often most in need of socialization with children reflecting a wide range of experiences, abilities, talents, and struggles.
        My heart breaks for loss of a vision of education as a process, not a business. Our children are not “measurable products” but individual assets.
        Einsteins each and every one, in his/her own special way.

      2. Sandy, I second your concern with how testing and measurement are affecting the school experience. Sadly it seems like subjects like science and social studies are taking a back seat these days. As for public schools, I am not bashing them. I love public schools. I am just saddened by the state of public schools where I live. Our teachers have an average of 33 students with no aids even in kindergarten. I know many of them would find it impossible to differentiate the curriculum for each and every student with such numbers. We do a lot of enrichment activities after school to supplement.

  3. Such an interesting post! I agree with it being hard to decide quite how to present this to kids to make sure you get the right “takeaway.” But another side to the story may be (and I could be totally wrong about this…) wasn’t Einstein dyslexic? If so, it would certainly explain his brilliance but inability to shine in school.

    1. So Susanna, it look like the dyslexic idea is urban legend and up for debate. Either way, evidence showed he was bored by what he was learning in school, which I think is often a challenge with gifted students.

  4. Happy Birthday Al! Thanks Kirsten. I understand about kids and school, but kids should not be made to suffer because school reform came to a halt because they found the ‘needle’ and stopped looking. My kids are in a rigorous program that definitely gives too much busy work, too much homework and does not show much tolerance for ‘other’ learners. If you comment they say you don’t need to be in the program. Well, the benefits seem to outweigh so far, the first one graduates in May. We shall see.

    1. Julie, you are so clever to use Albert’s own quote in reference to school reform. I am hoping we find a program that meets our needs. I have an almost-kindergartener who reads at a second-grade level, and I’ve been told by former teacher friends that our public schools (with 33 children and no aid) probably won’t be able to challenge him. I’m not saying he’s Einstein, but I don’t want him to be bored.

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