Education Series III

This is a continuation of the last post with the same title but III.

Education III

After the exam, what I crammed evaporated. Education however is not just about passing examination. True education forms a man. It affects the way he thinks. He sees the parts in a whole and can as well form a whole from the parts available to him. It makes him think thereby becoming a problem solver. An educated man applies his knowledge to solve problems. Where the society does this, it leads to sustainable economic development, the type that trickles down to grassroots increasing their standard of living.

Thomas Edison had about three months of formal education. Despite his lack of schooling, he was a prolific inventor. The electric light bulb and the phonograph are two of his inventions. Jim Powell gives an account of his education:

Thomas Edison plunged into great books. Before he was 12, he had read works by Shakespeare and Dickens, Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, David Hume’s History of England, and more. Because Nancy Edison (his mother) was devoted and observant, she discovered simple ways to nurture her son’s enthusiasm. She brought him a book on the physical science, R. G. Parker’s School of Natural Philosophy, which explained how to perform chemistry experiments at home. Edison recalled this was ‘the first book in science I read when a boy’. It made learning fun, and he performed every experiment in the book. Then Nancy Edison brought him The Dictionary of Science which further spurred his interest. He became passionate about chemistry, spending all his spare money buying chemicals from a local pharmacist, collecting bottles, wires, and other items for experiments. He built his first laboratory in the cellar of the family’s Port Huron house. ‘Thus’, Josephson (Edison’s biographer) noted, ‘his mother had accomplished that which all truly great teachers do for their pupils, she brought him to the stage of learning things for himself, learning that which most amused and interested him, and she encouraged him to go on in that path. It was the very best thing she could have done for this singular boy’. As Edison himself put it: ‘My mother was the making of me. She understood me; she let me follow my bent’. Sam Edison (his father) disapproved of all the time his son spent in the cellar.
Sometimes he offered the boy a penny to resume reading literature…But Thomas Edison had discovered intellectual play. He wanted to learn everything he could about steam engines, electricity, battery power, electromagnetism, and especially the telegraph. Samuel F. B. Morse had attracted tremendous crowds when he demonstrated the telegraph back in 1838, and telegraph lines were extended across the country by the time Thomas Edison was conducting his experiments. The idea of transmitting information over a wire utterly fascinated him. He used scrap metal to build a telegraph set and practiced the Morse code. Through his experiments, he learned more and more about electricity which was to revolutionize the world…As a home-schooled, self-educated youth, Edison learned lessons that were to serve him all his life. He learned education was his own responsibility. He learned to take initiative. He learned to be persistent. He learned he could gain practical knowledge, inspiration and wisdom by reading books. He learned to discover all kinds of things from methodical observation. He learned education is a continuing, joyful process

Basically, Thomas Edison was responsible for his education as he learnt principles and concepts and applied them.

Michael Faraday, another great inventor had no formal education as it were. He was a book binder in a press with a thirst for knowledge. He loved to read books on science. He attended Sir Humphrey Davies’ lecture after which he gathered his notes, bound them and sent them to him. Sir Humphrey was so impressed that when his laboratory attendant left, he went in search of Faraday to invite him to work with him. Michael Faraday, interested in science, took the job, and rose to become a giant in the field of science. He invented electric motor which was a breakthrough in electricity.

The stories of these two gentlemen go to show that education is not the exclusive commodity of the four walls of a school. You are responsible for yours. So long as you can read, you can get education. What is important is the gathering of knowledge. That is how you grow. When you apply the knowledge in your life and situation around you, you practically become a problem solver. The world is in need of problem solvers not just graduates. This is not to discourage people from going to school. It is meant for you to know the reason why you go to school. Have an objective. Why are you going to school or why did you? The stories of Thomas Edison and Michael Faraday show that you are not worthless if you have not been to the four walls of a university. You can educate yourself if you can read. If your vision demands you going for a formal education, then make plans for it.  Start from where you are with what you have or can do as discussed in the last chapter to make your plans. In doing so, you have direction.

But the problem with many Nigerians is lack of reading culture. A speaker at a seminar quoted someone as saying, “If you want to hide something from a black man, put it in a book”. Some read only when they are in school. Graduation signifies an end to reading. What they do not know is that books inform. Great knowledge and insights are contained in books. Indeed a book can change your life. For me, everybody ought to read every day. The time you spend daily for reading is yours to decide. Great men have great minds and they share their minds with us through books even when they are late. Many do not tap into their minds. I am impressed by the way reading changed the life of Dr. Ben Carson.

He was a black inner-city kid of Detroit whose classmates called him “dummy”. He actually thought he was dumb because he was having poor grades and imagination was a problem for him. One day his mother, Sonya, who did not have a formal education returned home and turned off the television he was watching with his brother. She told them that from that day, they would only watch two preselected TV programs per week. The rest of the free time they had was to be spent reading. They were to read two books from the library per week after which they were to present written reports to her (she could barely read). She was criticized for this by her friends who said the boys would grow up to dislike her. But she was determined and wanted her boys to have greater opportunities than she had. Of course this did not go down well with Ben and his brother Curtis. They obeyed however. This kid who thought himself dumb started improving academically over time. He learnt to use his imagination and enjoyed it.  By reading he grew his knowledge and performed better in class. One day his teacher raised a particular type of rock and asked the name from the class. Nobody but Ben knew the answer. He had read about rocks and came across that particular type of rock. He not only supplied the name of the rock but explained how it was formed. His classmates were astonished. He went on to pursue a medical career later in life and became one of the world’s most renowned neurosurgeon. Carson attracted international attention by performing a surgery to separate two 7-month-old twins born joined at the head. The surgery was successful and it was the first of its kind.

The story was to show how reading can change one’s life. His mother had insight in spite of her lack of formal education. She told her boys if they spent more time reading rather than watching TV, it would not be long before people started to watch them on TV. How many parents see to it that their children read? It is not wise that the TV takes all the free time of children, the time they could use in building themselves. If parents see to it that their children spend more time reading rather than watching TV, they get the child forming a reading habit. Reading is also beneficial for the adults. When we were little we learnt to read. Today we read to learn. You stop reading, you stop learning; you stop learning, you live less. One can therefore not be a learned man but a learning man for learning does not and should not stop.

I have observed how much time many youths of today spend on social media. They chat away time and end up not developing themselves at a time in their lives they should be doing exactly that. Such people are not using social media, social media is using them. Even in church you find someone telling her friend that she is in church by posting it on one of the social media platforms on the internet. Another person posts that he is about to sleep or already eating. Who really wants to know these? It is an obsession for meaningless communication. If these people could only use the time they waste chatting or pinging for reading books that will develop them, they would see themselves becoming more productive and the society will be better for it.

Reading enhances education. Education develops our minds and affects our way of thinking. It enables us to try a new approach to achieve a goal when a particular approach does not bring the desired result. In essence we are not defeated because we know we have learnt how to learn. Can students today really say that they have learnt how to learn? Cramming is hardly learning. Our inability to learn affects us as a nation on a larger scale.

This write-up continues in the post after next.


  1. Jim Powell:

Godwin Nwaokike is the author of Growing Through Life and Live The Mission.


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