How Homeschooling Paved the Way for Thomas Edison’s Success

In 2020-21, there were about 3.7 million homeschool students in grades K-12 in the United States. This number has been growing consistently over the last few years, but it grew drastically when the pandemic hit in 2019. Some benefits to this flourishing form of education are the personalization of curriculum, flexible schedules and the ability to learn at your own pace. However, many homeschoolers also reap the benefits of higher standardized test scores and are more likely to succeed in their higher education.

Just ask Thomas Edison, the poster child for homeschooling in the 1850’s. Edison was home schooled by his mother, Nancy Elliot Edison. Through a great deal of nurturing and leadership, she gave him basic tools he needed to learn and empowered him to explore.

Nancy Elliot Edison, Thomas Edison’s Mother and Homeschool Teacher

Edison’s mother encouraged him to have both a head and hands approach to learning, allowing him to have his own laboratory in their small basement…a place where his father became quite concerned as various small explosions and strange smells emanated. Edison obviously learned differently from the standard learning environment of the times. For Edison, it was fundamentally necessary to work hands-on and have the freedom for creativity, and to think critically about the world around him. This is not unlike the STEM principles that are taught in school today!

Edison believed in homeschooling so much that he made sure all of his own children were also educated that way. He was sure to use the same life-long pillars of learning that he mother instilled in him:

  1. Don’t be afraid to fail, keep trying, and learn from your mistakes
  2. Read across the entire span of literature, not just what you like
  3. Work with your hands and learn from life, not all important things come from books
  4. Never stop learning and improving yourself.

In later years, a grown and very successful Edison acknowledged that his mother’s discipline was responsible for his great success. He once said, “I did not have my mother long, but she cast over me an influence which has lasted all my life. The good effects of her early training I can never lose. If it had not been for her appreciation and faith in me at a critical time, I should very likely never have been an inventor.My mother was the making of me.”


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