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Albert Einstein at School
Albert Einstein (1879–1955) is regarded as the greatest physicist since Newton. In the following extract from The Young Einstein, the well-known biographer, Patrick Pringle, describes the circumstances which led to Albert Einstein’s expulsion from a German school.
“IN what year, Einstein,” asked the history teacher, “did the Prussians defeat the French at Waterloo?”
“I don’t know, sir,”
“Why don’t you know? You’ve been told it often enough.”
“I must have forgotten.”
“Did you ever try to learn?” asked Mr Braun.
“No, sir,” Albert replied with his usual unthinking honesty.
“I can’t see any point in learning dates. One can always look them up in a book.”
Mr Braun was speechless for a few moments.
“You amaze me, Einstein,” he said at last. “Don’t you realise that one can always look most things up in books? That applies to all the facts you learn at school.”
“Then I suppose you don’t see any point in learning facts.”
“Frankly, sir, I don’t,” said Albert.
“Then you don’t believe in education at all?”
“Oh, yes, sir, I do. I don’t think learning facts is education.”
“In that case,” said the history teacher with heavy sarcasm, “perhaps you will be so kind as to tell the class the Einstein theory of education.” Albert flushed.
“I think it’s not facts that matter, but ideas,” he said. “I don’t see the point in learning the dates of battles, or even which of the armies killed more men. I’d be more interested in learning why those soldiers were trying to kill each other.”
“That’s enough,” Mr Braun’s eyes were cold and cruel.“We don’t want a lecture from you, Einstein. You will stay in for an extra period today, although I don’t imagine it will do you much good. It won’t do the school any good, either. You are a disgrace.
I don’t know why you continue to come.”
“It’s not my wish, sir,” Albert pointed out.
“Then you are an ungrateful boy and ought to be ashamed of yourself. I suggest you ask your father to take you away.”
1. What do you understand of Einstein’s nature from his conversations with his history teacher, his mathematics teacher and the head teacher?
2. The school system often curbs individual talents. Discuss.
3. How do you distinguish between information gathering and insight formation?
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