Children Who Changed the World: The Childhood Biographies of Gates, Jobs, Disney, Einstein, Ford, Tesla, and Edison
Of course, we all know famous people used to be children, but until reading this new book, I had not read short childhood biographies of people who changed the world, much less understood their common characteristics. The author does a service by writing this book for adults as it is true that there are biographies for children about these people.
The stories about the childhood of these geniuses have some striking and surprising commonalities, as well as interesting facts. All seven people did not have the exact same characteristics, but often four of them shared some trait or experience. Would we read this to try to develop such gifted people? No, as it is partly the time period of history, world events, and family life which combined to help them. Each person’s story is told until they are about age 21, then stops, as we all know the rest. The author’s observations chapter summarizes his thoughts. He provides a diagram of the traits for all of the people while showing which belong to each of the seven people. It does give one pause to think.
As a teacher, in the fall we would get our new class lists, and when we had maybe 15 boys and 7 girls, we would say it was preparation for a coming war. Who knows, but it stopped our possible complaining about how active our classes would be. What I mean is people are born at certain times and that the future doesn’t just happen all at once someday in the far future. A life starts at the beginning.
Yes, the times were important to allowing these people to excel in their chosen fields, as I read in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers. But there was something going on from birth for each person, and the way was paved with a combination of intelligence, environment, family, and access to the technologies of the time. It began with perhaps being born with a large head, educated parents, or the conditions to foster curiosity and interest in learning. None of these people were complainers, and they all showed continued persistence, and had to deal with less than understanding teachers and principals. They all faced obstacles of some kind and, before reading this book, I had no idea how many things they each had to endure. Yes, luck was on their side, but they did not have completely easy lives. Reading this book shows how true it is when people say luck is how hard you work.
This book has implications for schools who may have gifted education courses to perhaps be more flexible about grade levels and have more willingness to try advanced curriculum with students who could possibly be mislabeled as having behavior issues. It was a near miss a few times for several of these people who obviously did make it through life, but not without having to change schools or be taught at home.
One interesting fact in the book is that some of the people were slow to speak, doing so at ages 3 or 4. I did teach several years of gifted education classes, and it was not unusual for a student to leave a challenge class to walk across the hall to the speech teacher. Of course, that doesn’t happen to all bright people, but it was interesting to me that it was one of the characteristics mentioned.
I recommend this book to bright secondary students struggling with the prescribed curriculum, parents dealing with gifted children and the related challenges, and schools looking to be more empathetic to very intellectual children. Often, it is a difficult road for children and families. This author understands.