History - Bright and beautiful

23rd December 2011 at 00:00
The man who lit up our lives marvels at our latest inventions

The great man had accepted the New Year's dinner invitation, and the food - turkey followed by apple pie - was in the oven. The children had been prepped to be polite to Mr Thomas Edison. The iPod was playing festive tunes, the simulated flames on the electric fire crackled, and the Christmas tree lights were set on "flash".

It's an everyday scene of the 21st century, but one that would no doubt fascinate an American pioneer who always strove to stretch his imagination. And who died in 1931.

On his arrival, Mr Edison was cordial. He shook my hand, kissed my wife's hand and produced a dollar note from behind the ear of my youngest son. He then turned to my adolescent son and asked: "D'you think you could make a million bucks from what's between your ears? Don't worry. You'll find your way as soon as these two get off your back. Right?" My adolescent grunted and disappeared into his room, keen to Facebook his clan about having dinner with this weird old man.

Mr Edison, meanwhile, was in awe of the sights around him. He marvelled at our LED lights. "I knew there was a better way!" he exclaimed. He was transfixed by my daughter's iPad and its touch-screen technology, and it took all my powers of persuasion to stop him taking it apart. Eventually he sat down and bombarded us with questions. "What exactly is a microwave?" "How do DVDs work?" But it was when we discussed the internet that he became most animated.

My youngest son showed him how it worked and we lost him to his curiosity. He typed, posted and surfed. After a couple of hours, he muttered: "An opportunity missed. All that information at your fingertips and still you know not a millionth of 1 per cent about anything. I would have done it so differently."

I had wanted to ask his views on education. He once accused schools of "not teaching children to think". But all too soon it was time for our guest to depart. A couple of days later my adolescent son got an email: "Do not rely on information given to you by strangers. Find it out for yourself; it's more fun that way."

And the sender? taedison@hotmail.com.

Chris Fenton is an associate head and commissioning editor at Curriculum Press. www.curriculum-press.co.uk.

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