Albert Einstein changed the world by seeing it in a new way. In an age of cold wars and atom bombs, Einstein would regret how his vision was used. At the heart of his creativity and his leadership was the courage to change his mind…
Video 1: Piano Lessons
Focus on Today. Einstein believed that every child should have the opportunity to succeed. And yet millions of children suffer hunger, illness, and violence. Millions more are deprived of even the most basic education. In the United States, child poverty remains a national disgrace:
Worldwide, thousands of children die everyday of preventable causes. But as a result of economic growth and the hard work of organizations like UNICEF, those numbers are decreasing:
Throughout the world, organizations like UNICEF are working to ensure that every child receives a quality education. In India, Pratham works to improve access to education. In the United States, Questbridge connects the world’s brightest low-income students to America’s best universities. But there is still much to be done before no child lives in poverty.
Global Connections. In July 1930, Einstein sat down with the renowned Indian poet, artist, and educator, Rabindranath Tagore. Here is an excerpt from their conversation:
EINSTEIN: There are two different conceptions about the nature of the universe: (1) The world as a unity dependent on humanity. (2) The world as a reality independent of the human factor.
TAGORE: When our universe is in harmony with Man, the eternal, we know it as Truth, we feel it as beauty.
EINSTEIN: This is the purely human conception of the universe.
TAGORE: There can be no other conception.
Like Einstein, Tagore believed in education as a creative force. He founded his own school, Shantineketan, that emphasized music, drama, and other arts. The conversation between Einstein and Tagore reveals the power of creativity to cross borders of many kinds. Take the idea of kindergarten, for example. In the early 1800s, the German teacher Friedrich Fröbel championed the idea of a “pre-school” focused on creative play and social interaction. Fröbel’s ideas captured the imagination of other educators, and the German word “kindergarten” or “children’s garden” became known throughout the world.
Fröbel’s emphasis on imagination and play resonated with Einstein, whose love for creativity was often described as “childlike.” But why should only children be encouraged to be creative?
Interact and Learn. Einstein thought learning should be fun. Try this simple game to learn more about Einstein’s views on education.
- ''Imagination is more important than knowledge,'' Einstein once said.
- ''It is not enough to teach a man a specialty,'' Einstein said. ''Through it he may become a kind of useful machine but not a harmoniously developed personality.''
Experiment in social change. What do you love to do? How could you create positive change through your passion? First, find something you enjoy (sports, music, a hobby of some kind). Is there someone already using that hobby to create positive change? How can you support them? If you love music, maybe there is a musician who is vocal about social issues. Or if you are passionate about sports, is there a player who champions positive causes? Perhaps you could find your own way to use one of your passions to create positive change. Maybe by sharing that passion with someone else? Teaching a beginner? Or using your passion to raise funds for a good cause?
Reflect and Question. Think about a favorite teacher. How did that teacher shape who you are?
Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, offered ten Rules of Teaching. Think about each rule. Do you agree or disagree?
- Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
- Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
- Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
- When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
- Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
- Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
- Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
- Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
- Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
- Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness
Think back to your favorite teacher. What qualities made that teacher so special? What do you think makes for a great teacher?
Then consider the school system in your city. Are the public schools better in wealthier neighborhoods than in poor neighborhoods? Are poor children less likely to find a creative and encouraging environment? Do they have fewer parks and safe places to play?
Think about this child, denied the opportunity to attend school, and instead forced to work in a brick kiln:
Activists like Kailash Satyarthi and organizations like Anti-Slavery International, Human Rights Watch, and UNICEF are fighting for a world without child labor, a world in which every child is allowed to learn and to play. How can you help?
To learn more about how Einstein connected his passions to the world’s need, watch Video 2: The Bomb…
Video 2: The Bomb
Focus on Today. There are some 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, more than enough to destroy the planet many times over. With the explosion of terrorist violence, the risk of a nuclear attack has only increased. What can be done to prevent a nuclear holocaust?
A few days before he died, Einstein signed a famous document, the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, that warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons and called for a lasting peace. That was in April 1955. The Russell-Einstein Manifesto led to the creation of Pugwash, an organization that brings together scientists and public figures to work toward reducing the threat of war. But despite the efforts of many peace organizations, the world continues to suffer war after war, and the threat of a nuclear attack continues to hang in the air.
Global Connections. Einstein helped launch an international movement for nuclear disarmament. In 1985, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) won the Nobel Peace Prize for its work.
IPPNW was created by physicians from the United States and the Soviet Union who shared a commitment to preventing nuclear war. In 1994, the organization that Einstein helped inspire, Pugwash, also won the Nobel Peace Prize. Both Pugwash and IPPNW are international organizations that work across national borders to achieve lasting peace.
Experiment in social change. Einstein’s relationship with the atom bomb reveals his willingness to change his mind, not just once but twice. Look back on your life and consider when you wish you might have made a different choice. Are there lessons you can take away from that experience? How can you apply those lessons to your life moving forward? Ponder the history of your country. Are there mistakes made by your government that should be prevented from reoccurring? Perhaps your government is currently making a mistake that you think could be avoided by learning from the past. If so, consider how you might help steer a better course. Could you write a letter concerning the mistake and submit it to a newspaper? Or maybe send it to your government representatives? Could you join an organization committed to preventing that mistake from continuing?
Reflect and Question. “Mistakes are not just opportunities for learning; they are, in an important sense, the only opportunity for learning or making something truly new.” So declared the philosopher Daniel Dennett. Do you agree? When have you learned from a mistake?
What led Einstein to admit his mistakes and to learn from them?
To learn more about how Einstein defended freedom of speech, watch Video 3: Quantum Leaps…
Video 3: Quantum Leaps
Focus on Today. The right to free speech is under attack in many countries worldwide. Some governments reject free speech as foreign and unpatriotic. Journalists are often harassed or jailed like these reporters sentenced to prison in Egypt:
Even in liberal democracies like the United States the average citizen has limited opportunities to impact the public debate, especially given the vast sums of money that are spent to sway public opinion. The American Civil Liberties Union fights for the right to free speech. On a global scale, Amnesty International defends basic human rights including the right to free speech. How can you help fight for a world in which everyone can voice their beliefs without fear?
Global Connections. The right to speak is closely connected with the right to know. Across the globe, courageous citizens have mobilized to demand information from overly secretive governments. In the United States, the Freedom of Information Act guarantees at least partial access to the information held by the federal government. In India, the Right to Information Act has served as a check on corruption.
While laws have empowered citizens with information, professional journalists have also continued to work to uncover the truth. Organizations like the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders promote a free and independent press by defending the rights of journalists throughout the world.
Interact and Learn | How Cold Was the Cold War? Click on the below map to explore the bloodiest conflict of the twentieth century:
What made the Cold War cold? (Hint: It had nothing to do with the winter.) The Cold War earned its name because there was never direct conflict between the two great superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. Instead, both countries poured money and weapons into a series of proxy wars—most of which were intensely bloody. The Cold War is better understood as a series of Hot Wars.
It is difficult to estimate the total casualties of the conflicts sparked by the Cold War. It is even harder to estimate the deaths caused by misguided resources or by authoritarian policies pursued by Cold War governments. Our map includes only some of those countries where active war was directly tied to Cold War politics. We could also have included countries where authoritarian governments were supported by one of the superpowers. Many dictatorships were backed by the United States (ie Egypt, Iran, South Africa) or the Soviet Union (Poland, Hungary, North Korea). The repressive policies of those governments must also be included in the total cost of the Cold War.
Experiment in social change. Create a list of the most controversial issues in today’s world. Choose one that you care about and try to find someone who disagrees with you about that issue. Explain that you want to know more about how they feel and ask them to explain their views. Try to have a respectful conversation. Try to listen more than you speak. Then write a short piece about your dialogue and share it with your conversation partner. Also consider sharing it online via facebook or a blog. You will help raise awareness, but more importantly, you will demonstrate the possibility of civil conversations, the power of listening to those who disagree with you.
Reflect and Question. The writer David Foster Wallace told a story about two men in a bar in the Alaskan wilderness:
“One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was 50 below, and so I tried it. I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.’ And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. ‘Well then you must believe now,’ he says, ‘After all, here you are, alive.’ The atheist just rolls his eyes. ‘No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.”
How do our beliefs shape our understanding of the world? Can you think of an example from your own life?
What does it mean to stay loyal to a belief or an ideal? Should you stay loyal?
How do conversations with those that you disagree with shape your beliefs? Should the goal of conversations be to agree?
Keep Learning. To learn more about Albert Einstein, explore our suggestions for further reading or…
Learn how Rosa Parks attacked fascism and racism…Explore why Einstein praised Gandhi as “the most enlightened of all the political men in our time”…Compare Einstein’s genius with Andrew Carnegie’s innovation…Learn why Rachel Carson and Einstein both believed in ethically-responsible science…
Einstein was as curious as he was creative. He spoke and wrote on many topics, from love and war to theoretical physics. The best place to start is with a collection of Einstein’s own writings, his Ideas and Opinions. For the broader context of his life, consider reading the acclaimed biography, Einstein: His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson.
For an engaging introduction to Einstein’s theory of relativity, try Richard Wolfson’s Simply Einstein: Relativity Demystified. Or for a fictional approach, pick up Alan Lightman’s novel, Einstein’s Dreams.
On the making of the atomic bomb, see American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin or The Making of the Atomic Bomb, by Richard Rhodes.
On fascism, two edited volumes provide excellent introductions: Comparative Fascist Studies, edited by Constantin Iordachi and Fascism Past and Present, West and East, edited by Roger Griffin, Werner Loh, and Andreas Umland.
On the McCarthyist paranoia that Einstein defied, try Ellen Schrecker’s Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America or David Oshinsky’s A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy.