Albert Einstein with his son Hans Albert

I am an Albert Einstein fan. Except for most of his parenting and the treatment of the women in his life. And, for me, that’s a big part to get past.

But it pleased me to find a letter that he wrote to his 11 year-old son, Hans Albert with some advice about learning.

It is included in Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children which I came upon in the library this week.

It was November 1915 and Albert Einstein was 36, living in Berlin which was torn up by war. His estranged wife, Mileva, and their two sons, Hans Albert Einstein and Eduard “Tete” Einstein, lived in Vienna, which was a safer place at the time.

Einstein had just completed the two-page piece of genius that was his theory of general relativity. His fame was about to explode upon the world.

Einstein sent his son a letter about the simple secret of learning.

It’s not school.

Here’s the part I think is worth passing on:

“… These days I have completed one of the most beautiful works of my life, when you are bigger, I will tell you about it.

I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits, better even than school. Because those are things which fit a young person such as you very well. Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes. I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal.”


Another interesting book of letters is Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein’s Letters to and from Children, a collection of about sixty letters from around the world and his responses. Alice Calaprice compiled the collection and also collected his many pithy quotations in The Quotable Einstein.

(I had a pair of those furry slippers that is shown wearing on the book’s cover. My sister and I called them “puff-puffs.”)

He seemed to be fond of children and enjoyed the simplicity of their questions and ideas. I wish he had been a better father himself.

When a child asked how old the Earth was and when it will come to an end, he wrote back that it is a little more than a billion years old, and, “As for the question of the end of it I advise: Wait and see!”  He told “six little scientists” from Louisiana who were mocked by their classmates for believing that life would survive even if the sun burned out: “The minority is sometimes right—but not in your case.”

 

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