The Power of What We Say

“Your son is a genius. This school is too small for him and doesn’t have good enough teachers to train him. Please teach him yourself.”

ID-10066724 Thomas Edison
Image courtesy of twobee at


I saw this video on Facebook the other day. Golden rule number 1: only believe a third of what you see on Facebook — and that is being generous. However, whether or not the story is true, it is a damn good one we should all live by.

If you are to believe the tale, as a young boy Thomas Edison brought home a note from school one day and gave it to his mother. The quote above is what she told him was written. She started to home school him and … well … the rest is history.

The story goes on that it was not until many years later, after his mother’s death, that Thomas Edison found the actual note he had brought home. It apparently went like this:

“Your son is mentally deficient. We cannot let him attend our school anymore. He is expelled.”

These days, if a note like this came home, all manner of crap would hit the fan. But this is not the point.

As teachers (and not just teachers, all adults) we have an enormous power over how children view themselves.

I have seen children crushed by a few ill-thought-out words from an otherwise well meaning teacher or parent.

I, to my disgust and shame, have done the crushing. All it takes is for a child to put everything into a piece of work, only to have it come back covered in red marks … or to have the teacher not sit down and take the time to read the work, or listen to the child’s story.

And, I have been crushed myself. Two of many incidences come immediately to mind:

  • The first when my much-admired Principal in Primary School had a rant during assembly about how much he disliked ‘goody-goodies’. I was mortified, and destroyed, because I was one of those ‘goody-goodies’ … I didn’t like getting in trouble and to think the Principal I loved actually disliked me was too much.
  • The second happened in Year 5 when my teacher (who I also loved and admired) made an off-the-cuff comment, in front of the class, about me not getting everything right in some random ‘maths mentals’ quiz. This sounds little, but for a perfectionist student who strove to get her teacher’s approval, it was devastating. Not to mention, the whole class laughed at me … not with me. There is a massive difference between the two when it comes to developing self-esteem.

So, I hate to think what might have become of Thomas Edison if his mother had shared the ‘actual’ letter with him, or had believed it herself.

This story, true or not, sends two strong messages to me.

The most obvious one is that we need to be so mindful of what we say to people. Self-fulfilling prophesy can be an absolute tyrant when it comes to negative feedback. If you receive just a little of that, it can change your entire outlook on life. Children are particularly vulnerable, especially those with special needs, but so are adults at any stage of their life.

The second message, to me as a mother in particular, is this:

We are often the only advocate for our child!

If Thomas Edison’s mother had not stood up for him, if she hadn’t home schooled him, if she had believed that letter … I don’t even want to think about it.

If a mother doesn’t believe in her child … then who will?

And, I think we can say the same for a child’s teacher.


Below is the video from Facebook. I have no idea if it will play … but it’s so worth a look if it will.


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