Education: Getting Schooled

Daniel Wolff's book, How Lincoln Learned to Read, considers the lives of 12 great Americans, from Abigail Adams to Sojourner Truth, and explores early influences on character. Here's a sample.
Benjamin Franklin

Teachers

His older brother, a printer; himself.

Education

He was a Boston Latin dropout, but he came from a literate family and spent his teenage years engrossed by books and writing pseudonymously for his brother's newspaper.

Lesson

The usefulness of rebelling—revolting, even—against traditional institutions, and how to communicate with the public.

Wolff's Take

"He'd developed a style, making up for a lack of poetic ability with a sly sense of humor and developing the condensed, pointed edge of the aphorism… a method particularly suited to speaking out against old institutions."
Abraham Lincoln

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Teachers

His mother, who'd gone to school, and later his stepmother, who brought books with her to the frontier; himself.

Education

A few months each winter in a frontier schoolhouse during his boyhood; constant reading and thinking; a determination to translate complex ideas into simple statements.

Lesson

How to be a great orator, a gifted, clear speaker.

Wolff's Take

"The myth of Lincoln, as one scholar puts it, is… 'a democratic muse unacquainted with the library.' The reality was a boy who had started studying how to turn a phrase early on."
Elvis Presley

Teachers

The mixed-race Assembly of God Pentecostal church.

Education

Church was where he started taking in music. In Memphis, he started listening to various music on local radio and at clubs—religious quartets, gospel, pop singers, and country.

Lesson

How to become the King of Rock 'n' Roll.

Wolff's Take

"'I just landed on it accidentally,' [Elvis] tells an early interviewer... a haphazard self-Education fit in that tradition of the guy who just stumbles on knowledge. Truth is, he'd worked at it."

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