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Quotations on the nature of education, and what people have tried to make of it instead.


Shakyamuni Buddha

  • Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

Kalama Sutta


  • I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.


  • All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses.
  • In modern times there are opposing views about the practice of education. There is no general agreement about what the young should learn either in relation to virtue or in relation to the best life; nor is it clear whether their education ought to be directed more towards the intellect than towards the character of the soul.... And it is not certain whether training should be directed at things useful in life, or at those conducive to virtue, or at non-essentials.... And there is no agreement as to what in fact does tend towards virtue. Men do not all prize most highly the same virtue, so naturally they differ also about the proper training for it. (unsourced)


  • Only the educated are free. (Discourses, Book II, ch. 1)


  • The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.

Daniel Defoe

  • I have often thought of it as one of the most barbarous customs in the world, considering us as a civilized and a Christian country, that we deny the advantages of learning to women.

The Education Of Women

Edmund Burke

The Father of Conservatism, who is today just another lousy Liberal.

  • The first and the simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind is Curiosity.

A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757)

Simon Bolivar

  • The first duty of a government is to give education to the people.

John Alexander Smith

  • Gentlemen, you are now about to embark on a course of studies which will occupy you for two years. Together, they form a noble adventure. But I would like to remind you of an important point. Nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life, save only this, that if you work hard and intelligently you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole, purpose of education.

Smith was Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford University. Statement recorded in 1914.

Pablo Picasso

  • I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.


  • First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

[and then they claim it was their idea all along Mokurai 01:08, 14 December 2008 (UTC)]

  • You must be the change you seek.

Albert Einstein

  • It is almost a miracle that modern teaching methods have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for what this delicate little plant needs more than anything, besides stimulation, is freedom.
  • Computers are incredibly fast, accurate and stupid; humans are incredibly slow, inaccurate and brilliant; together they are powerful beyond imagination.

Albert Szent-Gyorgy

Nobel laureate (biology/medicine)

  • Discovery consists of seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one else has thought.

Robert A. Heinlein

  • A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Robert Frost

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.

Two Tramps In Mudtime

Margaret Mead

  • Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.

B. F. Skinner

  • Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.

Jerome Bruner

  • We begin with the hypothesis that any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development.

The Process of Education (1960)

Marvin Minsky

  • You don't understand anything until you learn it more than one way.

Terry Pratchett

  • When you light a fire for a man, you keep him warm for a night. When you set him on fire, you keep him warm for the rest of his life. (See Plutarch if you don't get it.)

Edward Mokurai Cherlin

  • The essential capacity for discovery is the ability to visualize more than one part of an elephant at a time when you can't see it.


John Stuart Mill

  • A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation; in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body. An education established and controlled by the State should only exist, if it exists at all, as one among many competing experiments...

On Liberty (1859)

Johann Gottlieb Fichte

  • The schools must fashion the person, and fashion him in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than what you wish him to will.

Upton Sinclair

  • It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked (1935), ISBN 0-520-08198-6; repr. University of California Press, 1994, p. 109.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

  • « Quand il naît par mutation dans les jardins une rose nouvelle, voilà tous les jardiniers qui s’émeuvent. On isole la rose, on cultive la rose, on la favorise. Mais il n’est point de jardinier pour les hommes. Mozart enfant sera marqué comme les autres par la machine à emboutir...Ce qui me tourmente,...c’est un peu, dans chacun de ces hommes, Mozart assassiné. »
  • "When a mutant rose arises in a garden, all the gardeners rejoice. They give it a special place, they cultivate it, they bestow all their care on it. But there are no gardeners for people. An infant Mozart is marked just like all the others by the stamping press...What torments me each of these people, a bit of Mozart murdered."

Richard Feynman

I got a telephone call from a pretty famous lawyer here in Pasadena, Mr. Norris, who was at that time on the State Board of Education. He asked me if I would serve on the State Curriculum Commission, which had to choose the new schoolbooks for the state of California...

I had a special bookshelf put in my study downstairs (the books took up seventeen feet), and began reading all the books that were going to be discussed in the next meeting. We were going to start out with the elementary schoolbooks...

It was a pretty big job, and I worked all the time at it down in the basement. My wife says that during this period it was like living over a volcano. It would be quiet for a while, but then all of a sudden, "BLLLLLOOOOOOWWWWW!!!!" -- there would be a big explosion from the "volcano" below.

The reason was that the books were so lousy. They were false. They were hurried. They would try to be rigorous, but they would use examples (like automobiles in the street for "sets") which were almost OK, but in which there were always some subtleties. The definitions weren't accurate. Everything was a little bit ambiguous -- they weren't smart enough to understand what was meant by "rigor." They were faking it. They were teaching something they didn't understand, and which was, in fact, useless, at that time, for the child.

Judging Books by Their Covers, in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (1985)

Stephen Jay Gould

  • We pass through this world but once. Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.

The Mismeasure of Man