Quotes on Education.

Quotes on Education

The educational process has been the subject of much comment by academics and writers. Their observations range from praise to cynicism, mostly the latter. Education is an easy target for criticism because its stated aims are often so nobly ambitious that they have little chance of being realized. It should give us pause that so many people who have made their mark in the world of ideas, who have been acknowledged leaders and innovators, have held formal education and educational institutions in low regard. We have collected here a variety of thought-provoking observations on education.

First, some definitions of education.

Education is...

One of the few things a person is willing to pay for and not get.
William Lowe Bryan (18601955) 10th president of Indiana University (1902 to 1937).

Hanging around until you've caught on.
Robert Lee Frost (1874-1963) American poet.

One of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought.
Bertrand A. Russell (1872-1970) English philosopher, mathematician, and writer.

Man's going forward from cocksure ignorance to thoughtful uncertainty.
Kenneth G. Johnson (1922-2002) American educator, semanticist.

A form of self-delusion.
Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) American author, editor and printer.

[A process] which makes one rogue cleverer than another.
Oscar Wilde (1856-1900) Irish poet and dramatist.

The inculcation of the incomprehensible into the ignorant by the incompetent.
Josiah Charles Stamp (1880-1941) British civil servant, industrialist, economist, statistician and banker.

[Education] consists mainly in what we have unlearned.
Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer.

Education is what remains when we have forgotten all that we have been taught.
George Savile, Marquis of Halifax (1633-1695) English statesman and author.

Education is a progressive discovery of our ignorance.
Will Durant (1885-1981) U.S. author and historian.

A succession of eye-openers each involving the repudiation of some previously held belief.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British dramatist, critic, writer.

Education is a state-controlled manufactory of echoes.
Norman Douglas (1868-1952) British writer.

Education is the process of casting false pearls before real swine.
Prof. Irwin Edman (18961954) American philosopher and educator.

ABOUT EDUCATION

From clever definitions we move on to comments about education.
The whole object of education is...to develop the mind. The mind should be a thing that works.
Sherwood Anderson (18761941) American novelist and short story writer.

Education seems to be in America the only commodity of which the customer tries to get as little he can for his money.
Max Leon Forman (1909-1990) Jewish-American writer.

The chief wonder of education is that it does not ruin everybody concerned in it, teachers and taught.
Henry Brooks Adams (1828-1918) U.S. historian and writer. The Education of Henry Adams.

Public schools are the nurseries of all vice and immorality.
Henry Fielding (1707-1754) English novelist, dramatist.

It has been said that we have not had the three R's in America, we had the six R's; remedial readin', remedial 'ritin' and remedial 'rithmetic.
Robert Maynard Hutchins (also Maynard Hutchins) (18991977) educational philosopher, dean of Yale Law School (1927-1929), a president of the University of Chicago (19291945) and its chancellor (19451951).

Part of the American myth is that people who are handed the skin of a dead sheep at graduating time think that it will keep their minds alive forever.
John Mason Brown (19001969) American drama critic and author.

Education … has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.
G. M. Trevelyan (1876-1962) British historian

We are shut up in schools and college recitation rooms for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bellyful of words and do not know a thing.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82) U.S. essayist and poet.

A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education he may steal the whole railroad.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) American president

But, good gracious, you've got to educate him first. You can't expect a boy to be vicious till he's been to a good school.
Saki (H. H. Munro) (1870-1916) Scottish author

I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.
Oscar Wilde (18541900) Irish writer, poet and playwright. "The Importance of Being Earnest, Act 1."

Education does not mean teaching people to know what they do not know; it means teaching them to behave as they do not behave.
John Ruskin (1819-1900) English critic

They say that we are better educated than our parents' generation. What they mean is that we go to school longer. They are not the same thing.
Douglas Yates

Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education.
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English philosopher, mathematician and writer.

You don't have to think too hard when you talk to teachers.
Jerome David Salinger (1919- ) U. S. novelist and short-story writer.

The average schoolmaster is and always must be essentially an ass, for how can one imagine an intelligent man engaging in so puerile an avocation.
H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) American editor, critic and writer.

Everyone who is incapable of learning has taken to teaching.
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet and dramatist. The Decay of Lying.

He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British dramatist, critic, writer. Maxims for Revolutionists.

The average Ph.D. Thesis is nothing but a transference of bones from one graveyard to another.
James Frank Dobie (18881964) American folklorist, writer, and newspaper columnist.

You can lade a man up to th' university, but ye can't make him think.
Finley Peter Dunne (18671936) U.S. author, writer and humorist.

There is less flogging in our great schools than formerly–but then less is learned there; so what the boys get at one end they lose at the other.
Samuel Johnson (1709-84) English lexicographer and writer.

It is little short of a miracle that modern methods of instruction have not already completely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry…. I believe that one could even deprive a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness if one could force it with a whip to eat continuously whether it were hungry or not…
Albert Einstein (1879-1955) U.S. physicist

I am not a teacher; only a fellow traveler of whom you asked the way. I pointed ahead–ahead of myself as well as of you.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British dramatist, critic, writer.

The object of teaching a child is to enable him to get along without a teacher.
Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) American author, editor and printer.

Teachers are people who start things they never see finished, and for which they never get thanks until it is too late.
Max Leon Forman (1909-1990) Jewish-American writer.

Some men are graduated from college cum laude, some are graduated summa cum laude, and some are graduated mirabile dictu.
William Howard Taft (1857-1930) 27th U.S. President (1909- 13)

Real education must ultimately be limited to men who insist on knowing–the rest is mere sheep-herding.
Ezra Loomis Pound (1885-1972) U.S. poet.

I'm sure the reason such young nitwits are produced in our schools is because they have no contact with anything of any use in everyday life.
Petronius (d. circa 66 CE) The Satyricon.

True education makes for inequality; the inequality of individuality, the inequality of success, the glorious inequality of talent, of genius.
Felix E. Schelling (1858-1945) American educator

The principal goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done.
Jean Piaget (1896-1980) Swiss cognitive psychologist.

No man who worships education has got the best out of education... Without a gentle contempt for education no man's education is complete.
G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) British author

The modern child, when asked what he learned today, replies, "Nothing, but I gained some meaningful insights."
William E. ("Bill") Vaughan (19151977) American columnist and author.

Consider... the university professor. What is his function? Simply to pass on to fresh generations of numskulls a body of so-called knowledge that is fragmentary, unimportant, and, in large part, untrue. His whole professional activity is circumscribed by the prejudices, vanities and avarices of his university trustees, i.e., a committee of soap-boilers, nail manufacturers, bank-directors and politicians. The moment he offends these vermin he is undone. He cannot so much as think aloud without running a risk of having them fan his pantaloons.
H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) American editor, critic and writer.

The only real education comes from what goes counter to you.
Andre Gide (1869-1951) French writer.

I respect faith, but doubt is what gets you an education.
Wilson Mizner (1876-1933) American dramatist.

Colleges are places where pebbles are polished and diamonds are dimmed.
Robert G. Ingersoll, Abraham Lincoln.

The things taught in colleges and schools are not an education, but the means of education.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82) U.S. essayist and poet.

The result of the educative process is capacity for further education.
John Dewey (1859-1952) U.S. philosopher and educator.

Courses in education given at...teachers' colleges have traditionally been used as a substitute for genuine scholarship. In my opinion, much of the so-called science of "education" was invented as a necessary mechanism for enabling semieducated people to act as tolerable teachers.
Sloan Wilson (1920- ) U.S. journalist and novelist.

Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not.
Walter Bagehot (1826-77) English economist, political journalist, and critic. Physics and Politics, 1879.

Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and however early a man's training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.
Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-95) English biologist and writer.

Plasticene and self-expression will not solve the problems of education. Nor will technology and vocational guidance; nor the classics and the Hundred Best Books.
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) English novelist, essayist, critic.

He was so learned that he could name a horse in nine languages; so ignorant that he bought a cow to ride on.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, author, scientist, inventor and philosopher.

A college degree does not lessen the length of your ears; it only conceals it.
Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) American author, editor and printer.

The only thing experience teaches us is that experience teaches us nothing.
André Maurois (1885-1967) French biographer and writer.

I'm still waiting for some college to come up with a march protesting student ignorance.
Paul Larmer (Chicago Tribune)

A fool's brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, and art into pedantry. Hence University education.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British dramatist, critic, writer.

I am inclined to think that one's education has been in vain if one fails to learn that most schoolmasters are idiots.
Hesketh Pearson (1887-1964) British biographer.

The vanity of teaching doth oft tempt a man to forget that he is a blockhead.
George Saville, Marquis of Hallifax (1633-1695) English statesman and essayist.

In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made school boards.
Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer.

Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run.
Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer.

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.
Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer.

In England … education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and would probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.
Oscar Wilde (1856-1900) Irish poet and dramatist.

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
Oscar Wilde (1856-1900) Irish poet and dramatist. The Critic as Artist.

You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) Italian physicist and astronomer.

Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts.
Henry Brooks Adams (1828-1918) U.S. historian and writer. The Education of Henry Adams.

There is nothing so stupid as an educated man, if you get off the thing that he was educated in.
Will Rogers (1879-1935) U.S. actor and humorist.

Education is that which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?) U.S. journalist and writer.

Learning makes the wise wiser and the fool more foolish.
John Ray (1627?-1705) English naturalist.

A wise man is one who finally realizes that there are some questions one can ask which may have no answers.
Anon

He is to be educated because he is a man, and not because he is to make shoes, nails, and pins.
William Ellery Channing (1780-1842) U.S. Unitarian clergyman and writer.

Education is too important to be left solely to educators.
Francis Keppel (19161990) American educator, U.S. Commissioner of Education (19621965).

Only the curious will learn and only the resolute will overcome the obstacles to learning. The quest quotient has always excited me more than the intelligence quotient.
Edmund S. Wilson (1895-1972) U.S. author, literary and social critic.

Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.
Helen Beatrix Potter (18661943) English author, illustrator, mycologist and conservationist.

Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.
Mary Flannery O'Connor (19251964) American novelist, short-story writer and essayist.

Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.
Robert Lee Frost (18741963) American poet.

Examinations are formidable even to the best prepared, for the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer.
C. C. Colton, Lacon: Reflections, No. 322.

Doesn't Anyone Have Anything Good to Say?

One must search diligently to find laudatory comments on education (other than those pious platitudes which are fodder for commencement speeches). It appears that most persons who have achieved fame and success in the world of ideas are cynical about formal education. These people are a select few, who often achieved success in spite of their education, or even without it. As has been said, the clever largely educate themselves, those less able aren't sufficiently clever or imaginative to benefit much from education. English historian Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) put it this way: "The power of instruction is seldom of much efficacy except in those happy dispositions where it is almost superfluous."

But those tempted to take the route of self-education should heed the warning of the old maxim: "He who would educate himself should be a born educator." Benjamin Franklin, who largely educated himself, cautions: "He that teaches himself hath a fool for his master."

For those of us neither geniuses nor hopeless fools, formal education may be a useful thing–if approached in the right spirit, with an eager and open mind and a rationally skeptical attitude. This brief quote collection can be appropriately closed with some positive comments:

Education: Being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don't. It's knowing where to go to find out what you need to know; and it's knowing how to use the information once you get it.
William A. Feather (1889-1981) American publisher and author.

An educated man is one who can entertain a new idea, entertain another person and entertain himself.
Sydney Wood

Learning makes a man fit company for himself.
Anon

The primary purpose of a liberal education is to make one's mind a pleasant place in which to spend one's time.
Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) American journalist.

Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire.
William Butler Yeats (18651939) Irish poet, dramatist.

The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action.
Herbert Spencer (18201903) English philosopher, political theorist, and sociological theorist.

Your Education is worth what You are worth.
Anon

When asked how much educated men were superior to those uneducated, Aristotle answered, "As much as the living are to the dead."
Diogenes Laertius (fl. 2nd century).

Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.
Leonardo da Vinci (14521519) Italian painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, and inventor. Notebooks.

To be able to be caught up into the world of thought—that is educated.
Edith Hamilton (18671963) American educator and author.

Free the child's potential, and you will transform him into the world.
Maria Montessori (18701952) Italian physician, educator, philosopher, humanitarian.

Educators and architects preserve children's freedom.
Amelia Gambetti. (Villetta School- Reggio Emilia, Italy)

Only people who die very young learn all they really need to know in kindergarten.
Wendy Kaminer.

If all the rich and all of the church people should send their children to the public schools they would feel bound to concentrate their money on improving these schools until they met the highest ideals.
Susan Brownell Anthony (18201906) American civil rights leader.

Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.
Marian Wright Edelman (1939-) American activist for the rights of children.


Science Education

There is a great danger in the present day lest science-teaching should degenerate into the accumulation of disconnected facts and unexplained formulae, which burden the memory without cultivating the understanding.
J. D. Everett [In the preface to his 1873 English translation of Elementary Treatise on Natural Philosophy by A Privat Deschanel. (D. Appleton and Co.)]

In education, nothing works if the students don't.
Donald E. Simanek (1936-) American physicist, educator, humorist.


More quotes on these subjects are welcome. Send them to the address shown at the right. When you comment on a specific document here, please reference it by name or content.

Return to Donald Simanek's page.