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. Here is a varied collection of thought-provoking observations on education.

First, some definitions of education.

Education is…

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.

The whole object of education is… to develop the mind. The mind should be a thing that works.

—Sherwood Anderson

Real education must ultimately be limited to men/women who insist on knowing—the rest is mere sheep-herding.

—Ezra Loomis Pound (1885–1972) U.S. poet.

The principal goal of education is to create men/women who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done.

—Jean Piaget (1896–1980) Swiss cognitive psychologist.

I respect faith, but doubt is what gets you an education.

—Wilson Mizner (1876–1933) American dramatist.

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

—Mark Twain (1835–1910) American writer.

You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.

—Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) Italian physicist and astronomer.

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


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 Feather

An educated person is one who can entertain a new idea, entertain another person and entertain oneself.

—Sydney Woodsπ

Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire.

—William B. Yeats, poet

The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action.

—Herbert Spencer

Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.

—Leonardo da Vinci. Notebooks

Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can play weird—that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple complicated is commonplace—making the complicated simple, awesomely simple—that’s creativity.

—Charles Mingus (1922–1979) American jazz composer and pianist

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

—Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

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