Education.  Noun: the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university


“I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.” Rudyard Kipling

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Albert Einstein.

 “You see things; you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’” George Bernard Shaw.


The act of teaching knowledge to others and the act of receiving knowledge from someone else. Perhaps one of the highest ideals of why education is important is that it might help us become better versions of ourselves. Rote learning: the process of memorising specific new items as they are encountered, a memorisation technique based on repetition


Socrates has long been considered the father of modern education. He believed that as self-learners we must first admit to our ignorance and realise that there is a world of knowledge ready to be accessed, but only once we can accept that we don’t already know everything. We must also accept that what we do ‘know’ might not be as correct as we think. The Socratic Method encourages students to ask questions, think critically and come to their own conclusions. So says the statement from a reliable source. From this initial template would the reader recognise this approach in their own experience of the education system?

I imagine we would all agree how important an education is. In our respective societies, without question, we accept whatever education is decreed. Possibly we grasp it both hands. An education is the key to ‘getting on in life’. However, rather than gloss over, let us reflect and explore the subject more closely, beginning with the purpose of education? A brief glance at the GOV.UK website commences with, “Education is the engine of our economy, it is the foundation of our culture, and it’s an essential preparation for adult life. Delivering on our commitment to social justice requires us to place these 3 objectives at the heart of our education system.”

Consider the six statements below, all stress the loftiest ambition, the highest ideal, the ultimate attainment that a good education may bestow.

“Education is the key that unlocks the golden door to freedom.” George Washington Carver

“Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” Malcolm Forbes

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela

“What is the main purpose of education? The main purpose of education is to provide the opportunity for acquiring knowledge and skills that will enable people to develop their full potential, and become successful members of society.” Anon

“A child without education is like a bird without wings.” Tibetan Proverb

“Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education.” Martin Luther King Jr.


Perhaps at this point it is appropriate to see what some notable thinkers have said about their experience, and after reflection, their views regarding ‘education’. I have chosen at random six thinkers who have posited what we might term, general principles.

There are two educations. One should teach us how to make a living, the other how to live. John Adams. “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” Albert Einstein.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Aristotle.

Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”  Margaret Mead.

When educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts.”  Dalai Lama.

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” Maya Angelou.


Warming to our theme, let us broaden the perspective:


 “Creativity is as important as literacy” Ken Robinson. “Do not train children in learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” Plato. “There is no neutral education. Education is either for domestication or for freedom.” Joao Coutinho.

The reader will note that these thinkers voice with clarity views that obviously have been carefully considered and each sees flaws in their then current system, one that has spread around the globe. We must ask the question, after Socrates outlined his views, what is a brief history of the Western led form of education? How did we get here? How did this system, (that we all take for granted and never question,) emerge? How was it created?  Could it be improved? Does it work for all who are to learn? If not, can we change it? Many have given their view on how big a challenge this might be, and this statement speaks for many.


“It is easier to land a man on the moon than to change the school system.”  M.Z. Riffi  

I imagine all readers will have received an education of one form or another. However not all whose experience an education might reflect that the experience was a total success. There are a variety of reasons for why this may be. After all, in a generalised way it is rather geared to the concept of ‘one size fits all’. Uniformity and uniforms. School uniforms are a popular choice across the globe. The belief is that wearing the same thing makes the school population feel more unified, in theory contributing to a positive sense of school spirit and belonging. Some countries adopt a more relaxed approach, Germany for example, where uniforms have uncomfortable militaristic associations. 


Here are three views that certainly go a step further in their assessment of the ‘standard’ Western school model.  I imagine what they say will ring true for many.


“Our large schools are organized like a factory of the late 19th century: top down, command control management, a system designed to stifle creativity and independent judgment.” David T Kearns, CEO Xerox.


 “The structure of American schooling, 20th century style, began in 1806 when Napoleon’s amateur soldiers beat the professional soldiers of Prussia at the battle of Jena. When your business is selling soldiers, losing a battle like that is serious. Almost immediately afterwards a German philosopher named Fichte delivered his famous “Address to the German Nation” which became one of the most influential documents in modern history. In effect he told the Prussian people that the party was over, that the nation would have to shape up through a new Utopian institution of forced schooling in which everyone would learn to take orders. So, the world got compulsion schooling at the end of a state bayonet for the first time in human history; modern forced schooling started in Prussia in 1819 with a clear vision of what centralized schools could deliver: 1. Obedient soldiers to the army; 2. Obedient workers to the mines; 3. Well subordinated civil servants to government; 4. Well subordinated clerks to industry: 5. Citizens who thought alike about major issues.” John Taylor Gatto.


Offering a darker variation on this theme:


“A school’s purpose wasn’t to enlighten anybody or to make them into a critical thinker. Schools existed only to train people for jobs, dulling their ability for critical thinking in the process, so that they could readily accept authority and mindless routine. In fact, when I read about the history of the school system that was commonly used in the world, I discovered that it came from the Middle Ages and was originally designed to teach people religion. And what did religious people do? They accepted absurd ideas without questioning. The same system that was designed to brainwash them, full of rote learning, non-questioning, conformity, and punishment—was the same one that was still being used today. Why? Because it worked. At least most of the time. For some reason, it hadn’t worked on me.” Keijo Kangur.  


In place of the system fitting the individual, the individual must fit the system. This built in flaw has resulted in much dissatisfaction and criticism, however the juggernaut that it is, blindly steamrollers on. Here are the thoughts of a few dissenting voices. All excelled in their respective fields after leaving school.

“I loathed every day and regret every moment I spent in a school.” Woody Allen.

“I remember that I was never able to get along at school. I was at the foot of the class.” Thomas A. Edison. “There is nothing on earth intended for innocent people so horrible as a school.” George Bernard Shaw.  

“When I look back at all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all.” Paul Simon.

“There were no sex classes. No friendship classes. No classes on how to navigate a bureaucracy, build an organization, raise money, create a database, buy a house, love a child, spot a scam, talk someone out of suicide, or figure out what was important to me. Not knowing how to do these things is what messes people up in life, not whether they know algebra or can analyze literature.” William Upski Wimsatt

“The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one’s mind, is the condition of the normal man. Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to become absurd, and thus to be normal.” R.D. Laing

 “Public education reflects our society’s paternalistic, hierarchical worldview, which exploits children in the same way it takes the earth’s resources for granted.” Wendy Priesnitz.

“Education is a system of imposed ignorance. The whole educational and professional training system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who think for themselves, and who don’t know how to be submissive, and so on – because they’re dysfunctional to the institutions.”  Noam Chomsky.

“One had to cram all this stuff into one’s mind, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year.” Albert Einstein.  

“Education is what remains when one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” Albert Einstein.

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Mark Twain.

What makes a child gifted and talented may not always be good grades in school, but a different way of looking at the world and learning." Chuck Grassley

 “Turn one school from a robot factory into a cradle of heroes, and the very face of education on earth will change.” Abhijit Naskar.  

“What is the purpose of industrial education? To fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence? Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States and that is its aim everywhere else.”  H. L. Mencken.

“School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is.” Ivan Illich.

“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.


And my favourite observation, “If people did not do silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done.” Ludwig Wittgenstein. I will close this section of quotes with the words of the 5th century BC Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu: “I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion.”


Always remember, famously, Winston Churchill was considered a dunce at school. Here are excerpts from a letter his father wrote to him.


“You should be ashamed of your slovenly, happy-go-lucky, harem, scarem style of work . . . Never have I received a really good report of your conduct from any headmaster or tutor . . . Always behind, incessant complaints of a total want of application to your work . . . you will become a mere social wastrel, one of the hundreds of public-school failures. You will have to bear all the blame for such misfortunes . . . Your mother sends her love.” Bearing the sharp acidic tone of this letter in mind, the reader may care to check his cause of death.


It might be worthwhile to take a few words that broadly might be associated with education and weigh the definitions. Clever: Skilful, talented, quick to understand and learn. ingenious, cunning.  Knowledge: gained through the studying of new information, consists of a rich storage of information. Wisdom: has to do more with insight, understanding and accepting of the fundamental ‘nature’ of things in life, loosely, common sense, insight. Intelligence: having or showing the ability to easily learn or understand things or to deal with new or difficult situations: good at thinking clearly and quickly, at understanding difficult ideas and subjects, and at gaining and using knowledge. What is the difference between genius and intelligent? All intelligent people are not geniuses, but all geniuses are highly intelligent. A genius is more creative than a person who is merely intelligent. There is general consensus amongst those who involved in this field that the ultimate goal of education is to help an individual navigate life and contribute to society once they become older.

For this writer, perhaps the most important goal of a course of education should be that, in essence, it should be an enlightening experience and encourage the attainment of wisdom.