As we seek to refine and reform today’s system of education, we would do well to ask, “What is education?” Our answers may provide insights that get to the heart of what matters for 21st century children and adults alike.
It is important to step back from divisive debates on grades, standardized testing, and teacher evaluation—and really look at the meaning of education. So I decided to do just that—to research the answer to this straightforward, yet complex question. Looking for wisdom from some of the greatest philosophers, poets, educators, historians, theologians, politicians, and world leaders, I found answers that should not only exist in our history books, but also remain at the core of current education dialogue.
In my work as a developmental psychologist, I constantly struggle to balance the goals of formal education with the goals of raising healthy, happy children who grow to become contributing members of families and society. Along with academic skills, the educational journey from kindergarten through college is a time when young people develop many interconnected abilities.
As you read through the following quotes, you’ll discover common threads that unite the intellectual, social, emotional, and physical aspects of education. For me, good education facilitates the development of an internal compass that guides us through life.
Which quotes resonate most with you? What images of education come to your mind? How can we best integrate the wisdom of the ages to address today’s most pressing education challenges?
If you are a middle or high school teacher, I invite you to have your students write an essay entitled, “What is Education?” After reviewing the famous quotes below and the images they evoke, ask students to develop their very own quote that answers this question. With their unique quote highlighted at the top of their essay, ask them to write about what helps or hinders them from getting the kind of education they seek. I’d love to publish some student quotes, essays, and images in future articles, so please contact me if students are willing to share!
- What is education?What is Education? Answers from 5th Century BC to the 21st Century
The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done. — Jean Piaget, 1896-1980, Swiss developmental psychologist, philosopher
An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.– Anatole France, 1844-1924, French poet, novelist
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. — Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013, South African President, philanthropist
The object of education is to teach us to love beauty. — Plato, 424 – 348 BC, philosopher mathematician
The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education — Martin Luther King, Jr., 1929-1968, pastor, activist, humanitarian
Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school. Albert Einstein, 1879-1955, physicist
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. — Aristotle, 384-322 BC, Greek philosopher, scientist
Education is the power to think clearly, the power to act well in the world’s work, and the power to appreciate life. — Brigham Young, 1801-1877, religious leader
Real education should educate us out of self into something far finer – into a selflessness which links us with all humanity. — Nancy Astor, 1879-1964, American-born English politician and socialite
Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. — William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939, Irish poet