Great Advice On Education – From Some Of The Greatest Minds Of All Time!

Plato (by Raphael
I thought it might be fun to see what some of the great educators and thinkers in history tell us goes into a good education. Reading these, and looking at how we educate children today, should provide a very interesting view of where we’ve gone wrong with public education and even most private schools.As you read these, consider the education you received, and what each quote might mean in terms of your education. Then, consider the education being received right now by your children, and how it may align. Ask yourself if your students are being educated toward passing pointless tests, or toward the sort of real education the greatest thinkers in history believe your child deserves.I used these as my guides when creating my homeschool curriculum, Steps. I think these thoughts are wonderful guides for any educator who seriously wishes children to succeed.Homeschooling parents – consider this wonderful advice from some of the greatest minds of all time.


First, a quote from Plato, the first great Greek Philosopher, the man who opened the first real school in the west, his “Academy”, 2,500 years ago. The words in parenthesis are mine, for the sake of clarity only.

“The elements of instruction…should be presented to the mind in childhood, but not with any compulsion (they should not be forced on the child); for a FREEMAN SHOULD BE A FREEMAN TOO IN THE ACQUISITION OF KNOWLEDGE. Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion (enforced on the student) has no hold on the mind. Therefore, do not use compulsion, but let early education be rather a sort of amusement; this will better enable you to find out the natural bent of the child (what the child is good at, what the child is interested in).”

At the same time, in China, the great philosopher Confucius was sharing his understanding of education, already old in China at the time. Here’s some of what he has to say.

“Study without thought is labor lost; thought without study is dangerous.”

Discussing how he himself learned, Confucius said his method was “To hear much, select what is good, and follow it.”

In discussing how long education should take, he said; “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”

“Give a bowl of rice to a man and you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to grow his own rice and you will save his life.”

“If your plan is for one year plant rice. If your plan is for ten years plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years educate children.”

“Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.”

And at around the same time, Siddhartha Gautama, the man we know as the Buddha, and the founder of the Buddhist religion, had this to say about education:

“The mind is everything. What you think, you become.”

“To have much learning, to be skillful in handicraft, well-trained in discipline, and to be of good speech – this is the greatest blessing.”

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

Aristotle was Plato’s greatest student, and he in his turn taught Alexander the Great. He opened a school, just as Plato had done. Here’s what he says about education.

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

“The educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living differ from the dead.”

“All men by nature desire knowledge.”

“Education is the best provision for old age.”

Marcus Aurelius was the Emperor of Rome, and was considered the last of the “Good Emperors.” He also was a great philosopher.

“Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under your observation in life.”

“Your life is what your thoughts make it.”

Plutarch was a Roman author and historian. This quote is also attributed to Socrates, the teacher of Plato.

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”

Leonardo da Vinci, one of the greatest artists, inventors and thinkers, had this to say about education. Think of the first quote in terms of cramming for required tests:

“Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.”

“Learning never exhausts the mind.”

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”

“Iron rusts from disuse, stagnant water loses its purity, and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigors of the mind.”

“Make your work to be in keeping with your purpose”

Sir Thomas More, English theologian and Lord Chancellor of England, wrote one great book describing his beliefs, Utopia Consider this quote given the ruinous failure of public education in the U.S., alongside the fact that some 3 million people in the U.S. are in jail – more than any country in history.

“For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.”

William Shakespeare was a poet and playwright rather than a “philosopher.” But what did the greatest writer in history think of schools?

“Thou hast most traitorously, corrupted the youth of the realm in erecting a grammar school”
Henry VI, pt 2

(He understood all too well how children felt, forced to school:

“Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like a snail unwillingly to school.”
(from As You Like It)

Sir Francis Bacon is considered one of the greatest minds in history. A contemporary of Shakespeare’s, he was an English philosopher, scientist and statesman, at one time Lord Chancellor of England.

“Knowledge is power.”

“Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”

“Wonder is the seed of knowledge”

“Parents who wish to train up their children in the way they should go must go in the way in which they would have their children go.”

“Natural abilities are like natural plants; they need pruning by study.”

“Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtle; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend.”

“Crafty men condemn studies; Simple men admire them; And wise men use them.”

Baruch Spinoza was a Dutch Philosopher who helped create the Enlightenment that reshaped European and world thought,

“The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free.”

“I do not know how to teach philosophy without becoming a disturber of the peace.”

“If you want the present to be different from the past, study the past.”

“Be not astonished at new ideas; for it is well known to you that a thing does not therefore cease to be true because it is not accepted by many.”

“He alone is free who lives with free consent under the entire guidance of reason”

Albert Einstein was the greatest scientist of the 20th Century, and some say of all time. A fine philosopher as well as the father of modern physics, he had a lot to say about education..

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”

“Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater. “

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”

“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”

“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom. Without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail.”

“Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as hard duty. Never regard study as duty but as the enviable opportunity to learn to know the liberating influence of beauty in the realm of the spirit for your own personal joy and to the profit of the community to which your later work belongs.”

“Play is the highest form of research.”

Let’s skip to some great thinkers through history:

“Rewards and punishment is the lowest form of education.”
—  Zhuangzi, Chinese philosopher

“The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil.”
—  Ralph Waldo Emerson, philosopher, educator

“All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education.”
—  Sir Walter Scott, author

“What we want to see is the child in pursuit of the knowledge not the knowledge in pursuit of the child.”
—  George Bernard Shaw, British author

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

“In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made school boards.”

“When I am king they shall not have bread and shelter only, but also teachings out of books, for a full belly is little worth where the mind is starved.”
—  Mark Twain, one of America’s greatest writers

“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”
—  H.G. Wells, first great English language author of Science Fiction, historian

“I suppose it is because nearly all children go to school nowadays and have things arranged for them that they seem so forlornly unable to produce their own ideas.”
—  Agatha Christe, famed author of mysteries

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”
“I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it. Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.”
—  Isaac Asimov, American author, scientist and historian.

“Books permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors. The library connects us with the insight and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.”
—  Carl Sagan, American scientist and educator

“I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”
—  Ray Bradbury, American author

“Education is no substitute for intelligence.”

“Proper teaching is recognized with ease. You can know it without fail because it awakens within you that sensation which tells you this is something you have always known.”
—  Frank Herbert, American author (Dune)

“It is very nearly impossible to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.”
—  James Baldwin, American author

“I think the big mistake in schools is trying to teach children anything, and by using fear as the basic motivation. Fear of getting failing grades, fear of not staying with your class, etc. Interest can produce learning on a scale compared to fear as a nuclear explosion to a firecracker.”
—  Stanley Kubrick,  film director.

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.”
—  E.M. Forster, author

“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.”

“Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked.”

“The goal of education is to enable individuals to continue their education.”
—  John Dewey, philosopher, educator

“The most necessary task of civilization is to teach people how to think. It should be the primary purpose of our public schools. The mind of a child is naturally active, it develops through exercise. Give a child plenty of exercise, for body and brain. The trouble with our way of educating is that it does not give elasticity to the mind. It casts the brain into a mold. It insists that the child must accept. It does not encourage original thought or reasoning, and it lays more stress on memory than observation.”
—  Thomas Edison, inventor of electric light, film, audio recording, a lot more

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
—  Mahatma Gandhi, spiritual and political leader that helped free India

“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.”
—  Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister during World War II

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
—  Nelson Mandela, the man most instrumental in ending apartheid in South Africa

“Liberty without Learning is always in peril and Learning without Liberty is always in vain.”
—  John F. Kennedy, President of the United States

“You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird… So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing — that’s what counts.”
—  Richard P. Feynman, scientist

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


2 comments for “Great Advice On Education – From Some Of The Greatest Minds Of All Time!

  1. May 12, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    I just happened to find your site. What great material and philosophy behind the text. I am working on a documentary and would like some homeschoolers to be involved in my focus groups.
    Are you still active in the cause of education?
    Do you think I could find willing people to critique what I am doing?
    Bob Abel

    • May 12, 2015 at 4:13 pm

      Hi, Bob. Of course I’m still active, both as an educator, and as a screenwriter and director. I’d be happy to discuss your project. You can contact me directly at

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