Education Part 6: Historical quotes about education, cited in chronological order

This article is a collection of quotes by significant figures at different moments of history. It is likely to be a slightly longer article than usual, but the topic merits this expansion.

“Educate the children and it won’t be necessary to punish the men.” Pythagoras, Ancient Greek philosopher (end of the 6th century BCE).

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”  Socrates, Ancient Greek philosopher (470 BCE-399 CE).

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” Aristotle, Ancient Greek philosopher (384-322 BCE).

“It’s better to learn late than never.” –Publilius Syrus, mime actor and compiler of Latin aphorisms (85-43 BCE).

“Study, not to know something else, but to know better.” Seneca, Roman philosopher (4 BC-65 CE).

“What is rooted is learned, never forgotten.” Seneca.

“It is not enough to have learned something to know it.” Seneca.

“The brain is not a vessel to fill, but a lamp to light.” Plutarch, Greek historian and essayist (45-127 CE).

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Benjamin Franklin, American polymath (1705-1790).

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin.

“The principle of education is to lead by example.” Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, French economist and statesman (1727-81).

“A child who does not feel loved can hardly be educated.” Johann H. Pestalozzi, Swiss pedagogue (1746-1827).

“A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron.” Horace Mann, American politician, promoter of public education (1796-1859).

“An educator is a man who can make hard things easy.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, philosopher and poet (1803- 1882).

“The master teaches more with what he is than what he says.” Søren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher (1813-1855).

“The key to education is not to teach, it is to awaken.” Ernest Renan, French philosopher (1823-1892).

“An excellent maestro is one who teaches little but gives the student a great desire to learn.” Artur Graf, Italian poet and writer (1848-1913).

“A child must experience the pleasure of discovery from the first steps of his education”  Alfred North Whitehead, mathematician and English philosopher (1861-1947).

“Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” William Butler Yeats, Irish poet and playwright (1965-39).

“Education is the soul of a society, as it passes from one generation to the next.” Gilbert K. Chesterton, English writer (1874-1936).

“I’m not a teacher, but an alarm clock.” Robert Frost, American poet (1874-1963).

“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” Albert Einstein, German physicist (1879-1955).

“I do not teach my students, I only provide them with the conditions in which they can learn.” Albert Einstein.

“The most influential of all educational factors is found in the parents’ home.” William Temple, Anglican Bishop, United Kingdom (1881-1944).

“I decided to start again, I let go of everything I had been taught.” Georgia O’Keeffe, American artist (1887-1986).

“The love of children reveals more approaches to teaching than pedagogy.” Gabriel Mistral (1889- 1957).

“The art of teaching is the art of teaching to discover.”Mark Van Doren, American poet, writer and critic (1894-1972).

“The main objective of education is to create people who are capable of doing new things and not simply repeating what other generations have done.” Jean Piaget, Swiss psychologist, philosopher and biologist (1896-19090).

“Children should be taught how to think, not what to think.“ Margaret Mead, American anthropologist (1901-78).

“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.” Carl Rogers, American clinical psychologist (1902-87).

“One of the main objectives of education should be to expand the windows through which we see the world.” Arnold Glasow, American entrepreneur (1905-1998).

“Governments never learn. Only people learn.” Milton Friedman, American economist, Nobel Prize winner in 1976, (1912-2016).

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”. Nelson Mandela, South African politician and peace leader (1918-2013).

“The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” Malcolm Forbes, American entrepreneur (1919-1990).

“The teaching that leaves its mark is not what is done from head to head, but from heart to heart.” Howard G. Hendricks, professor (1924-2013).

“Educate for coexistence. Educate to become aware of justice, Educate for equality so that not a single talent is lost due to lack of opportunities.” Josefina Aldecoa, Spanish writer and educator (1926- 2011).

“Education is the movement from darkness to light.” Allan Bloom, American philosopher (1930-1992).

“Children do not remember what you are trying to teach them. They remember what you are.” Jim Henson, creator of Sesame Street puppets for cinema and TV (1936-1990).

“We often offer children answers to remember instead of problems to solve.” Roger Lewin, scientific writer (1944- …)

“We teach by learning and learn by teaching.” Phil Collins, American drummer and singer (1951- …)

“The best way to fight against terrorism is very simple: to educate the next generation.” Malala Yousafzai, student, activist and Pakistani blogger. Nobel Peace Prize 2014 (1997- …)

“The teacher is a compass that activates the magnets of curiosity, knowledge and wisdom in the students.” Ever Garrisson, author and teacher (character of South Park).

“If you want creative workers, give them time to play.” Ever Garrisson.

“Everybody talks about peace, but nobody educates for peace, people educate for competition and this is the beginning of any war. When we educate to cooperate and be in solidarity with one another, this will be the day we will educate for peace.”Pablo Lipnizky, Argentine pedagogue, founder of the Montessori School, of Bogotá.

And now, a small sample of phrases by Maria Montessori, pedagogue, scientist, doctor, psychiatrist and philosopher, who created the Montessori method (1870-1952).

“The first task of education is to shake life up, but leave it free to develop.”

“When you save a child the effort he could do, you are preventing him from growing.”

“When a child feels sure of himself, he stops seeking approval at every step he takes.”

“Help me to do it for myself.”

“Any unnecessary help is an obstacle to development.”

“If education is still considered as a simple transmission of knowledge, little can be expected in relation to the future of the human being, since what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the total development of the individual is neglected?”

“The child is endowed with hidden potentials which can lead us to a radiant future. If we really want a new world, then the goal of education should be the development of human potential.”

I want to conclude with the writing of a contemporary author, Nuccio Ordine, professor of Italian literature at the University of Calabria and author of several books. He was born in Diamante, Italy, in 1958. The writing that I reproduce is copied from the introduction he writes in his book Classici Per la Vita, which I recommend reading.

“The hegemonic business management in schools has obvious signs which are found even in the choice of terminology: the head teacher [president] has become a director, while the students must be evaluated with formative credits. This seems to be solely orientated towards the polar star of the market. Under the promise of immediate insertion in the workforce, the design of school curricula can be strongly conditioned by the “professionalizing” aspects of training. All this, as is natural, is to the detriment of the teaching of disciplines such as Greek and Latin, which do not respond to the brutal utilitarianism of those who ask themselves “what is the use” of the study of “dead languages”. Following the chimera of the market is, nevertheless, a pure illusion. The increasingly alarming data on youth unemployment confirms this. Mutations that affect the complex mechanism of economic exchanges occur so quickly today that it is impossible to adapt school curricula quickly enough. Education requires a long time. Orienting it only for the presumed offers of the workforce can reveal itself at the end as a challenge lost at the start.

We do not need general reforms, but a good selection of teachers. Above all, young people demand teachers who live the discipline they teach with passion and real interest. It is a sacrosanct requirement, with beneficial effects that we have all been able to experience throughout our student life. We have very often understood that our love for literature or philosophy, for history or mathematics was closely linked to a teacher. You cannot enter class without a good preparation. You cannot talk to students without loving what you teach. A routine pedagogy ends up killing any form of interest. That is why George Steiner is right when he reminds us that “bad quality teaching is almost literally murder”.

I want to conclude with an example that Nuccio Ordine himself offers in the introduction of his book. When Albert Camus heard that he was to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, he felt the need to thank his mother with a loving telegram.  Then, on November 19, 1957, he thanked Louis Germain, the teacher who had made his school education possible.

“Dear Monsieur Germain,

I let the fuss that has surrounded me during all these days dissolve away a little before speaking to you with all my heart. They have just given me an honour which is too high, that I have neither sought nor requested. But when I heard this, my first thought, after my mother, was for you. Without you, without this loving hand that guided the poor child that I was, without his teaching and his example, none of this would have happened. I do not pay much attention to this type of honour. But this one, at least, gives me an opportunity to express everything that you have been, are, and will always be for me, and to make sure that your efforts, your work and generous heart continue strongly alive in one of your little schoolboys that, despite the years, has not ceased to be your grateful student. I send you a big hug.”

And I also send a big hug to all those who read my articles and this compilation of phrases and writings that we should never forget.


Ramon V. Albareda
Psychologist. Theologian. Sexologist.
Creator of ESTEL, Centre for Personal Growth and School of Integral Studies


To round off this compilation, here is a phrase which was inspired from a holistic consideration of education. It is essentially optimistic, and invites adults to reflect and take responsibility for their own process of integral formation and development:

“Thank your parents for everything they have given you, but above all, thank them for everything they have not given you, because that’s where you start from.”
Gloria B. Playà, Preschool Teacher, Holistic Therapist specialized in Education , Coordinator of ESTEL, Centre of Personal Growth and School of Integral Studies, Barcelona.


Next article: Education part 7: Sexuality in education, from conception to puberty


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