Quotations on Teaching, Learning, and Education

Quotations on Teaching Learning and Education

A number of teaching and learning centers have begun collections of quotations. The following have been gleened from these and other sources. In most cases the quotations are given without specific citation to the source in which it first appeared. This will annoy scholars and be of no concern to toastmasters.

If you know the source of a quotation given here, please let us know so that we can help make the material valuable to everyone.

The quotations range widely. Some seem wise, others sappy. In the right setting, each becomes a rhetorical jewel.

Quotations on Teaching

– I have read somewhere or other,–in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, I think,–that history is philosophy teaching by examples.

On the Study and Use of History. Letter 2. Viscount Bolingbroke. 1678-1751

– “At present the universities are as uncongenial to teaching as the Mojave Desert to a clutch of Druid priests. If you want to restore a Druid priesthood, you cannot do it by offering prizes for Druid-of-the Year. If you want Druids, you must grow forests.”

Arrowsmith, W. (1967). “The future of teaching.” In C. B. T. Lee (Ed.), Improving college teaching (pp. 57-71). Washington, DC: American Council on Education.

– Professors known as outstanding lecturers do two things; they use a simple plan and many examples.


– Thought flows in terms of stories – stories about events, stories about people, and stories about intentions and achievements. The best teachers are the best story tellers. We learn in the form of stories.

Frank Smith

– Any genuine teaching will result, if successful, in someone’s knowing how to bring about a better condition of things than existed earlier.

John Dewey

– Laurence Houseman once said, “A saint is one who makes goodness attractive.” Surely, a great teacher does the same thing for education.

John Trimble

– Many instructional arrangements seem “contrived,” but there is nothing wrong with that. It is the teacher’s function to contrive conditions under which students learn. It has always been the task of formal education to set up behavior which would prove useful or enjoyable later in a student’s life.

B.F. Skinner

– The teachers who get “burned out” are not the ones who are constantly learning, which can be exhilarating, but those who feel they must stay in control and ahead of the students at all times.

Frank Smith

– The task of the excellent teacher is to stimulate “aparently ordinary” people to unusual effort. The tough proplem is not in identifying winners: it is in making winners out of ordinary people.

Patricia Cross

– Teachers who cannot keep students involved and excited for several hours in the classroom should not be there.

John Roueche

– Teaching is the highest form of understanding.


– We teach what we like to learn and the reason many people go into teaching is vicariously to reexperience the primary joy experienced the first time they learned something they loved.

Stephen Brookfield

– The best learners… often make the worst teachers. They are, in a very real sense, perceptually challenged. They cannot imagine what it must be like to struggle to learn something that comes so naturally to them.

Stephen Brookfield

– TEACHING: the earth doesn’t move every time, but when it does, what a RUSH!

Cameron Beatty

– A good teacher is better than a spectacular teacher. Otherwise the teacher outshines the teachings.

The Tao of Teaching

– Effective teaching may be the hardest job there is.

William Glasser

– In what may as well be starkly labelled smug satisfaction, an amazing 94% [of college instructors] rate themselves as above average teachers, and 68% rank themselves in the top quarter of teaching performances.

Patricia Cross

The Process of Teaching

– Teaching = helping someone else learn.

Dee Fink

– Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theatre.

Gail Godwin

– The educator must above all understand how to wait; to reckon all effects in the light of the future, not of the present.

Ellen Key, 1911

– Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.

“Chinese proverb”

– Every truth has four corners: as a teacher I give you one corner, and it is for you to find the other three.


– Teaching is truth mediated by personality.

Phyllis Brooks

– The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence.

Bronson Alcott

– Teaching is the achievement of shared meaning.

D.B. Gowin, 1981, Educating.

– The secret of education is respecting the pupil.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Art of Teaching

– It’s not what is poured into a student that counts, but what is planted.

Linda Conway

– A mind is a fire to be kindled, not a vessel to be filled.


– Men must be taught as if you taught them not, And things unknown proposed as things forgot.

Alexander Pope

– The vanity of teaching often tempteth a man to forget he is a blockhead.

George Savile

On Being a Teacher

– Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means.

Albert Einstein

– It is the mission of the pedagogue, not to make his pupils think, but to make them think right, and the more nearly his own mind pulsates with the great ebbs and flows of popular delusion and emotion, the more admirably he performs his function. He may be an ass, but that is surely no demerit in a man paid to make asses of his customers.

H.L. Mencken

– No man can be a good teacher unless he has feelings of warm affection toward his pupils and a genuine desire to impart to them what he himself believes to be of value.

Bertrand Russell

– If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn’t want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher’s job.

Donald D. Quinn

On the “Teacher”

– Ye great teachers: listen to what you say!


– Students ratings collected a year apart from the same students correlated significantly, though the later ratings tended to rate the teacher as less effective than those collected at the end of the course.

John Centra

– Only some 12% of a national sample of almost 400,000 teachers received less then average ratings from students.

John Centra

– The most important knowledge teachers need to do good work is a knowledge of how students are experiencing learning and perceiving their teacher’s actions.

Steven Brookfield

What is “learning”?

– “In its broadest sense, learning can be defined as a process of progressive change from ignorance to knowledge, from inability to competence, and from indifference to understanding….In much the same manner, instruction-or education-can be defined as the means by which we systematize the situations, conditions, tasks materials, and opportunities by which learners acquire new or different ways of thinking, feeling, and doing.”

Cameron Fincher, “Learning Theory and Research,” in Teaching and Learning in the College Classroom, edited by Kenneth A. Feldman and Michael Paulson, Ashe Reader Series, Needham, MA: Ginn Press, 1994.

Learning is a social process that occurs through interpersonal interaction within a cooperative context. Individuals, working together, construct shared understandings and knowledge.

David Johnson, Roger Johnson and Karl Smith, Active Learning: Cooperation in the College Classroom, Edina, MN: Interaction Book Co., 1991.

– “Where I grew up, learning was a collective activity. But when I got to school and tried to share learning with other students that was called cheating. The curriculum sent the clear message to me that learning was a highly individualistic, almost secretive, endeavor. My working class experience . . . was disparaged.”

Henry A Giroux, Border Crossings, NY: Routledge, 1992.

– “There is no difference between living and learning . . . it is impossible and misleading and harmful to think of them as being separate. Teaching is human communication and like all communication, elusive and difficult…we must be wary of the feeling that we know what we are doing in class. When we are most sure of what we are doing, we may be closest to being a bore.”

John Holt, What Do I Do Monday? NY: Dutton, 1970.

– “Education is the acquisition of the art of the utilization of knowledge. This an art very difficult to impart. We must beware of what I will call “inert ideas” that is to say, ideas that are merely received into the mind without being utilized or tested or thrown into fresh combinations.”

Alfred North Whitehead, Aims of Education and other Essays, NY: MacMillan, 1924.

– “I entered the classroom with the conviction that it was crucial for me and every other student to be an active participant, not a passive consumer…[a conception of] education as the practice of freedom…. education that connects the will to know with the will to become. Learning is a place where paradise can be created.”

Bell Hooks, Teaching to Transgress, NY: Routledge, 1994.

– “Learning is not so much an additive process, with new learning simply piling up on top of existing knowledge, as it is an active, dynamic process in which the connections are constantly changing and the structure reformatted.”

Patricia Cross

– I think we need to train up a new kind of educational leader [who] will need fundamental preparation in the humanities of education, those studies of history, philosophy and literature that will enable him to develop a clear and compelling vision of education and of its relation to American life. These latter studies have been under something of a cloud in recent decades because their immediate utility is difficult to demonstrate. But it is their ultimate utility, that really matters, for only as educators begin to think deeply about the ends of learning will the politics of popular education go beyond mere competition for dollars and cents and become what Plato realized it must ideally be–a constant reaching for the good society.


– Since there is no single set of abilities running throughout human nature, there is no single curriculum which all should undergo. Rather, the schools should teach everything that anyone is interested in learning.

John Dewey

Learning from programmed information always hides reality behind a screen.

Ivan Illich

– Memorization is what we resort to when what we are learning makes no sense.


– It is what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning.

Claude Bernard

– Sometimes the last thing learners need is for their preferred learning style to be affirmed. Agreeing to let people learn only in a way that feels comfortable and familiar can restrict seriously their chance for development.

Steven Brookfield

– A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

– Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all.

Thomas Szasz, 1973

– “Students learn what they care about . . .,” Stanford Ericksen has said, but Goethe knew something else: “In all things we learn only from those we love.” Add to that Emerson’s declaration: “the secret of education lies in respecting the pupil.” and we have a formula something like this: “Students learn what they care about, from people they care about and who, they know, care about them . . .”

Barbara Harrell Carson, 1996, Thiry Years of Stories

– The lasting measure of good teaching is what the individual student learns and carries away.

Barbara Harrell Carson, 1996, Thiry Years of Stories 

On Education

– Cognitive skills either exist in such profusion (through schooling) or are so easily developed on the job that they are not a criterion for hiring. Thus the education-related workers attributes that employers willingly pay for must be predominantly affective characteristics–personality traits, attitudes, modes of self-presentation and motivation.


– Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run.

Mark Twain

– It seems to me that at this time we need education in the obvious more than investigation of the obscure.

OliverWendell Holmes Jr.

– All education springs from some image of the future. If the image of the future held by a society is grossly inaccurate, its education system will betray its youth.

Alvin Toffler

– The main hope of a nation lies in the proper education of its youth.


– Our best chance for happiness is education.

Mark VanDorn

– Information cannot replace education.

Imparato and Itarari

– Two professions most notably regarded as filled with “nonlisteners” are medicine and education!

Earl Koile

– Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.

Malcom S. Forbes

– Education is the ability to think clearly, act well in the world of work and to appreciate life.

Brigham Young

– The great end of education is to discipline rather than to furnish the mind; To train it to the use of its own powers rather than to fill it with the accumulation of others.

Tryon Edwards

– Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token to save it from that ruin, which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and the young, would be inevitable. An education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their choice of undertaking something new, something unforseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.

Hannah Arendt, Teaching as Leading

– To be able to be caught up into the world of thought–that is being educated.

Edith Hamilton

– Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper.

Robert Frost

– The highest result of education is tolerance.

Helen Keller

– Education is the art of making man ethical.

Georg Hegel, 1821

– Not perfection as a final goal, but the ever-enduring process of perfecting, maturing, refining is the aim of living.

John Dewey

– Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.

John Dewey

– Education today, more than ever before, must see clearly the dual objectives: Education for living andeducating for making a living.

James Mason Wood

– What we must decide is perhaps how we are valuable, rather than how valuable we are.

Scott Fitzgerald

– Every uneducated person is a caricature of himself.

Friedrich Schlegel, 1798

– What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to an human soul.

Joseph Addison, 1711

– How can we help students to understand that the tragedy of life is not death; the tragedy is to die with commitments undefined and convictions undeclared and service unfulfilled?

Vachel Lindsay

– Life is what happens when you are making other plans.

John Lennon (1940-1980)

– Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago.

Berenson Bernard

– Sixty years ago I knew everything; now I know nothing; education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.

Will Durant


Megan Wilson is a teacher, life strategist, successful entrepreneur, inspirational keynote speaker and founder of https://Ebookscheaper.com. Megan champions a radical rethink of our school systems; she calls on educators to teach both intuition and logic to cultivate creativity and create bold thinkers.

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