We all learn in different ways and an essential part of the process of learning is gaining an understanding of ourselves and how we learn most effectively. Schooling is often an important step in our lives but the real education that makes us successful in life takes place outside the controlled environment of a classroom.

I spend a lot of time reading about different approaches to education and learning. One of the more interesting schools of thought I have come across is Unschooling, which is an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning.

With life, society and the workplace changing so much today, I find that the philosophy of unschooling can give us insight into how we can come better self-directed learners and prepare ourselves for a future that we can’t predict.

I think these “Unschooling Quotes” do an excellent job of challenging what we think education really means and exploring what kind of education is needed to be indispensable in our rapidly changing world.

Unschooling Quotes:

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

– Ivan Illich

2. “Schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life; that the quality of life depends upon knowing that secret; that secrets can only be known in orderly successions; and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets. An individual with a schooled mind conceives of the world as a pyramid of classified packages accessible only to those who carry the proper tags.”

– Ivan Illich

3. “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

– Alvin Toffler

4. “Our rapidly moving, information-based society badly needs people who know how to find facts rather than memorize them, and who know how to cope with change in creative ways. You don’t learn those things in school.”

– Wendy Priesnitz

5. “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school. It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. ”

– Albert Einstein

6. “Just as eating contrary to the inclination is injurious to the health, so study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.”

– Leonardo da Vinci

7. We destroy the disinterested (I do not mean uninterested) love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards — gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards… in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else…. We kill, not only their curiosity, but their feeling that it is a good and admirable thing to be curious, so that by the age of ten most of them will not ask questions, and will show a good deal of scorn for the few who do.

– John Holt, How Children Fail

8. “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

9. Believe nothing merely because you have been told it . . . or because it is tradition, or because you yourselves have imagined it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be conductive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings – that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide.

– Gautama Buddha

10. “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

11. “Nothing bothers me more than when people criticize my criticism of school by telling me that schools are not just places to learn maths and spelling, they are places where children learn a vaguely defined thing called socialization. I know. I think schools generally do an effective and terribly damaging job of teaching children to be infantile, dependent, intellectually dishonest, passive and disrespectful to their own developmental capacities.”

– Seymour Papert

12. “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

13. “Think of the things killing us as a nation: narcotic drugs, brainless competition, dishonesty, greed, recreational sex, the pornography of violence, gambling, alcohol, and — the worst pornography of all — lives devoted to buying things, accumulation as a philosophy. All of these are addictions of dependent personalities. That is what our brand of schooling must inevitably produce. A large fraction of our total economy has grown up around providing service and counseling to inadequate people, and inadequate people are the main product of government compulsion schools.”

– John Taylor Gatto

14. “The function of high school, then, is not so much to communicate knowledge as to oblige children finally to accept the grading system as a measure of their inner excellence. And a function of the self-destructive process in American children is to make them willing to accept not their own, but a variety of other standards, like a grading system, for measuring themselves. It is thus apparent that the way American culture is now integrated it would fall apart if it did not engender feelings of inferiority and worthlessness.”

– Jules Henry

15. “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

– Albert Einstein

16. “There is no neutral education. Education is either for domestication or for freedom.”

– Joao Coutinho

17. “All I am saying can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.”

– John Holt

18. “If we taught babies to talk as most skills are taught in school, they would memorize lists of sounds in a predetermined order and practice them alone in a closet.”

– Linda Darling-Hammond

19. “Education itself is a putting off, a postponement; we are told to work hard to get good results. Why? So we can get a good job. What is a good job? One that pays well. Oh. And that’s it? All this suffering, merely so that we can earn a lot of money, which, even if we manage it, will not solve our problems anyway? It’s a tragically limited idea of what life is all about.”

– Tom Hodgkinson

20. “Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.”

– John Holt

21. “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

– Pablo Picasso

22. “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

23. “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

24. “Because schools suffocate children’s hunger to learn, learning appears to be difficult and we assume that children must be externally motivated to do it. As a society, we must own up to the damage we do to our children…in our families and in our schools. We must also be willing to make the sweeping changes in our institutions, public policies and personal lives that are necessary to reverse that harm to our children and to our society.”

– Wendy Priesnitz

25. 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

26. “In the end, the secret to learning is so simple: forget about it. Think only about whatever you love. Follow it, do it, dream about it. One day, you will glance up at your collection of Japanese literature, or trip over the solar oven you built, and it will hit you: learning was there all the time, happening by itself.”

– Grace Llewellyn

27. “I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.”

– John Taylor Gatto

28. “The anxiety children feel at constantly being tested, their fear of failure, punishment, and disgrace, severely reduces their ability both to perceive and to remember, and drives them away from the material being studied into strategies for fooling teachers into thinking they know what they really don’t know.”

– John Holt

29. “Traditional education focuses on teaching, not learning. It incorrectly assumes that for every ounce of teaching there is an ounce of learning by those who are taught. However, most of what we learn before, during, and after attending schools is learned without its being taught to us. A child learns such fundamental things as how to walk, talk, eat, dress, and so on without being taught these things. Adults learn most of what they use at work or at leisure while at work or leisure. Most of what is taught in classroom settings is forgotten, and much or what is remembered is irrelevant.”

– Russell Ackoff in The Objective of Education Is Learning, Not Teaching

30. “Educators – like musicians, journalists, carmakers, and bankers before them – won’t know what hit them. But as sure as change is overtaking every other sector of society, it will overtake education – as well it should. Our cookie-cutter, one-pace-fits-all, test-focused system is not up to the task of teaching the creators of the new Googles.

Call me a utopian but I imagine a new educational ecology where students may take courses from anywhere and instructors may select any students, where courses are collaborative and public, where creativity is nurtured as Google nurtures it, where making mistakes well is valued over sameness and safety, where education continues long past age 21, where tests and degrees matter less than one’s own portfolio of work, where the gift economy may turn anyone with knowledge into teachers, where the skills of research and reasoning and skepticism are valued over the skills of memorization and calculation, and where universities teach an abundance of knowledge to those who want it rather than manage a scarcity of seats in a class.”

– Jeff Jarvis in Hacking Education

31. “I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas, if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less showily. Let him go and come freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table, while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of coloured paper, or plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of, before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experience.”

– Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s Teacher

32. ”Educating the masses was intended only to improve the relationship between the top and the bottom of society. Not for changing the nature of the relationship.”

– John Ralston Paul, “Voltaire’s Bastards”

33. “I imagine a school system that recognizes learning is natural, that a love of learning is normal, and that real learning is passionate learning. A school curriculum that values questions above answers…creativity above fact regurgitation…individuality above conformity.. and excellence above standardized performance….. And we must reject all notions of ‘reform’ that serve up more of the same: more testing, more ‘standards’, more uniformity, more conformity, more bureaucracy.”

– Tom Peter, “Re-Imagine”

34. “‘The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet.”

– William Gibson

35.”Life can only be understood backwards but you have to live it forward. You can only do that by stepping into uncertainty and by trying, within this uncertainty, to create your own islands of security….The new security will be a belief that …if this doesn’t work out you could do something else. You are your own security.”

– Charles Handy

36. “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

37. ‘There is, it seems, more concern about whether children learn the mechanics of reading and writing than grow to love reading and writing; learn about democracy than have practice in democracy; hear about knowledge… rather than gain experience in personally constructing knowledge… see the world narrowly, simple and ordered, rather than broad complex and uncertain’.

– Vitto Perrone, ‘Letter to Teachers’

38. 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

39. “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

40. “The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a creative mind to spot a wrong question.”

– Anthony Jay

41. “To develop a complete mind: study the science of art; study the art of science. Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.’

– Leonardo da Vinci

42. “Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”

― Isaac Asimov

43. “Through the power of self-education you can be anything you want to be or do anything you want to do. Self-education power does not require money, fixed time or fixed life style. Options are extremely flexible. Rewards are unlimited. You can control your destiny.”

– Bob Webb

44. “I am concerned that too many people are focused too much on money and not on their greatest wealth, which is their education. If people are prepared to be flexible, keep an open mind and learn, they will grow richer and richer through the changes. If they think money will solve the problems, I am afraid those people will have a rough ride. Intelligence solves problems and produces money. Money without financial intelligence is money soon gone.”

– Robert Kiyosaki

45. “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether this happens at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps on learning not only remains young, but becomes constantly more valuable regardless of physical capacity.”

– Harvey Ullman

46.  “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.”

– Abraham Lincoln

47. “Leaders are not, as we are often led to think, people who go along with huge crowds following them. Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see, whether anyone is following them. “Leadership qualities” are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, stubbornness, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head, even when things are going badly. True leaders, in short, do not make people into followers, but into other leaders.”

– John Holt

48. “Actually, all education is self-education. A teacher is only a guide, to point out the way, and no school, no matter how excellent, can give you education. What you receive is like the outlines in a child’s coloring book. You must fill in the colors yourself.”

– Louis L’Amour

49. “Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.”

– Jim Rohn

50. “The idea that the majority of students attend a university for an education independent of the degree and grades is a hypocrisy everyone is happier not to expose. Occasionally some students do arrive for an education but rote and mechanical nature of the institution soon converts them to a less idealic attitude”

– Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

51. Standardized testing is at cross purposes with many of the most important purposes of public education. It doesn’t measure big-picture learning, critical thinking, perseverance, problem solving, creativity or curiosity, yet those are the qualities great teaching brings out in a student.

– Randi Weingarten

52. What we call education and culture is for the most part nothing but the substitution of reading for experience, of literature for life, of the obsolete fictitious for the contemporary real.

– George Bernard Shaw

53. What does education often do? It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook.

– Henry David Thoreau

54. It is among the commonplaces of education that we often first cut off the living root and then try to replace its natural functions by artificial means. Thus we suppress the child’s curiosity and then when he lacks a natural interest in learning he is offered special coaching for his scholastic difficulties.

– Alice Duer Miller

55. Since every effort in our educational life seems to be directed toward making of the child a being foreign to itself, it must of necessity produce individuals foreign to one another, and in everlasting antagonism with each other.

– Emma Goldman

56. Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.

– Edward M. Forster

57. If our schools are still bad maybe we should declare educational bankruptcy, give the people their money and let them educate themselves and start their own schools.

– William John Bennett

58. Much that passes for education is not education at all but ritual. The fact is that we are being educated when we know it least.

– David P. Gardner

59. The school system … is the homogenizing hopper into which we toss our integral tots for processing.

–  Marshall McLuhan

60. It is our American habit, if we find the foundations of our educational structure unsatisfactory, to add another story or a wing.

– John Dewey

61. Reward and punishment is the lowest form of education.

– Chuang Tzu

62. Knowledge that is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.

– Plato

63. Education is a method whereby one acquires a higher grade of prejudices.

– Laurence J. Peter

64. It doesn’t make much difference what you study, so long as you don’t like it.

– Finley Peter Dunne

65. I remember that I was never able to get along at school. I was at the foot of the class.

– Thomas Edison

66. The “real world” that parents worry unschooling kids won’t be able to cope with is not the “real world” of the future; it’s one designed to churn out obedient workers and consumers. But times – and the economy — are changing.

– Wendy Priesnitz

67. Learning of the highest value extends well beyond measurable dimension. It can’t be fit into any curriculum or evaluated by any test. It is activated by experiences which develop our humanity. It teaches us to be our best selves.

– Laura Grace Weldon

68. Children are born passionately eager to make as much sense as they can of things around them. If we attempt to control, manipulate, or divert this process… the independent scientist in the child disappears.”

– John Holt

69. Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.

– Dr. Maria Montessori

70. Our job is obvious: we need to get out of the way, shine a light, and empower a new generation to teach itself and to go further and faster than any generation ever has.

– Seth Godin

71. Home-based education is not an experiment. It’s how people learned to function in the world for centuries. And there is no reason to think people today can’t do the same thing. School is the experiment… And that experiment is in trouble.

– Wendy Priesnitz

72. The old system where every child who locked away and set into nonstop, daily cutthroat competition with every other child for silly prizes called grades is broken beyond repair. If it could be fixed it could have been fixed by now.

– John Taylor Gatto

73. Schools have not necessarily much to do with education… they are mainly institutions of control where certain basic habits must be inculcated in the young. Education is quite different and has little place in school.

– Winston Churchill

73. Kids who are in school just visit life sometimes and then they have to stop to do homework or go to sleep early or get to school on time. They’re constantly reminded they are preparing for real life. While being isolated from it.

– Sandra Dodd

74. It is as true now as it was then that no matter what tests show, very little of what is taught in school is learned, very little of what is learned is remembered, and very little of what is remembered is used. The things we learn, remember, and use are the things we seek out or meet in the daily, serious, nonschool part of our lives.

– John Holt

75.  What makes people smart, curious, alert, observant, competent, confident, resourceful, persistent – in the broadest and best sense, intelligent – is not having access to more and more learning places, resources and specialists, but being able in their lives to do a wide variety of interesting things that matter, things that challenge their ingenuity, skill, and judgement, and that make an obvious difference in their lives and the lives of the people around them.

– John Holt

If you liked these unschooling quotes, you may also like these self-education quotes.