Education Quotations


It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know.

Journal, 4 October 1859

Many college text-books, which were a weariness and a stumbling-block to me when studied, I have since read a little in with pleasure and profit.

Journal, 19 February 1854

Perhaps I should give some account of myself. I would make education a pleasant thing both to the teacher and the scholar. This discipline, which we allow to be the end of life, should not be one thing in the schoolroom, and another in the street. We should seek to be fellow students with the pupil, and should learn of, as well as with him, if we would be most helpful to him. But I am not blind to the difficulties of the case; it supposes a degree of freedom which rarely exists. It hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive the full import of that word — Freedom — not a paltry Republican freedom, with a posse comitatus at his heels to administer it in doses as to a sick child — but a freedom proportionate to the dignity of his nature — a freedom that shall make him feel that he is a man among men, and responsible only to that Reason of which he is a particle, for his thoughts and his actions.

—Thoreau to Orestes Brownson, 30 December 1837

The grammarian is often one who can neither cry nor laugh, yet thinks that he can express human emotions. So the posture-masters tell you how you shall walk — turning your toes out, perhaps, excessively — but so the beautiful walkers are not made.

Journal, 2 January 1859

The audience are never tired of hearing how far the wind carried some man, woman, or child, or family Bible, but they are immediately tired if you undertake to give them a scientific account of it.

Journal, 4 February 1852

Can there be any greater reproach than an idle learning? Learn to split wood, at least.

A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

Which would have advanced the most at the end of a month, — the boy who had made his own jackknife from the ore which he had dug and smelted, reading as much as would be necessary for this, — or the boy who had attended the lectures on metallurgy at the Institute in the mean while, and had received a Rodgers’ penknife from his father?


I served my apprenticeship and have since done considerable journeywork in the huckleberry field. Though I never paid for my schooling and clothing in that way, it was some of the best schooling that I got and paid for itself.


Knowledge can be acquired only by a corresponding experience. How can we know what we are told merely? Each man can interpret another’s experience only by his own.

A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

The universe is wider than our views of it.

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