The most daring flights of genius do not always soar assured when they seek a throne in the fire & find a grave in copious tears. For knowledge is also a vice: if it is not constantly curbed, & if this is not acknowledged, the greater the havoc it wreaks;& if the flight is not brought down, fed & fattened on subtleties it will forget the essential for the sake of the rare & strange.If a skilled hand does not prevent the growth of a thickly leafed tree, its proliferating branches will steal the fruit.
I received comments on how extraordinary it was that I could keep up speaking for exactly 45 minutes. Indeed, in an age of soundbites lasting some seconds and of quick quotes in the news, all those minutes do seem like an eternity, easy to get lost in. Yet, wait a moment. Television is not the only place where speeches are given. Some hundred thousand teachers teach every day. They all speak 45 minutes, more times a day. They have been doing this for years. Every teacher knows exactly when the time will be over and that by then his speech will need to come to a natural end. It is this tension that determines the success of a lesson. It is a sign of the times that we forget these daily achievements in education. A million students daily attend several ‘live’ lectures and this in secondary education alone. These are high ratings!
A wealth of knowledge is openly accessible in nature. Our ancestors knew this and embraced the natural cures found in the bosoms of the earth. Their classroom was nature. They studied the lessons to be learned from animals, knowing that much of human behavior can be explained by watching the wild beasts around us. Animals are constantly teaching us things about ourselves and the way of the universe, but most people are too blind to watch and listen.
Our great mistake in education is, as it seems to me, the worship of book-learning–the confusion of instruction and education. We strain the memory instead of cultivating the mind. The children in our elementary schools are wearied by the mechanical act of writing, and the interminable intricacies of spelling; they are oppressed by columns of dates, by lists of kings and places, which convey no definite idea to their minds, and have no near relation to their daily wants and occupations; while in our public schools the same unfortunate results are produced by the weary monotony of Latin and Greek grammar. We ought to follow exactly the opposite course with children–to give them a wholesome variety of mental food, and endeavor to cultivate their tastes, rather than to fill their minds with dry facts. The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught, as that every child should be given the wish to learn. What does it matter if the pupil know a little more or a little less? A boy who leaves school knowing much, but hating his lessons, will soon have forgotten almost all he ever learned; while another who had acquired a thirst for knowledge, even if he had learned little, would soon teach himself more than the first ever knew.