‘What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other? (George Eliot)

‘We subject everyone to an education where, if you succeed, you will be best suited to be a college professor. And we evaluate everyone along the way according to whether they meet that narrow standard of success.’ (Howard Gardner)

‘If we come here today and there’s no trouble tomorrow then we haven’t done our jobs.’ (Gloria Steinem)

‘Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.’ (Einstein)

‘Intelligence is what you use when you don’t know what to do’ (Piaget)

‘Once you have learned to ask questions – relevant and appropriate and substantial – you have learned how to learn and no-one can keep you from learning whatever it is you need to know.’ (Postman and Weingartner, Teaching as a Subversive Activity)

Carl Rogers: ‘If there is one truth about modern life, it is that man lives in an environment that is continually changing. The only man who is educated is the man who has learned how to adapt and change; the man who has realised that no knowledge is secure, that only the process of seeking knowledge gives a basis of security.’

Mark Twain: ‘Never let formal education get in the way of your learning’

Tolstoy: ‘The only real object of education is to leave a person in the condition of continually asking questions’

If we insist on looking at the rainbow of intelligence through a single filter, many minds will erroneously seem devoid of light.’ (Renee Fuller – ‘Beyond IQ’)

‘Learning is the greatest game in life and the most fun. All children are born believing this and will continue to believe this until we convince them that learning is very hard work and unpleasant. Some kids never really learn this lesson, and go through life believing that learning is fun and the only game worth playing. We have a name for such people. We call them geniuses.’ (Glenn Doman)

‘It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.’ (Albert Einstein)

‘Fundamentally, there is no right education except growing up into a worthwhile world.’ (Paul Goodman)

‘After 30 years in the public school trenches, I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress genius 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)

‘You’re on the road to being educated when you know yourself so thoroughly you write your own script instead of taking a part written by others.’ ’ (John Taylor Gatto)

‘There isn’t a right way to become educated; there are as many ways as there are fingerprints.’ (John Taylor Gatto)

‘The destruction of uninterrupted time is a major weapon of mass instruction. Schools are a rat’s maze of frantic activity …. Personal time is the only time we have in which to build theories, test hypotheses of our own, and speculate how the bits of information our senses gather might be connected.’ (John Taylor Gatto)

‘A good school has few rules and no punishments. Every child is treated with affection and respect and so learns the essential self-confidence without which no genuinely independent choices can be made. To be happy in such surroundings is a sign of mental health, which includes an attitude of rational altruism. So a good school is likely to produce good adults.’ (David Gribble)

‘Wisdom is the ability to make good use of whatever knowledge one has; it is right judgement; it is true understanding. It is more an attitude than an attribute. The most important thing a school can possibly do is to give children this attitude.’ (David Gribble)

‘We need to help children to understand their own individual importance so that they face the world with the friendly confidence that makes progress possible. We need to help children to understand that it is a natural human instinct to want to care for others, and that we suffer if we ignore this instinct. We need to help children to understand what they themselves are capable of, so that they can use their talents to the full. And we need to help children to understand that learning is a pleasure. We do not want to learn primarily in order to gain higher status, or be better leaders, or earn our threepence; we want to learn simply because we want to know. Children who leave school understanding all these things will be wise – wise enough to understand also that that their education is only the beginning. All through their lives they will persist in the search for truth.’ (David Gribble – Considering Children)

‘What good fortune for those in power that people do not think’ (Hitler)

The key characteristics of successful education: The 4 Cs: Curiosity, Courage, Confidence, Critical thinking (Clive Harber)

‘Schools all too often teach students how to be taught rather than how to learn for themselves.’ (Clive Harber – Democratic Education)

‘The terrible truth is, schools cannot see the harm they do, because the very fact that they are schools absolves them from thinking about it.’ (Clive Harber)

‘If you punish a child for being naughty, and reward him for being good, he will do right merely for the sake of the reward, and when he goes out into the world and finds that goodness is not always rewarded, nor wickedness always punished, he will grow into a man who only thinks about how he may get on in the world, and does right or wrong according as he finds of advantage to himself’ (Immanuel Kant)

‘It is because our world is still rife with violence and exploitation that we need humane education …. The times we are living in call upon us to teach young people about what is happening on this planet and to give them tools to make choices that will create a better, safer, more peaceful, and less cruel world. It is imperative that we commit ourselves to humane education. If we fail to teach the next generation how to be wiser decision-makers, we further imperil our world and all its inhabitants. In the face of war, bigotry, cruelty, and the destruction of our environment, humane education may be the most important subject we can teach.’ (Zoe Weil – The Power and Promise of Humane Education)

A People Place, by William J Crocker
If this is not a place where tears are understood,
Where do I go to cry?
If this is not a place where my spirits can take wing,
Where do I go to fly?
If this is not a place where my questions can be asked,
Where do I go to seek?
If this is not a place where my feelings can be heard,
Where do I go to speak?
If this is not a place where you’ll accept me as I am,
Where can I go to be?
If this is not a place where I can try to learn and grow,
Where can I just be me?

‘Too many children who have been taught are … taut’ (Bryn Purdy)

‘School is necessary to produce the habits and expectations of the managed consumer society.’ Ivan Illich)

‘To learn to know oneself, and to find a life worth living and work worth doing, is problem and challenge enough, without having to waste time on the fake and unworthy challenges of school – pleasing the teacher, staying out of trouble, fitting in with the gang, being popular, doing what everyone else does.’ (John Holt)

‘School is the Army for kids. Adults make the go there, and when they get there, adults tell them what to do, bribe and threaten them into doing it, and punish them when they don’t.’

‘It is the great triumph of compulsory government monopoly mass schooling that among even the best of my fellow teachers, and among even the best of my students’ parents, only a small number can imagine a different way to do things.’ (John Taylor Gatto)

‘The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.’ (Plato)

‘What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.’ (George Bernard Shaw)

‘The wise teacher does not ask you to enter the house of his wisdom. He leads you to the threshold of your own mind.’ (Kahlil Gibran)

‘My schooling not only failed to teach me what if professed to be teaching, but prevented me being educated to an extent which infuriates me when I think of all I might have learned at home by myself.’ (George Bernard Shaw)

‘Do not confine your children to your own learning for they were born in another time.’ (Hebrew proverb)

‘When you take the free will out of education, that turns it into schooling.’ (John Taylor Gatto)

‘Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.’ (WB Yeats)

‘When I look back at all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all’ (Paul Simon)

‘It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it.’ (Jacob Bronowski)

‘Take your life in your own hands and what happens? A terrible thing: no one to blame’ (Erica Jong)


‘Even if all the correct learning resources are put in place and children are allowed to access the curriculum in a way that supports them, there will still be children who have, for a variety of reasons, behaviour patterns or negative beliefs about themselves that inhibit them from learning. Unless we understand their needs and can support them, they may well decide they are failures and just give up.’
‘If you wish to change the environment for the children you teach, change the thoughts you have about them.’

‘All you have to do is believe that, given the right circumstances, anyone can do almost anything …. Can you believe in them even when they do not believe in themselves, and have compassion and understanding for their difficulties? Can you accept them the way they are now and value the effort they make?’
‘It would be interesting to investigate how many of our doubts about our self-worth arose from experiences at school.’


‘Science points to a brain characterised by its uniqueness but we remain with a one-size-fits-all education system.’

‘Gender remains no better a determinant for shaping educational policy than handedness, limb length or shoe size.’

‘Meaningful learning engages powerful emotions because it involves risk. Mundane for one learner can be very threatening for another. Most adults have negative memories of school – humiliation, intimidation, being overlooked and forgotten – not a climate for risk-taking. ‘Those in whom we can develop the healthy risk-taking that is meaningful learning become hooked for life.’


‘The fundamental task of leaders is to prime good feeling in those they lead. That occurs when a leader creates resonance – a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people. At its root, then, the primal job of leadership is emotional.’

‘The higher up the ladder a leader climbs, the less accurate his self-assessment is likely to be. The problem is an acute lack of feedback. Leaders have more trouble than anybody else when it comes to receiving candid feedback, particularly about how they’re doing as leaders.’


‘In conventional schools children are literally prisoners. Learning according to inclination is not an option; adults tell them what they must learn. They make the best of it and enjoy themselves as much as they can, but they are always under someone else’s authority, unable to conduct themselves as they would wish, unable to follow up their own interests. School seems to be designed to destroy their individuality, to turn them all into cogwheels that will fit smoothly into the machinery of society. Governments cannot make schools ideal merely by altering the amount of topic work or testing children more often or buying more computers. The ideal school must have an entirely different atmosphere. It must not try to manufacture cogs.’

When compulsory schooling was introduced in the 19th century, parents objected because it prevented children learning anything useful. They wanted children at home, observing & helping adults at work. Time directed by teachers was wasted. ‘Nowadays, people seem to believe the opposite – for children, time not directed by a teacher is time wasted. Educationalists have become so fascinated by the concept of teaching that they have forgotten to consider what children actually need to learn’.

‘Ideal school-leavers would be literate and numerate, but also happy, considerate, honest, enthusiastic, tolerant, self-confident, well-informed, articulate, practical, co-operative, flexible, creative, individual, determined people who knew what their talents and interests were, had enjoyed developing them, and intended to make good use of them. They would be people who cared for others because they had been cared for themselves.’

‘Conventional school organisation seems designed to produce superficially competent people who underneath are evasive, self-interested, ruthless, frustrated, cautious, obedient, timid conformists; they will be complacent about approved achievements and easily humiliated by public failure; they will have spent so much time at school struggling to acquire knowledge that does not interest them and skills that are irrelevant to them that they will probably have lost all confidence in the value of their true interests and talents. They will be people who don’t care much about others, because most other people have never seemed to care much about them.’
‘Children want to learn whatever is necessary for them to follow up interests of their own and complete tasks they have set themselves. Unless they are obliged to spend much of their time on work that seems to them irrelevant or meaningless, they are bound to find a need to develop their own literacy, and they will do all they can to develop it.’

‘Unless you have the opportunity to make decisions for yourself as a child, when you grow up you will never be truly autonomous; you will always be looking for systems by which to live or leaders to guide you.’

Most schools try to take credit for their children’s successes, but to blame the children themselves for their failures

‘What is extraordinary about the schools I have described in this book is not that any of them have found perfect solutions to any problems. It is that in any situation they genuinely seek to find the best possible solution. What is extraordinary about the conventional world is that, in any situation, society tends only to seek the solution that will least disturb the status quo. As people grow older they tend to value the status quo above what they have learned to deride as romantic ideals. When we were young we saw those romantic ideals as realistic objectives. It is not romantic to be concerned about people’s distress, to trust others, to believe that the world can be made into a better place.’

Prospectus: Children who are trusted will become trustworthy
Children who are respected will learn a proper self-respect
Children who are cared for will learn to care for others
‘What I have now learned is that the statements were an insult to childhood. This is the true state of affairs:
Children are trustworthy unless they have not been trusted
Children have a proper self-respect as long as others have respected them
Children care for others unless they have not been cared for themselves.

Moo Baan Dek, Thailand: ‘What can we do to arrange the environment or external factors that would cultivate wisdom and kindness into the human heart while reducing ignorance and vice, so that life is led to its ultimate aim: being in harmony with nature, and having wisdom as life’s guide and kindness as its inspiration.’

‘You do not use the non-authoritarian approach because it is a humane way of encouraging children to lead better lives, but because it is their right to be treated so. The fact that this results in responsible, caring members of society is a by-product, not the essential aim.’

‘The conventional beliefs are that, without rules and punishments to govern their behaviour, young people will be idle, violent, promiscuous, self-indulgent, rebellious, aimless and vicious and that children who are not forced to learn what society has laid down for them will learn nothing. I have seen enough to show that these beliefs are groundless… I saw ample evidence of responsibility, concern for others and desire to make the world a better place in children whose backgrounds were stark and brutal.’

‘It seems extraordinary that any educational system should consciously set out to prevent children from taking control of their lives and from making their own decisions ….. Children desperately want to learn, and yet conventional education still manages to discourage them to such an extent that in the end teachers have to resort to coercion. Freedom, trust, warmth and love should be regarded as basic rights; when they are so regarded, the results are dignity, responsibility and concern for other people, and children learn because they enjoy learning and understand its purpose.’


‘Educators, long disturbed by schoolchildren’s lagging scores in maths and reading, are realising there is a different and more alarming deficiency: emotional illiteracy. And while laudable efforts are being made to raise academic standards, this new and troubling deficiency is not being addressed by the standard school curriculum. As one Brooklyn teacher put it, the present emphasis suggests that we care more about how well school children can read and write than whether they’ll be alive next week.’

‘Schools have a central role in cultivating character by inculcating self-discipline and empathy, which in turn enable true commitment to civic and moral values. In doing so, it is not enough to lecture children about values; they need to practise them, which happens as children build the essential emotional and social skills. In this sense, emotional literacy goes hand in hand with education for character, for moral development, and for citizenship.’


It seems extraordinary that parents at that time can have imposed such misery on themselves and on their own children, but it was considered to be inevitable. Middle-class parents were obliged to sacrifice their own boys on the altar of the prep-school so as to make sure that they were properly prepared for an after-life in a public school. As a reward their boys were to be transformed into something wonderful – respectable conformists with the right accent who could play football and cricket and knew a few words of Latin. What is even more extraordinary is that it is still happening today.

When I was telling my daughter about my plans for this book, I found myself using the phrase ‘unnecessary suffering’, and so powerful was my indoctrination sixty years ago that I immediately felt that ‘suffering’ was too strong a word. On reflection I realised that I was wrong to regret my choice of word. My so-called privileged education entailed plenty of suffering (boarding school, aged 8)
We accepted everything that happened to us, because that was the way things were, and we couldn’t imagine any alternative.

School boredom is a kind of imprisonment. You are imprisoned in school anyway, but boredom in lessons puts you in a cell within a cell. It is not just that you have to be there, that you have to sit quietly, that you get punished if you talk or fidget or pass notes. Even your mind is invaded. Think about this, you are told. Don’t dare look out of the window. Copy this out. Answer these questions. Learn this by heart … If teachers cannot interest children, the only ways of controlling them are by bribery or fear. Bribery only featured occasionally, in end of term prizes and other rewards for good work, but fear was a constant. We were afraid of being beaten, but that was not the fundamental fear. We were afraid of wrath, afraid of mockery, afraid of making fools of ourselves, afraid of dropping a few places in the weekly form order or even coming bottom, afraid of being made to attempt something in public that we could not do, afraid of being shown up as somehow different.

(At Eton) I learnt the importance of conforming. You should never put yourself forward until you are absolutely certain about what other people are expecting. Don’t volunteer, don’t comment, don’t step out of line and always sit at the back of the class if you can. All my adult life I have been trying to unlearn this lesson.

When you consider that most British adults have spent at least eleven years at school, and some have been educated at school for thirteen years and then at university for another three, it is extraordinary how few occasions any of us can remember when we were actually taught anything. We can remember a certain amount of what we were taught, but particular moments of instruction seem to disappear from our memories.

The main lesson I learned about music was that I was not any good at it.
As I discovered later, this was not actually true, as much else that one learns in school is not true.

My failures and difficulties with learning perhaps had more influence on my later ideas than my successes did. I learnt that it is difficult, if not impossible, to learn information that you find completely uninteresting and has no particular meaning for you. It is difficult to learn when the only reason for learning is that you are under pressure, not from events but from institutions or people. It is difficult to learn when your efforts are not appreciated. It is difficult to learn when you are bored and would desperately prefer to be doing something else. It is difficult to learn when you can’t see the point. It is difficult to learn what you don’t understand.
It is easy to learn when you are interested.
It is easiest of all to learn when you have chosen to do so yourself.

By the time I left Eton
I had learnt that achievement in sport and lessons won respect, and useful activities like cooking, cleaning and delivering coal were the work of inferiors.
I had learnt that the right clothes and the right accent authorise you to behave with extreme arrogance.
I had learnt that my personal interests were not important.
I had learnt that my musical ability was not to be taken seriously.
I had learnt that family and friendship were private matters, and unimportant in relation to the regular business of the day.
I had learnt that affection, enjoyment and laughter were no more than decorations on the surface of life.
I had learnt that it was essential to disguise my true feelings.
I had learnt that what happened at school and what happened outside school were entirely separate. It was necessary to develop two personalities.
I had learnt that status was highly important, and that I didn’t have it.
I had learnt that I must often submit to unreasonable demands.
I had learnt that I must try to hide my disagreements with authority, and to accept physical punishment when I failed to do so.
I had learnt that there were two dominant orders of morality – that of the staff and that of the boys: the second carried the greater sanctions. Neither corresponded to my personal morality.
I had learnt it was safer to behave badly than to behave too well.
I had learnt that a position of authority gave you the right to be wrong.
I had learnt that power mattered more than principle.
I had learnt that we are all prisoners of society, and that those who reach the highest positions are those who co-operate with the warders.
I had learnt that a combination of boredom, humiliation, suppressed rebellion and continual fear is an inevitable background to anything enjoyable that may happen.
I had learnt that some of the time it is possible to accept such an environment and carry on with your own life in spite of it, but at other times it swamps you.
I had learnt that there is no escape.
It was years before I managed to draw any different conclusions.

I have learnt, first from Dartington Hall School and then from Sands School and the many democratic schools around the world that I have visited, that there is no need for the herding or the uniform or the compulsion or the restriction. Repression breeds revolt, and results in sharper repression. The cycle must be broken, and the first necessary step is to treat children with a proper respect.

Teaching has surprisingly little to do with learning.
My son Toby, at the age of seven, observed, ‘My teacher taught me to read when I was five, but it didn’t work.’

I found that the freedom to be oneself does not mean a rush of self-indulgence, that lack of external control does not, as conformists would expect, result in disorientation and excess. Lack of external control leaves room for exercising self-control. Freedom to be oneself grants the opportunity to recognise one’s natural altruism, to ignore society’s emphasis on status, competition and wealth and instead to value friendship, responsibility and enjoyment. To put it in the simplest terms, it gives us the chance to see that it is natural to be good when you are happy.
This is probably the most important lesson I have learnt in my life. The silly thing about it is that I knew it before I went to school, and then I had it steadily educated out of me. It has taken me years to learn it all over again.
And as to schools, I have come to this conclusion:
There is obviously a line between good and evil. If, as I believe, evil is all that tends to diminish joy or increase suffering, and good is all that tends to diminish suffering or increase joy, then traditional schools, however well-intentioned they may be, fall on the wrong side of the line.


‘To produce good workers is not the primary purpose of progressive education; it is a useful by-product.’

‘Society is still astonishingly frightened of its young. Until restrained by the necessity of holding down a job or caring for a family, they are thought of as irresponsible and dangerous.’

‘It is more important to have a proper awareness of yourself and your place in the world than it is to be able to do quadratic equations. Yet we seem to think that schools should teach quadratic equations in every available moment, and the rest can be left to look after itself.’

‘A good school has few rules and no punishments. Every child is treated with affection and respect and so learns the essential self-confidence without which no genuinely independent choices can be made.’

‘It is, I believe, difficult to be kind without being happy, and it is unusual to be happy without being kind.’

‘We need to help children to understand their own individual importance so that they face the world with the friendly confidence that makes progress possible.
We need to help children to understand that it is a natural human instinct to want to care for others, and that we suffer if we ignore this instinct.
We need to help children to understand what they themselves are capable of, so that they can use their talents to the full.
And we need to help children to understand that learning is a pleasure. We do not want to learn primarily in order to gain higher status, or be better leaders, or earn our threepence; we want to learn simply because we want to know.’

‘If progressive methods are right, it may not be merely conventional education that is wrong, but also the basic structures of our society. Unwilling to face this possibility, people turn away uncomfortably.’

IAN GILBERT – WHAT WE THINK IS (Response to 2010 White Paper on the ‘future of education’)

That there is no direct correlation between school achievement and success in life (as in happiness, wellbeing, family stability, contribution to society, making a difference, raising great children, leading a good, moral life, not causing a worldwide recession out of pure greed ….)

That there is a direct correlation between a nation’s educational scores in the worldwide league table and how good a government looks at any one time

That often you get control by giving it away. Like respect. But not like integrity.


‘You don’t have to take your class to the other side of the world to build motivating relationships. You can do it in your own classroom and for free….It costs nothing, takes no time to prepare or deliver and makes them feel good at the same time. The technical term we use is ….. smiling.’

IAN GILBERT (Independent Thinking Ltd) – WHAT IF?

What if we are wrong?
What if the system in which we all work is not the best one for bringing the best out of young people?
What if we are doing more harm than good to young people by putting them through a system that is not suitable to their specific needs?
What if, when we say that a young person leaves school with nothing, we were to realise that what they leave with may be far worse than nothing?
What if dividing the world into compact boxes labelled, for example, history or art was the least effective way of seeing the world?
What if the education system we have, which is the result of the application to education of industrialisation processes, has run its course and should go the way of the cotton mill or the coalmine?
What if forcing children to live with punishment or the threat of punishment wasn’t the best way of forcing them to behave?
What if the things we teach young people are not the things they need to learn?
What if maths is not as important as, say, art or music?
What if the qualifications with which children leave school don’t actually count for very much beyond the world of education?
What if those skills – writing neatly, spelling properly, sitting still, listening to instructions, doing as told, not questioning authority, being spoon fed – what if they actually mitigated against success beyond school?
What if exams were actually one of the worst possible methods for assessing what a young person is capable of achieving?
What if the system was actually set up in order to sift one person from another, as a social filter, yet that filter was now hopelessly out of date?
What if sending a child out into the world with a string of academic successes but no experience of dealing with failure was the worst we could do to that child?
What if the system took into account the fact that the IQ model of assessing intelligence which makes some people clever and some just, say, good with their hands, is an outdated model based on spurious research used in a misguided way for inappropriate reasons?
What if teaching something in which we don’t really believe, in a system we feel may be fundamentally flawed, means we are teaching young people that beliefs, honesty and integrity are not relevant in adult life?
What if we were to ask ourselves about the specific purpose of the education system and whether that was different from the specific purpose of education?
What if the two were incompatible? That serving the specific needs of the system meant that we ended up neglecting the specific needs of the chid?


‘It is before they get to school that children are likely to do their best learning.’

‘We like to say that we send children to school to teach them to think. What we do, all too often, is to teach them to think badly, to give up a natural and powerful way of thinking in favour of a method that does not work well for them and that we rarely use ourselves. Worse than that, we convince most of them that, at least in a school setting, they can’t think at all. They think of themselves as ‘stupid’ and incapable of learning or understanding anything that is complicated, or hard, or simply new.’

‘What are the results? Only a few children in school ever become good at learning in the way we try to make them. Most of them get humiliated, frightened and discouraged. They use their minds, not to learn, but to get out of doing the things we tell them to do. In the long run, these strategies are self-limiting and self-defeating and destroy both character and intelligence. This is the real failure that takes place in school; hardly any children escape.’

‘All I am saying can be summed up in two words – Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple – or more difficult.’
‘It is hard not to feel that there must be something very wrong with much of what we do in school, if we feel the need to worry so much about ‘motivation’. A child has no stronger desire than to make sense of the world, to move freely in it, to do the things that he sees older people doing’.
‘There is no time, in all of a child’s growing up, when he will not be seriously hurt if he feels that we adults are not interested in what he is trying to say. For most children, this time comes all too soon.’
Timetables! We act as if children were railroad trains running on a schedule. But they don’t learn at an even rate. They learn in spurts, and the more interested they are in what they are learning, the faster these spurts are likely to be. Nowhere is our obsession with timetables more needless and foolish than in reading. We make too much of the difficulties of learning to read. Teachers say, ‘But reading must be difficult, or so many children wouldn’t have so much trouble with it.’ I say that it is because we assume that it is so difficult that so many children have trouble with it.’
‘When they learn in their own way and for their own reasons, children learn so much more rapidly and effectively than we could possibly teach them, that we can afford to throw away our curricula and our timetables and set them free to learn on their own. Children do not need to be made to learn, told what to learn, or shown how.’
How can you be sure children are learning? ‘Call it a faith…. That man is by nature is a learning animal…. Therefore we do not need to ‘motivate’ children into learning, by wheedling, bribing or bullying. We do not need to keep picking away at their minds to make sure they are learning. What we need to do is bring as much of the world as we can into the school; give children as much help and guidance as they need and ask for; listen respectfully when they feel like talking; and then get out of the way. We can trust them to do the rest.’


‘Most children in school fail … except for a handful, who may or may not be good students, they fail to develop more than a tiny part of the tremendous capacity for learning, understanding and creating with which they were born and of which they made full use during the first two or three years of their lives.
Why do they fail?
They fail because they are afraid, bored, or confused.
They are afraid, above all else, of failing, of disappointing or displeasing the many anxious adults around them, whose hopes and expectations for them hang over their heads like a cloud.
They are bored because the things they are given and told to do in school are so trivial, so dull, and make such limited and narrow demands on the wide spectrum of their intelligence, capabilities and talents.
They are confused because most of the torrent of words that pours over them in school makes little or no sense.’
‘School feels like this to children: it is a place where they make you go and where they tell you to do things and where they try to make your life unpleasant if you don’t do them or don’t do them right.’ For children, the central business of school is not learning; it is getting these daily tasks out of the way with a minimum of effort and unpleasantness.’ Schools give every encouragement to producers (of right answers). These schools are often very discouraging places for thinkers.’
Teachers tend to mistake good behaviour for good character. What they prize above all else is docility, suggestibility ….They value most in children what children value least in themselves.’
‘For all our talk and good intentions, there is much more stick than carrot in school, and while this remains so, children are going to adopt a strategy aimed above all else at staying out of trouble. How can we foster a joyous, alert, whole-hearted participation in life if we build all our schooling around the holiness of getting ‘right’ answers?’

‘Our ‘tell-‘em-and-test-‘em way of teaching leaves most students convinced that school is mainly a place where you follow meaningless procedures to get meaningless answers to meaningless questions.’

‘To a very great degree, school is a place where children learn to be stupid. Children come to school curious; within a few years most of that curiosity is dead, or at least silent.’
‘I doubt very much id it possible to TEACH anyone to understand anything, that is to say, to see how various parts of it relate to all the other parts, to have a model of the structure in one’s mind. We can give other people names and lists, but we cannot give them our mental structures; they must build their own.’

‘Teaching – ‘I know something you should know and I’m going to make you learn it’ – is above all else what PREVENTS learning.’
‘We are by nature question-asking, answer-making, problem-solving animals, and we are EXTREMELY good at it, above all when we are little. But under certain conditions, which may exist anywhere and certainly exist almost all of the time in almost all schools, we stop using our greatest intellectual powers, stop wanting to use them, even stop believing that we have them. The remedy is not to think of more and more tricks for ‘building intelligence’, but to do away with the conditions that make people act stupidly.’
‘There must be a way to educate young children so that the great human qualities that we know are in them may be developed. But we’ll never do it as long as we are obsessed with tests.’
‘Since we can’t know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned.’
‘The best way to spell a lot better is to read a lot and write a lot. This will fill your eye with the look of words and your fingers with the feel of them ….. In all my work as a teacher, nothing I ever did to help bad spellers was as effective as not doing anything, except to tell them not to worry about it, and to get on with their reading and writing.’
‘This desire to understand the world and be able to do things in it, is so strong that we could properly call it biological.’

‘Children are not only extremely good at learning; they are much better at it than we are. As a teacher, it took me a long time to figure this out. I only very slowly and painfully – believe me, painfully, learned that when I started teaching less, the children started learning more. Organised education operates on the assumption that children learn only what and when and because we teach them. This is not true. It is very close to one hundred percent false.


Play – it cannot be said too often – is children’s work, and we cannot learn anything important from them, or help them learn anything important, unless we can play, and play with them. Because we do not understand that children’s play is serious, we think the only way to play with them is to do something silly…… somewhere a child defined an adult as someone who has forgotten how to play.’


‘It is in the schools and from the mass media, rather than at home or from their friends, that the mass of our citizens learn that life is inevitably routine, depersonalised, venally graded; that it is best to toe the line and shut up; that there is no place for spontaneity, free spirit. This is education, miseducation, socialising to the norms and regimenting to the national ‘needs’.’

Fundamentally, there is no worthwhile education except growing up into a worthwhile world.

‘The only evidence of ‘performance’ that school-people ever draw on for their experiments is scoring on academic tests, and it seems to be impossible to disabuse school people of the notion that test-passers have necessarily learned anything relevant to their further progress or careers; or of advantage to the body politic; or indeed anything whatever that will not vanish in a short time, when the real-life incentive, of passing the test, has fallen away.’

‘At least in the middle class, that fills the colleges, this technique of socialisation is unerring, and the result is a generation not notable for self-confidence, determination, initiative or ingenuous idealism. It is a result unique in history: an elite that has imposed on itself a morale fit for slaves.’


‘Schools are virtual factories of childishness. But we could easily help kids TAKE an education instead of merely RECEIVE schooling. We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness – curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight – simply by being more flexible about time, and tests, by introducing kids to truly competent adults, and by giving each student the autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then …. But we don’t. Could it be that our schools are designed to make sure not one of them ever really grows up?’

‘We have eagerly adopted one of the very worst aspects of Prussian culture: an educational system designed to produce mediocre intellects, to hamstring the inner life, to deny students appreciable leadership skills, and to ensure docile and incomplete citizens – all in order to render the populace manageable.’

‘Wake up to what our schools really are: labs of experimentation on young minds, drill centres for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands.’

‘After 30 years in the public school trenches, I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress genius 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.’

‘The new forced schooling octopus taught anyone unable to escape its tentacles that inert knowledge – memorising the dots – is the gold standard of intellectual achievement. Not connecting the dots. It set out to create a reflexive obedience to official directions as opposed to accepting responsibility for one’s own learning.’

‘You’re on the road to being educated when you know yourself so thoroughly that you write your own script instead of taking a part written by others.’

‘School is the first impression we get of organised society and its relentless need to rank everyone on a scale of winners and losers; the real things school teaches you about your place in the social order last a lifetime for most of us.’

‘Most of us who presume to judge schools are fooled by rituals of disciplined behaviour, pretty hall displays, and test scores. If we knew what to look for, we’d be horrified and angry at the empty destinies this waste of precious time arranges for us.’

‘There isn’t a right way to become educated; there are as many ways as there are fingerprints.’

‘In primary schools, when all the endless possibilities of self-development and the varieties of good life should be explored, the principal element taken up is limitation, signalled by the word ‘don’t’ ….(run, talk, climb, fidget, eat, drink …) together with the implied don’ts: don’t have your own ideas; don’t show initiative; don’t be independent; don’t make your own choices; don’t take responsibility for your own learning.’

‘high standards and standardisation are two very different things but you have been deliberately led by the rules of Newspeak to regard them as the same, just as you’ve been conditioned to think of education and schooling in the same breath.’

‘To learn to read and to like it takes about thirty contact hours under the right circumstances …. The only way you can stop a child from learning to read and liking it – in the densely verbal culture which surrounds us all with printed language anywhere we turn – is to teach it the way we teach it … You should begin with the attitude that NOTHING IS WRONG in the natural variation which finds one child reading at 5 and another at 12.’


‘Historically, mass schooling arose when the predominant mode of manufacturing and commercial organisation was large-scale bureaucracy; that is, habits to be learned are punctuality, quiet orderly work, response to orders, respect for authority, tolerance of monotony and boredom, regular attendance. Schooling is preparatory socialisation for subordinate jobs in factories and offices.’

‘If education is a body of facts to be learned, there is little need for discussion or investigation …. It is an education in domination and submission, not one of enquiry and independent critical thought … few governments want a politically informed, articulate, confident and critical population – and I am referring here to democracies as well as authoritarian regimes.’


‘What we want to ask is this: Do we perform better when we are trying to beat others than when we are working with them or alone? The evidence is so overwhelmingly clear and consistent that the answer to this question can be reported: almost never. Superior performance not only does not require competition; it usually seems to require its absence.’

‘The real alternative to not being number one is not being number two but being psychologically free enough to dispense with rankings altogether.’
‘We should be particularly alert to the subtle and insidious ways in which we encourage our children to tie their feelings of self-worth to winning.’


‘The World Bank sees education as a means to produce ‘human capital’. We see education as an opportunity to make sense of the world. Our global masters don’t want that – it would be far too revealing.’

‘In England and the US, the heartlands of neo-liberal reaction, childhood itself is being consumed. Children are tested to destruction, and learners stuffed with fragments of dead knowledge like turkeys for Christmas. Despite the rhetoric of ‘raising standards’, learning is being trivialised. Literacy is treated as a mere exercise, disconnected from pleasure and purpose, and knowledge is delivered in the straitjacket of government-approved lesson plans.’

‘There is no sane reason why all 8-year-olds must learn to define assonance and onomatopoeia, but it keeps classes too busy to talk about anything more important.’

‘In the last resort it is unethical and unprofessional to hide behind a fixed syllabus when this fails to deal with the critical issues of the day. The National Curriculum was written before today’s quota of 30,000 children died of starvation. We have a duty to our students and to society as a whole not to hide the truth.’

‘It is of course important for education to prepare young people to make a productive contribution to the economy. But education has many more goals than this. Schools should be spaces where creativity is developed, where we learn to live together, where we learn empathy and sensitivity towards one another, where we can reflect on our relationships, places where we can acquire a cultural heritage and reshape it for our times, where we can engage in critical thinking about our society and our world and question and challenge injustice, racism, environmental destruction, militarism, consumerism, the media and political spin.’

‘Neither a traditional academic curriculum nor a vocational one encourages critical thinking in any radical sense. Future electricians are rarely encouraged to think about nuclear power, or hairdressers about feminism.’

‘We must overcome the deep pessimism and fatalism that hang over education today. There are enormous obstacles, but perhaps the greatest is our own fearfulness. Another world is possible. Another school is possible, and will help us heal a sick world. The relentless drive for higher test scores matters far less than caring and creative learners, a sense of justice, a world at peace, our common welfare and future of our planet and all its people.’