Spot Dictation

When most people think of the word “education”, they think of a pupil as a sort of animate sausage casing. Into this empty casting, the teachers are supposed to stuff “education.”

But genuine education, as Socrates knew more than two thousand years ago, is not inserting the stuffing of information into a person, but rather eliciting knowledge from him; it is the drawing-out of what is in the mind.

“The most important part of education,” once wrote William Ernest Hocking, the distinguished Harvard philosopher, “is this instruction of a man in what he has inside of him.”

And, as Edith Hamilton has reminded us, Socrates never said, “I know, learn from me.” He said, rather, “Look into your own selves and find the spark of the truth that God has put into every heart and that only you can kindle to a flame.”

In a dialogue, Socrates takes an ignorant slave boy, without a day of schooling, and proves to the amazed observers that the boy really “knows” geometry – because the principles of geometry are already in his mind, waiting to be called out.

So many of the discussions and controversies about the content of education are useless and inconclusive because they are concerned with what should “go into” the student rather than with what should be taken out, and how this can best be done.

The college student who once said to me, after a lecture, “I spend so much time studying that I don’t have a chance to learn anything,” was clearly expressing his dissatisfaction with the sausage casing view of education.