Bertrand Russell is a famous philosoher, logician and educator. He received Nobel Prize in Literature “in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought”. He aged 97.

In this post, I include some quotes from his book on education.

The Individual versus the Citizen

  • Assuming that education should do something to afford a training and not merely to prevent impediments to growth, the question arises whether education should train good individuals or good citizens.

  • First and foremost, the individual, like Leibniz’s monads, should mirror the world.

  • Knowledge, emotion, and power, all these should be widened to the utmost in seeking the perfection of the human being. Power, Wisdom, and Love, according to traditional theology, are the respective attributes of the Three Persons of the Trinity, and in this respect at any rate man made God in his own image.

  • The elements of knowledge and emotion in the perfect individual as we have been portraying him are not essentially social. It is only through the will and through the exercise of power that the individual whom we have been imagining becomes an effective member of the community.

  • The individual as such is self-subsistent, while the citizen is essentially circumscribed by his neighbours.

  • The fundamental characteristic of the citizen is that he co-operates, in intention if not in fact. Now the man who wishes to co-operate, unless he is one of exceptional powers, will look about for some ready-made purpose with which to co-operate.

  • Citizens as conceived by governments are persons who admire the status quo and are prepared to exert themselves for its preservation. Oddly enough, while all governments aim at producing men of this type to the exclusion of all other types, their heroes in the past are of exactly the sort that they aim at preventing in the present.

  • This illustrates the ways in which citizenship as an ideal is inadequate, for as an ideal it involves an absence of creativeness, and a willingness to acquiesce in the powers that be, whether oligarchic or democratic, which is contrary to what is characteristic of the greatest men, and tends, if over-emphasised, to prevent ordinary men from attaining the greatness of which they are capable.

  • Rebellion in itself is no better than acquiescence in itself, since it is equally determined by relation to what is outside ourselves rather than by a purely personal judgement of value.

  • In the Middle Ages education meant the education of the priest. From the Renaissance until recent times it meant the education of a gentleman. Under the influence of snobbish democracy, it has come to mean an education which makes a man seem like a gentleman.

  • The Christian religion as a whole is a religion of the individual, owing to the fact that it arose among men destitute of political power. It is concerned primarily with the relation of the soul to God; and while it considers the relation of a man to his neighbour, it considers it as resulting from the man’s own emotions, not from laws and social institutions.

  • Animal habit is sufficient by itself to make a man like the old ways, just as it makes a horse like to turn down a road which it usually turns down.

  • Hostility to the status quo may be derived from either of two sources: it may spring from sympathy with the unfortunate or from hatred of the fortunate. If it springs from the latter, it involves just as much limitation of sympathy as is involved in conservatism.

  • One of the most important ways in which individual culture conflicts with the education of the citizen, narrowly conceived, is in respect of the scientific attitude towards doubtful questions.

  • The scientific state of mind is neither sceptical nor dogmatic. The sceptic holds that the truth is undiscoverable, while the dogmatist holds that it is already discovered.

  • Absence of finality is of the essence of the scientific spirit.

  • When once the world as a single economic and political unit has become secure, it will be possible for individual culture to revive.

The Negative Theory of Education

  • Three divergent theories of education all have their advocates in the present day. Of these the first considers that the sole purpose of education is to provide opportunities of growth and to remove hampering influences. The second holds that the purpose of education is to give culture to the individual and to develop his capacities to the utmost. The third holds that education is to be considered rather in relation to the community than in relation to the individual, and that its business is to train useful citizens. Of these theories the first is the newest while the third is the oldest.

  • The case for the greatest possible freedom in education is a very strong one.

  • The child who is in any way coerced tends to respond with hatred, and if, as is usual, he is not able to give free vent to his hatred, it festers inwardly, and may sink into the unconscious with all kinds of strange consequences throughout the rest of life.

  • Another effect of compulsion in education is that it destroys originality and intellectual interest.

  • In the matter of cleanliness and hygiene, therefore, although present conventional education involves much too great a limitation of freedom, yet some limitation is necessary in the interests of health.

  • Another rather humble virtue which is not likely to be produced by a wholly free education is punctuality.

  • A rather more serious matter, to which similar considerations apply, is honesty. I do not mean this term in any fancy sense; I mean merely respect for the property of others. This is not a natural characteristic of human beings.

  • Ordinary thieving, however, is by no means irrational, and just because it is rational it can be prevented by being make contrary to self-interest through social penalties.

  • The chances are that the penal code spontaneously created by a group of children will be more severe and more unreliable than one invented by adults.

  • Another respect in which, to my mind, many apostles of freedom go astray, is that they fail to recognise sufficiently the importance of routine in the life of the young.

  • A life of uncertainty is nervously exhausting at all times, but especially in youth.

  • A further point in favour of a large element of routine is that children find it both tiring and boring to have to choose their own occupation at all odd times.

  • It is of the highest importance that whatever discipline may exist should not involve more than a minimum of emotional restraint, for a child who feels himself thwarted in any important way is liable to develop various undesirable characteristics the nature of which will depend upon his strength of character.

Education and Heredity

  • Conservatives and imperialists lay stress on heredity because they belong to the white race but are rather uneducated. Radicals lay stress on education because it is potentially democratic, and because it gives a reason for ignoring difference of colour.

Emotion and Discipline

  • We may, on the one hand, by means of rewards and punishments cause the child or animal to perform or abstain from certain precise acts; or we may, on the other hand, seek to produce in the child or animal such emotions as will lead, on the whole, to acts of the kind desired.

  • Correct behaviour combined with bad emotions is not enough, therefore, to make a man a contributor to the happiness of mankind.

  • What is less recognized is that we all suffer, to a greater or less degree, from nervous disorders having an emotional origin. A man is called sane when he is as sane as the average of his contemporaries; but in the average man many of the mechanisms which determine his opinions and actions are quite fantastic, so much so that in a world of real sanity they would be called insane.

  • The prevalent emotional attitude of the child generally remains that of the adult, though in later life men learn to conceal their timidities and grudges by disguises of greater or lesser effectiveness.

  • Throughout childhood, though to a continually diminishing extent, there is need of the feeling of safety. For this purpose, kindness and a pleasant routine are the essentials. The relation with adults should be one of play and physical ease, but not of emotional caresses. There should be close intimacy with other children.

  • The child has two opposite needs, safety and freedom, of which the latter gradually grows at the expense of the former.

  • There should be no enforced respect for grown-ups, who should allow themselves to be called fools whenever children wish to call them so. We cannot prevent our children from thinking us fools by merely forbidding them to utter their thoughts; in fact, they are more likely to think ill of us if they dare not say so. Children should not be forbidden to swear - not because it is desirable that they should swear, but because it is desirable that they should think that it does not matter whether they do or not, since this is a true proposition. They should be free entirely from the sex taboo, and not checked when their conversation seems to inhibited adults to be indecent.

  • The man whose tongue is constricted by laws or taboos against free speech, whose pen is constricted by the censorship, whose loves are constricted by an ethic which considers jealousy a better thing than affection, whose childhood has been imprisoned in a code of manners, and whose youth has been drilled in a cruel orthodoxy, will feel against the world that hampers him the same rage that is felt by the infant whose arms and legs are held motionless. In this rage, he will turn to destruction, becoming a revolutionary, a militarist, or a persecuting moralist according to temperament and opportunity.

Home versus School

  • Urban children whose parents are not rich has certain needs, physical and psychological, which cannot be satisfied at home. The first of these is light and air.

  • The second need is proper diet. This is not expensive, and could in theory be supplied at home, but in practice this is impossible owing to lack of knowledge and culinary conservatism.

  • The third need is space in which to romp and play.

  • The fourth need is noise. It is cruel to a child to forbid him to make a noise, but in most homes several noisy children at once can make life intolerable for the grown-ups.

  • The fifth need is the companionship of other children of about the same age, a need which begins towards the end of the second year, and rapidly increases.

  • The sixth need is escape from parental interest.

  • The seventh need is an environment containing appropriate amusements, but artificially safe, i.e. without such things as stone steps or sharp corners or valuable fragile objects.

  • Children deprived of all these needs until the age of six are likely to be sickly, unenterprising, and nervous.

  • In one way or another, home is often too emotional. Children need a quiet life, containing enjoyments and activities, but few intense emotions.

Aristocrats, Democrats, and Bureaucrats

  • Psychologically, the most important aspect of the preparatory and public school system is that, at an early age, it removes a boy from home and from all feminine influence, leaving him exposed defencelessly to the ill-treatment of older boys and the possible hostility of his contemporaries, compelled to keep to himself all the desire for kindness and mothering which he retains from childhood, and obliged to centre such sentiment as he cannot repress exclusively upon other boys.

  • But his happiness, such as it was, came from the exercise of trivial authority and admiration which he received for unimportant merits. Instinctively he looks about for opportunities of similar enjoyments in later life: he desires people to govern, people to whom he will seem a god-like being.

  • The psychological defects of the preparatory and public schools are due in the main to two causes, the isolation of the boys from female companionship, and the conventional code of morals.

  • Democracy as a sentiment has two sides. When it says ‘I am as good as you’, it is wholesome; but when it says ‘you are no better than I am’, it becomes oppressive and an obstacle to the development of exceptional merit. To put the matter more accurately: democracy is good when it inspires self-respect, and bad when it inspires persecution of exceptional individuals by the herd.

  • The error of aristocracy lay, not in thinking that some men are superior to others, but in supposing superiority to be hereditary. The error of democracy lies in regarding all claims to superiority as just grounds for the resentment of the herd.

The Herd in Education

  • Many failures of integration in personality result from the conflict between two different herds to both of which a child belongs, while others arise from conflicts between the herd and individual tastes.

  • Conventional men acquire, during their school years, that quick and almost instinctive realisation of what is demanded in order to be a conventional member of the herd, which is needed for common-place respectability in later life.

  • Fear of the herd is very deeply rooted in almost all men and women. And this fear is first implanted at school.

  • More serious, from a social, though not from an individual, point of view, is the case of those boys whose larger herd is in some way in opposition to the small herd of the school, such as Jews in a school composed mainly of Gentiles.

  • Apart from Jewish nationalism, there are two typical reactions to this situation: one that of the revolutionary, the other that of the toady.

  • Herd pressure is to be judged by two things: first, its intensity, and second, its direction. If it is very intense, it produces adults who are timid and conventional, except in a few rare instances.

Religion in Education

  • Religion, as its advocates are in the habit of telling us, is the source of the sense of social obligation.

  • In the first place, religion is a conservative force, and preserves much of what was bad in the past.

  • In the second place, the Christian religion offers comforts to those who accept it, which it is painful to have to forgo when belief fades.

  • In the third place, when religion is taken seriously, it involves viewing this world as unimportant in comparison with the next, thereby leading to the advocacy of practices which cause a balance of misery here below, on the ground that they will lead to happiness in heaven.

  • In the fourth place, the effect of religious teaching upon morality is bad in various ways.

  • Another morally undesirable aspect of religious education is that it underestimates the intellectual virtues.

  • The fundamental defect of Christian ethics consists in the fact that it labels certain classes of acts ‘sins’ and others ‘virtues’ on grounds that have nothing to do with their social consequences.

Sex in Education

  • Masturbation is nearly universal among very young children, and is usually met with dire threats.

  • It should be one of the fundamental principles of any sound ethic that all knowledge is good, and that to this no exception whatever can be admitted.

  • Another bad effect of the policy of silence about the facts of sex is that it causes children to know that their parents lie to them.

  • The sexual ethic of most people at the present time is a confused jumble derived from three main sources: first, the insistence upon the virtue of wives which is necessary for the institution of the patriarchal family; second, the Christian doctrine that all sex outside marriage is sin; and third, the entirely modern doctrine of the quality of women.

  • While public opinion and social institutions remain what they are, I do not think that any clear-cut solution is possible, because of the fundamental incompatibility between sex equality and the patriarchal family.

Patriotism in Education

  • The motives which lead men to co-operate are many: identity of interest is one; identity of opinion is another; and ties of blood are yet a third.

  • The internal purposes of the State include such matters as roads, lighting, education, the police, the law, the post-office, and so on.

  • In relation to the rest of the world, the purposes of a great State are two: defence against aggression, and the support of its citizens in foreign exploitation.

  • If you wish a man to commit some abominable crime, from which he would naturally recoil in horror, you first teach him loyalty to a gang of arch-criminals, and then make his crime appear to him as exemplifying the virtue of loyalty. Of this process, patriotism is he most perfect instance.

  • Nationalism is undoubtedly the most dangerous vice of our time - far more dangerous than drunkenness, or drugs, or commercial dishonesty, or any of the other vices against which a conventional moral education is directed.

  • To know the faults of other nations ministers only to self-righteousness and war-like feeling, whereas to know the faults of one’s own nation is salutary.

Class-Feeling in Education

  • In the main, social inequality has been bound up with inheritance, and therefore, in all patriarchal societies, with descent in the male line.

  • There have been two main legal sources of property: one, the aristocratic source, namely, ownership of land; the other, the bourgeois source, namely, the right to the produce of one’s own labour.

  • We have thus three orders of men - the land-owner, the capitalist, and the proletarian.

  • The Greeks, like all communities that employ slave labour, held the view that all manual work is vulgar.

  • The Romans inherited the Greek view of culture, and down to our own day this view has been dominant in all countries of Western Europe.

  • The substitution of the great executive for the great nobleman as the type to be admired is having a considerable effect upon ideals of culture.

  • For those who will have to earn their living, it is hardly wise to attempt a form of education whose main purpose was to make idleness elegant.

  • Wherever unjust inequalities exist, a man who profits by them tends to protect himself from a sense of guilt by theories suggesting that he is in some way better than those who are less fortunate.

Competition in Education

  • In education, the ideal of competition has had two kinds of bad effects. On the one hand, it has led to the teaching of respect for competition as opposed to co-operation, especially in international affairs; and on the other hand, it has led to a vast system of competitiveness in the classroom, and in the endeavour to secure scholarships, and subsequently in the search for jobs.

  • One of the worst defects of the belief in competition in education is that it has led, especially with the best pupils, to a great deal of over-education.

  • Able young post-graduates in America seldom have the breadth of culture or the sheer extent of erudition that is to be found in the same class in Europe, but they have a love of knowledge, an enthusiasm for research, and a freshness of intellectual initiative which in Europe have usually given place to a bored and cynical correctness.

  • The teaching of literature should be confined to reading, and the reading should be intensive rather than extensive.

  • So far as writing is concerned, there should be no teaching.

  • If they are compelled to tackle problems that are definitely beyond their powers, a kind of bewildered terror seizes hold of them, not only in relation to the particular problem in question, but also as regards all intellectually neighbouring territory.

  • Fatigue damages the actual quality of the intellect, and is therefore very grave. Less disastrous, though still seriously harmful, is the discouragement of interest in intellectual things which results from the fact that much of what is taught is (or at least seems) wholly useless.

  • Another intellectual defect of almost all teaching, except the highest grade of university tuition, is that it encourages docility and the belief that definite answers are known on questions which are legitimate matters of debate.

  • The most serious aspect of over-education is its effect on health, especially mental health.

  • A great deal of needless pain and friction would be saved to clever children if they were not compelled to associate intimately with stupid contemporaries.

  • First and foremost, there must be as little emotional strain as possible in connection with the acquisition of knowledge;

  • The second thing required is a drastic elimination of instruction that serves no useful purpose.

  • The third thing required is that all higher instruction should be given with a view to teaching the spirit and technique of inquiry rather than from the standpoint of imparting the right answers to questions.

Education and Communism

  • Socially useful work in the school is divided into two main departments, the first consisting of agitation and propaganda, the second of practical work.

  • The education in capitalist countries suffers, as we saw, from the domination of the rich, and the education in Russia suffers, conversely, from the domination of the proletariat.

  • In Russia competition is eliminated not only from the school but from daily life, which makes possible the creation of a co-operative spirit unknown in the West.

  • Progressive educators in the West have, I think, been inclined to generate self-importance in the child, and to let him feel himself a little aristocrat whom adults must serve. This leads him to grow up an anarchist, impatient of the restraints of social life. From this defect, Russian education is free: the child is made to feel, from the first, that he is a unit in society and has a duty to the community.

  • The practice of referring all questions, however remote, to the class war vulgarises everything, and destroys the pleasure in mental skill.

Education and Economics

  • I incline to the view that under any economic system there will be a certain amount of stupidity and a certain amount of love of power, each of which will stand in the way of the creation of a perfect educational system.

  • If education were governed wholly by utilitarian considerations, the place of science and industrial technique would be much larger than it is, and the place of literary culture would be much smaller.

  • In a capitalist society, wage-earners get least education, and those who aim at entering a learned profession get most, while an intermediate amount is considered suitable for those who are going to be ‘gentlemen’ or business men.

  • In this fluidity of classes a plutocratic society differs from an aristocratic one; that is one reason why revolutions are less apt to occur under plutocracies than under aristocracies.

  • The inequality is rooted in the nature of things, and the competition is necessary in order that difficult work may be performed by the most competent men.

  • Undeveloped countries have two uses from the standpoint of the investor: as markets, and as sources of raw materials.

  • In this way the investor who thinks of investing his money outside his own country becomes interested in imperialism, economically if not territorially, and finds that by suitable patriotic propaganda a considerable part of the expense of his enterprise can be shifted on to the shoulders of the tax-payers.

  • The evil of nationalism, whether in a strong or weak nation, are connected with private property.

  • Until education and the prohibition of child labour had made children a source of expense, children were often a pecuniary advantage to their parents.

  • The patriarchal family clearly had an economic origin, since women could not hunt successfully during pregnancy and lactation.

  • Where women can earn their own living, their claim to equality is irresistible.

  • Where economic causes combine to diminish the virtue of women, and to increase the share of the State in the maintenance of children, it is clear that the importance of fathers must diminish, and with it all those sentiments and moral precepts that are bound up with the patriarchal family.

  • While, therefore, economic causes have played a part in producing the sex morality which is taught in schools, these causes lie in the past, and find no justification in the economic needs of the present day.

Propaganda in Education

  • Propaganda may be defined as any attempt, by means of persuasion, to enlist human beings in the service of one party to any dispute.

  • Propaganda is first and effect, and then a cause, of the divisions which exist in the modern world.

  • The main forms of propaganda are three: for political parties, for creeds, and for nations.

  • The only thing that causes nationalist propaganda to fail on a large scale is defeat in war.

  • Propaganda will not fail, as a rule, unless it attempts to make people believe something against which they have a strong initial repugnance.

  • Propaganda may be concerned with values, or with general propositions, or with matters of fact.

  • Both religion and patriotism appeal to very primitive emotions, which are dangerous to civilisation.

  • It is not propaganda as such that is at fault, but one-sided propaganda.

The reconciliation of individuality and citizenship

  • The harm that is done to education by politics arises chiefly from two sources: first, that the interests of some partial group are placed before the interests of mankind; second, that there is too great a love of uniformity both in the herd and in the bureaucrat.

  • Holders of power, almost inevitably, desire their subjects to be emotional rather than rational, since this renders it easier to make those who are victims of an unjust social system contented with their lot.

  • Children are instinctively hostile to anything ‘odd’ in other children, especially in the ages from ten to fifteen.

  • The intolerance of eccentricity that I am speaking of is strongest in the stupidest children, who tend to regard the peculiar tastes of clever children as affording just grounds for persecution.

  • It thus happens, as organisations increase in size, that the important positions of power tend, more and more, to be in the hands of men who have no intimate familiarity with the purposes of the work that they organise.

  • In the sphere of education, the danger of the administrator arises through his love of classification and statistics.

  • Religion encourages stupidity, and an insufficient sense of reality; sex education frequently produces nervous disorders, and where it fails to do so overtly, too often plants discords in the unconscious which makes happiness in adult life impossible; nationalism as taught in schools implies that the most important duty of young men is homicide; class feeling promotes acquiescence in economic injustice; and competition promotes ruthlessness in the social struggle.