Some Thoughts on Life, Learning, and Teaching


On this page I am posting some quotes that inspire me, or make me smile, or make me think.

Our society is technological, and tends to look for techniques to attain its ends. In some arenas this is entirely appropriate, in others, technique is not enough. As teachers, we are more than a collection of appropriate behaviors: we are answers, individually, unavoidably, and publicly, to our students' question: What does it mean to be a human being? Being a model on this awesome scale is an intimidating responsibility.

Fortunately, we are not alone. The greatest figures in history are teachers, shining examples of courage, integrity, and concern for others. They have left us their thoughts to strengthen us as we journey through our own lives. It is good to remember their words, to hear their confident and gentle urging to grow, to unfold, to become more fully alive and caring. Here are a few quotes that have sweetened the path for me. May they strengthen you also.

...the subject of education claims dominion over the widest possible territory. It purports to tell us not only what intelligence is but how it may be nurtured; not only what is worthwhile knowledge but how it may be gained; not only what the good life is but how one may prepare for it. There is no other subject--not even philosophy itself--that casts so wide a net, and therefore no other subject that requires of its professors so much genius and wisdom.

Neil Postman, "The Educationalist as Painkiller". Conscientious Objections.
New York: Vintage Books, 1992 p 85

Problem-posing education bases itself on creativity and stimulates true reflection and action upon reality, thereby responding to the vocation of men as beings who are authentic only when engaged in inquiry and creative transformation.

Pablo Freire

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

Derek Bok, President of Harvard

Teaching is painful, continual and difficult work to be done by kindness, by watching, by warning, by precept, and by praise, but above all by example.

John Ruskin

The ocean has one taste: the taste of salt. The truth has one taste: the taste of liberation.

An effective way to deal with predators is to taste terrible.

The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a period of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.

Dante Alighieri

The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.

Charles Du Bos

It is better, of course, to know useless things than to know nothing.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Epistles, 88, 45

The great man is he who does not lose his child's heart.

Mencius Works Bk IV, 2, 12

Only the surface of reason is rational.

Marvin Minsky

Man wonders over the restless sea, the flowing waters, the sight of the sky, and forgets that of all wonders, man himself is most wonderful.

St Augustine

I don't know how many times I've studied for a test for hours and then gone to take it and it seemed like a foreign language to me.
It's like you get done and feel as though some alien creature overtook your mind during the test and erased all the information you had stored in there.
So you get done and walk home mesmerized, amazed you even remember where home is.

Student report -- one of my students

Physics has many parts of it that cannot be imagined, only talked about.

Student paper -- one of my students

Each of us finds lucidity only in those ideas which are in the same state of confusion as his own.

Marcel Proust

A man of knowledge must have unbending intent.

Carlos Casteneda

If instead of a priceless gem or even a flower we should cast the gift of a loving thought or a kind word into the heart of a friend ... that would be giving as the angels give.

As a community of believers we know that our faith is tested by the quality of justice among us, that we can best measure our life together by how the poor and vulnerable are treated.

American Bishop's Pastoral Letter 1986

Every star that man has not counted is a world of sanity and perfection.

Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable

A life spent making mistakes is . . . more useful than a life spent doing nothing.

G. B. Shaw

The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical -- he to whom this emotion is a stranger is as good as dead.

Albert Einstein

Plan rationally, act intuitively.

Christopher Viau

Don't let the urgent get in the way of the important.

The important thing is to lead an authentic life.

Christopher Viau

The proper role of humanists is not to bring 'human values' to the attention of technicians otherwise engaged in a purely instrumental approach to their calling, but to demand the restoration of the practical or moral element in callings that have degenerated into techniques.

Christopher Lasch

Peace is not the absence of war, but the presence of justice.

...the greatest danger of our time is that the calculating way of thinking that is part of the technical revolution will become the dominating and exclusive way of thinking. Why is this so dangerous? Because then we would find, together with the highest and most successful development of our thinking on the calculating level, an indifference toward reflection and a complete thoughtlessness...then humanity would have renounced and thrown away what is most its own, its ability to reflect. What is at stake is to save the essence of humanity. What is at stake is to keep alive our reflective thinking.

Heidegger, M. (1959) Gelassenheit. Verlag Gunlther Neske, Pfulingen, P. 25.

I believe, however, that contemporary technology assessment will become sophisticated and more successful only if those who practice it are made aware of the complexity and ramifications of the effects of technological changes in the past. History can offer no solutions, but it may help to guide an acute mind towards kinds of questions that in the present state of systems analysis tend to be overlooked. Above all it may illuminate the limitations as well as the possibilities of assessing technology.

Lynn White. Jr., Medieval Religion and Technology


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