I’ve been pondering this well-known quote:

“Education is the lighting of a fire, not the filling of a bucket.”

Have you heard it before? It’s one that is bandied around a lot in the homeschooling world.

“Education is the lighting of a fire”. Sounds like a nice idea, doesn’t it. We all want to spark the love of learning in our kids.

But what about the second half of the quote. Until recently, I hadn’t given it much thought: Education is “not the filling of a bucket”. Now hold on a moment. Are we not supposed to fill our children’s minds with information? I believe a child who has been taught a lot of content, is well on their way to being educated. I even believe that there is certain key content that all children should learn. So I can’t agree with this part of the quote. Not at all.

When we look at the metaphors in the quote, there’s a fire and a bucket, which is usually associated with water. Is the quote implying that the intentional filling of your child’s brain will douse their love of learning? Really?! I don’t agree with that either. Content isn’t detrimental to a child’s desire to learn This quote is proving quite problematic.

Perhaps the suggestion is that the desire to learn is more important than learning content. However, this could lead to the conclusion that little or no content really needs to be taught, as a child who loves learning could seek answers to their own questions. “But would they?” is my question. I would doubt that questions about unknown content would even occur to them. To know more, you must first know something. So surely a child must first experience content in order to kindle their desire to learn.

Filling our children’s buckets with content is not at the expense of loving learning. I don’t believe the quote is accurate. It just hasn’t been my experience. I have found that the more children are taught, the more connections they make, the more questions they ask and, consequently, the more they want to learn. The desire to learn is definitely like a fire, but that fire is first fed by filling those buckets with fuel.

So what’s to be done with this old quote. Well I think I’ll tweak it. My version would read,

“Education is the filling of buckets with fuel to ignite our children’s fire to learn.”


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Reposted with permission from Little Men in My Library