cearta.ie

the Irish for rights

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire

WB Yeats, by GC Beresford, via WikipediaIn an entertaining and erudite article in the Irish Times last week, Robert Strong (William Lyne Wilson Professor of Politics at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, and a visiting Fulbright Scholar as Mary Ball Washington Professor of American History in the School of History and Archives at University College Dublin) searched for evidence that the quote in the title of this post should properly be attributed to William Butler Yeats (pictured left). Although regularly attributed to Yeats, he found no proof to support the attribution; and he drew the following lessons from his quest:

  • Don’t believe everything you hear from a speaker standing at a podium.
  • Don’t believe everything you read in books.
  • Always be suspicious of information you find on the internet.
  • Do your own research about something that strikes your fancy.
  • Take some joy in finding things out for yourself even if what you find is complicated and incomplete.
  • Pursue the truth wherever it takes you.
  • And don’t be afraid to challenge prominent people and published sources if you find evidence they might be wrong.

These lessons are a perfect example of the point of the quote: education really is about lighting a fire, encouraging people to think for themselves, rather than simply fill up with and repeat what they have heard. Research and innovation may be crucial to our economic recovery, and the higher education sector has an important role to play here, where research is funded by agencies by Enterprise Ireland, the Irish Research Council, and Science Foundation Ireland (the remit of which has recently been extended by legislation (pdf)). But, in this relentless focus on scientific research, we are in danger of filling pails with water to douse fires, not kindle them, especially in the context of the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Rather than reduce universities to filling pails with supposedly-necessary skills, we must focus on lighting fires of interest which will sustain ongoing engagement and learning long after the initial skills and information are obsolete. This is the real value of education – whether at school or in university, whether in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or in the arts, humanities and social sciences – that it is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

One Response to “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”

  1. […] qualifications. Eighteen, the usual age of school-leavers, is much too young to be cynical. And a university education is much too valuable and inclusive to be seen in such cynical, utilitarian terms. As Julian Coleman wrote in yesterday’s […]

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Welcome

Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I'm Eoin O'Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie - the Irish for rights.

"Cearta" really is the Irish word for rights, so the title provides a good sense of the scope of this blog.

In general, I write here about private law, free speech, and cyber law; and, in particular, I write about Irish law and education policy.

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What I'd like for here is a simple widget that takes the list of feeds from my existing RSS reader and displays it here as a blogroll. Nothing fancy. I'd love a recommendation, if you have one.

I had built a blogroll here on my Google Reader RSS subscriptions. Google Reader produced a line of html for each RSS subscription category, each of which I pasted here. So I had a list of my subscriptions as my blogroll, organised by category, which updated whenever I edited Google Reader. Easy peasy. However, with the sad and unnecessary demise of that product, so also went this blogroll. Please take a moment to mourn Google Reader. If there's an RSS reader which provides a line of html for the list of subscriptions, or for each RSS subscription category as Google Reader did, I'd happily use that. So, as I've already begged, I'd love a recommendation, if you have one.

Meanwhile, please bear with me until I find a new RSS+Blogroll solution

Thanks,

Eoin.

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The image in the banner above is a detail from a photograph of the front of Trinity College Dublin night taken by Melanie May.

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