Karl Popper on Education and Schools

“Learning to read, and to a lesser degree, to write, are of course THE major events in one’s intellectual development. There is nothing to compare with it, since very few people (Helen Keller is the great exception) can remember what it meant for them to learn to speak. I shall be for ever grateful to my first teacher, Emma Goldberg, who taught me the three R’s. They are, I think, the only essentials a child has to be taught; and some children do not even need to be taught in order to learn these. Everything is atmosphere, and learning through reading and thinking.”

[Sir Karl Raymund Popper, Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography, ch. 3, “Early Influences”]

“It has been said, only too truly, that Plato was the inventor of both our secondary schools and our universities. I do not know a better argument for an optimistic view of mankind, no better proof of their indestructible love for truth and decency, of their originality and stubbornness and health, than the fact that this devastating system of education has not utterly ruined them. [ . . . ] As Samuel Butler says, ‘I sometimes wonder how it was that the mischief done was not more clearly perceptible, and that the young men and women grew up sensible and goodly as they did, in spite of the attempts almost deliberately made to warp and stunt their growth. Some doubtless received damage, from which they suffered to their life’s end. But many seemed little or none the worse, and some almost the better. The reason would seem to be that the natural instinct of the lads in most cases so absolutely rebelled against their training, that do what the teachers might they could never get them to pay serious heed to it.'”

[Sir Karl Raymund Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, vol. I, The Spell of Plato, ch. 7, “Leadership”. The quote from Samuel Butler comes from Erewhon, ch.22, “The Colleges of Unreason – Continued”]

“The principle that those who are entrusted to us must, before anything else, not be harmed, should be recognized to be just as fundamental for education as it is for medicine. ‘Do no harm’ (and, therefore, ‘give the young what they most urgently need in order to become independent of us, and to be able to choose for themselves’) would be a very worthy aim for our educational system.”

[Sir Karl Raymund Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, vol. II, The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel, Marx and the Aftermath, ch.25, “Has History any Meaning?”

In São Paulo, on the 25th of July of 2019



Categories: Education, Karl Popper, Schools

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