What did Einstein mean when he said "Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school?"What did Einstein mean when he said "Education is what remains after one has...

What did Einstein mean when he said "Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school?"

What did Einstein mean when he said "Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school?"

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Einstein addresses the true meaning of education.  That is, learning is not simply the acquisition of knowledge.  As a matter of fact, the word education defines itself with its Latin root and prefix.  That is, the root word -duct- means movement [e.g. conduct], and the prefix e- means out of [e.g. exit, exeunt].  Therefore, when one becomes educated--truly educated not just in possession of a diploma--he/she has ventured down new avenues of thinking that have left a lasting effect upon the person.  People who have truly acquired an education will never been the same as that artless, unknowledgeable, and myopic person they were before.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I sort of agree with the first post, but I think it is not so much that what life teaches you is better.  Instead, I think that he is saying that what we actually remember is the things that are most important to our particular lives.

When we are in school, we learn so many things that we would never be able to remember all of it unless we were to keep using it later in life.  We, as humans, don't typically seem to be able to simply remember everything we hear or read.  Instead, we only remember things that matter to us or that we use over and over.  For this reason, our education tends to consist of those things that we learn in ways other than through school books.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This quote refers most to life's experience.  Living life daily teaches us many useful things, and taking risks also brings with it a learning curve.  This is especially useful to people in trial and error type businesses...such as science and discovery...as you take what didn't work last time and make adjustments so that the next attempt is more successful.  Life is this way, too.  So, Einstein was commenting on what life (some call it the best teacher) gives us in the way of knowledge and experience rather than rote memorization or drills (the common practice when he was in school) or other activities which lack real-world applications.

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Einstein recognized, what many teachers recognize, the fact that public education does not always serve students in the best sense. This is not to criticize all of public education. To be fair, public schools, at least the ones in my state, are subject to mandated testing, so most of education relates to things they are required to be taught. This leaves little room to address the natural interests of many students. Einstein is simply saying that for many, life teaches better and more relevant lessons than public education.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Einstein struggled early on in school, and of all subjects, in math!  His was a unique brilliance that didn't respond well to the public school system of his day, and I think he felt that it was too confining and rigid, and didn't allow for radical thought, even if it was very intelligent and rational.  You can imagine that some teachers then felt threatened by his brilliance (heck, I would!), so I don't think Einstein had a very high opinion of public schools.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
That's a beautiful quote. Einstein did not enjoy school, and did not do well. Creative people often do not, because school is limiting. One of the primary functions of school is to socialize children to American societal norms. Children that don't conform to these norms often suffer. Einstein was never one for conformity. To me, this quote means that once a person leaves school and has learned the basics, his or her real, unencumbered learning can take place!
lrwilliams eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would say that Einstein is trying to tell us that public education does not necessarily promote learning. We tend to throw information at students and require them to memorize it for a test or event and then never use it again. In life's experiences we continually use what we learn and it becomes a natural part of our life, we have truly learned it.

jasonsacks | Student

What it means is:

After (or if) you forget what you have learned from your education or idoctronation into a specific or dogmatic way of thinking your mind is open to learn. Therefore what is left is an education from curiosity, reason and experimentation resulting in experience.

The quote is a clever self referencing statment that can follow this logic.

Learn from being taught a way of thinking or doing something.

  • If you never forget what you were taught and never leave those bounds then you are no longer learning.
  • If you forget, question or throw out all or much of what you were taught then you are open to learn again, and therefore your mind is open to education. This does not mean a refresher of what you already were taught. This means an education as in learning NEW things that expand or disregard previous dogmas or ideas.




elliowb | Student

Many of the above answers seem to have an agenda relating to the perceived quality of public education.  I think these answers completely miss the point of the quote.

For learning to have occurred, there must be a change in the learner.  It is this change that remains, even after one forgets about the details of what one learned.

In other words, the knowledge has become integral with the learner and may even be perceived as 'common sense.'

alleycatm1 | Student

that what you learn in life is better than anything school can teach you