Education is the lighting of a fire.

Yesterday I re-read this excellent post by Joe Kirby, which featured this quote-by-not-Yeats:

“I wholeheartedly disagree that possessing knowledge improves your ability to think. I’m afraid your criticisms would give way to a ‘filling of a pail’ approach rather than a‘lighting of a fire’ approach.

I was also pointed in the direction of this woefully misguided ode to vapid, where you can see its echo:

“Moreover, teaching a prescribed “core knowledge” instills a culture of conformity and an insipid, passive absorption of carefully selected knowledge among young people. It doesn’t encourage students to think critically about society – nor does it fire a desire to challenge the views they are taught. Schools that adopt this method become nothing more than pipelines producing robotic citizens, perpetuating the vision of a capitalist society and consequently preventing social mobility.”

Of course.  People with knowledge never thought critically.  Critical thinking is in fact magic.  Magic that happens through shear force of passion and sunbeams, and punk rock.  I’m reminded of Tom Bennett’s hilarious dig at the Education Select Committee, when they asserted that Amanda Spielman didn’t demonstrate enough ‘passion’ during their interview:




-> Critical Thinking



Then I realised something funny about that quote: fire needs fuel.

Knowledge is of course the fuel of thought; a bit like kerosene, used to power jet planes and rocket ships amongst other things.  You’re not going to get much in the way of critical thinking if you have nothing with which or to which you can apply your mind, just as much as your well-constructed jet plane ain’t going nowhere if you don’t fill it with fuel.


So there you have it.

If you want to light a fire, fill the pail with kerosene first.



About Kris Boulton

Teach First 2011 maths teacher, focussed on curriculum design.
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4 Responses to Education is the lighting of a fire.

  1. teachwell says:

    Brilliantly argued Kris – thanks for that one – will be quoting you on that whenever I get the chance!!

  2. suecowley says:

    I think you might mean “not Yeats”, rather than “not Yates”?

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