“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled”

To teach our kids, we must know how they learn.

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled”

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled” 1920 1080 Looking out Loud

This is part of the DadQuotes series, where I roundup the best quotes from famous figures, insightful authors, and my quickly growing kids, and apply them to the job of parenting.

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled”

– Plutarch*, On Listening

What is the job of education?

For many parents and schools, the job of education is to fill our children’s brains with knowledge.

We must pour in facts, transmit cultural concepts, and reinforce math tables, historical dates, and state capitals. More homework, more examples, more repetition.

And this knowledge is importantto a point. Kids do need to learn. Skills like numerical literacy, critical thinking, and knowing basic facts about the world are useful.

But if you want kids to learn, you first have to kindle the fire that is the human mind.

If you excite a fire, it will spread out, growing on its own, consuming everything in its path.

So how do you kindle that fire?

You first have to get their attention. Spark their interest. Engage their natural curiosity.

Light that mental fire, and watch it spread.


*The quote above is a popular paraphrasing of Plutarch’s (c. 50-120 AD) original quote found in his essay “On Listening”, translated as:

"The correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting — no more — and then it motivates one towards originality and instills the desire for truth.

Suppose someone were to go and ask his neighbors for fire and find a substantial blaze there, and just stay there continually warming himself:

that is no different from someone who goes to someone else to get to some of his rationality, and fails to realize that he ought to ignite his own flame, his own intellect, ..."

The vessel metaphor reflects a passive mind that need to be filled, and only receives what is poured in.

The fire metaphor reflects an active mind that needs to be sparked, and then goes on to consume all it encounters.

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