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Eight Words for Education

Eight Words for Education

June 7th, 2011 // 5:15 pm @

Eight words can tell us almost everything we need to know about the failures of modern education. More importantly, they can teach us how to drastically improve education personally and as a society. Until we understand these eight words, and reapply their innate wisdom, our schooling systems will continue to struggle and mediocrity will continue to win the day. Even the most successful schools and teachers can improve themselves by applying the lessons of these eight words.

1: Autodidact


We have forgotten what it means to be an autodidact. Ideally, all students would be effective self-educators rather than dependents on experts.

When each learner deeply owns his or her education, the quality and quantity of study and overall education increases. Great teachers and schools encourage and teach their students to be effective autodidacts.

2: Polymath

Quality education helps each student become a polymath. This is not the same as a “jack of all trades, master of none.” A polymath is a true expert and master in more than one field. Indeed, unless a person is deeply educated in several topics it is practically impossible to be a real master of any one field.

As Dale Alquist, President of the American Chesterton Society, wrote:

“The affliction of specialization is myopia. As specialists we are under the delusion that our small area of expertise informs us about everything else. We know more and more about less and less. Truth has been carefully compartmentalized.”

However this impacts career and life, it is hurtful to education. All knowledge is related, and only deep understanding of multiple subjects allows real wisdom.

3: Philosopher

Each learner should adopt the attitude of a philosopher. This means at least three things:

  • Passionately loving to learn and constantly seeking new knowledge and truth
  • Thinking creatively, originally and “out of the box” rather than merely conforming to the accepted wisdom
  • Arriving at one’s conclusions not by conformity to the ideas of the experts but by thinking deeply about all views and holding one’s own counsel. Emerson spoke widely on such topics, and Socrates, Descartes, Bacon, Einstein and others have shown that rigorous and unconventional thinking is the key to real advancement

Without real intellectual curiosity and independent thinking, little progress occurs for the individual student or man’s collective knowledge.

4 – 6: Leaders, Genius, Greatness

All education should train leaders, and therefore all education should be leadership education. Of course, this does not mean that the current conception of charisma as leadership is the answer.

At the deepest level, leadership entails discovering one’s inner genius and developing it to its full potential. This is the crux of great education, and anything less than greatness in education is disappointing. Every person has an inner genius, and the world is the loser when such potential remains undeveloped.

Leaders, genius and greatness are too often missing in our educational institutions and dialogues.

7: Risk

Education should make us wise, which means in part knowing how and when to take wise risk. Too often modern education does the opposite by teaching and even training us to avoid all risks. Success and progress are natural results of the right kind of risk, and without this lesson no education is complete.

8: Service

The highest purpose of education is to increase our ability to serve. Service should be the underlying lesson in everything we learn—in formal schooling and as informal learners in all settings of life.

Without service our successes are hollow and our societal progresses are mere facades. It is genuine service to others, especially service freely given for the right reasons, which determines the true character of any community or nation. Education must emphasize the central role of service in our lives, happiness and any success.

The Over-arching Goal: Wisdom

Our modern systems and institutions of education at all levels will continue to struggle until these ideals are re-matriculated into our everyday learning.

All these words could be summed up in one overarching goal of education: wisdom. We can all benefit from implementing these eight words and the principles behind each into our lives, families, schools and learning.

The good news is that we don’t have to wait for experts or big unwieldy institutions to make this change; every parent and teacher can implement these important ideas immediately.


Oliver DeMille is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education, The Coming Aristocracy, FreedomShift, Leadership Education (with Rachel DeMille), The Student Whisperer (with Tiffany Earl), and other books, articles and audio products—available here.

Category : Blog &Education

3 Comments → “Eight Words for Education”

  1. Scott Bergman

    13 years ago

    Hi Oliver, I’m too tired to think up any fancy and clever comments this evening, but I did want to say this is a good post that has a lot of wisdom in it. I’m gonna have to take some time tomorrow and go through some of your other posts. Take care… Scott

  2. Blake Elliott

    13 years ago

    Hello again Oliver, you say at the end “every parent and teacher can implement these important ideas immediately.” Might I add student too? I sure have. Students could wait for their teachers and parents to change, or the students could apply these words to themselves first.

  3. […] recently wrote an article entitled “Eight Words for Education.” A few days later, I came across a similar list outlined by the sixteenth century scholar Roger […]

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