Quotes about Learning

“Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

“When I walk out into the world, I take no thoughts with me. That’s not easy, but you can learn to do it. An empty mind is hungry, so you can look at everything longer, and closer. Don’t hum! When you listen with empty ears, you hear more. And this is the core of the secret: Attention is the beginning of devotion.”

– Mary Oliver

“Map what you don’t know, and what you’re learning, into something that you already know.”

– Priya Natarajan, in conversation with Steven Strogatz

“Learn something very well and use it to help you learn everything else.”

– quote paraphrased by Xiao Xiao (PhD Dissertation)

“You don’t have to be a natural to get really, really good at something.”

– Martin Levy, quoted by Shankar Vedantam on the Hidden Brain Podcast

“It’s surprising how hard we’ll work when the work is done just for ourselves.”

– Bill Watterson

“The virtues involved in not knowing are the ones that really count in the long run. What you do about what you don’t know is, in the final analysis, what determines what you will know.”

– Eleanor Duckworth

“To see a person who’s lived only two years in this world seeking and finding her way in it, perfectly trusting, having her trust rewarded with truth, and accepting it — that was a lovely thing to see. What it made me think about above all is how incredibly much we learn between our birthday and last day — from where the horsies live to the origin of the stars. How rich we are in knowledge, and in all that lies around us yet to learn. Billionaires, all of us.”

“The daily routine of most adults is so heavy and artificial that we are closed off to much of the world. We have to do this in order to get our work done. I think one purpose of art is to get us out of those routines. When we hear music or poetry or stories, the world opens up again. We’re drawn in — or out — and the windows of our perception are cleansed, as William Blake said. The same thing can happen when we’re around young children or adults who have unlearned those habits of shutting the world out.”

– Ursula K. Le Guin

“You can’t see what you don’t understand. But what you think you’ll already understand, you’ll fail to notice.”

– Richard Powers, in The Overstory

“So much of contemporary science writing traffics in the illusion of knowledge; it’s quick to close the case, eager to peddle solutions, determined to be useful or profitable to readers. Holt traffics in wonder, a word whose dual meanings—the absence of answers; the experience of awe—strike me as profoundly related. His book is not utilitarian. You can’t profit from it, at least not in the narrow sense. Sometimes you can’t even understand it. And yet it does what real science writing should: It helps us feel the fullness of the problem.”

– Kathryn Schulz

“An important part of becoming a good learner is learning how to push out the frontier of what we can describe with words.”

– Seymour Papert

“Sometimes I think that we, as teachers, are so eager to get to the answers that we do not devote sufficient time to developing the question. But [..] it’s the question that piques people’s interest. Being told an answer doesn’t do anything for you.”

– Daniel Willingham

“Confusion is the sweat of learning.”

– Rhett Allain

“Muad’Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn.”

– Frank Herbert, in Dune

Thinking about Learning

Here are some things that I believe about learning:

  • Our beliefs about what we can learn constrain what we do learn
  • A divided view of knowledge leads to a divided view of people
  • Paying attention to how we learn is a key step in becoming a better learner
  • Curiosity takes work. It takes work to cultivate a curious attitude, and it takes work to create an environment that encourages curiosity
  • You can’t learn something if you don’t care about it first
  • We tend to overvalue the role of knowledge in education, and undervalue the role of affect (how a set of ideas makes a person feel)
  • A great way to develop expertise in any discipline is to play with its ideas, and make these ideas your own by answering your own questions with them
  • One of the most valuable things that you can learn from anyone is how to be a particular kind of person

Here are some books and articles on education that have influenced me:

  • Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas. Seymour Papert
  • “The Having of Wonderful Ideas” and Other Essays on Teaching and Learning. Eleanor Duckworth
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018 documentary on Fred Rogers) Directed by Morgan Neville
  • A Mathematician’s Lament. Paul Lockhart
  • Measurement. Paul Lockhart