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The Difference Between School and Education

What I have to say about school and about education is not going to make a lot of sense unless we make a distinction between these two words. If I criticize the basic ways in which schools throughout the world operate, many people will assume that I criticize education, or think learning to be of little value, because being schooled, or graded etc. means the same as being educated or being knowledgeable, to them.

I want to make it clear that I think knowledge, learning, education, and the training and developing of the mind, and mental abilities such as reading, rhetoric and arithmetic, are very important. They are often downright vital to our survival, or at least to our capacity to live anything resembling a good life.

I also think that it could be profitable to examine just how much, and what kind of knowledge is most valuable, and how much we mistakenly wish others to achieve because we want them to imitate us, or satisfy some fad about what we think it would be better for people to know.

But being educated is not the same thing as having been to school. The school is an institution, and education is the goal for which it was instituted, just as our legal system is an institution, and justice is the goal for which it was instituted. We should know that justice is not always done when a sentence is carried out. We should realize that when laws are passed they do not always have the effect of producing or promoting right action. We should know that though it may be the goal that a trial with a jury finds truth, yet not all verdicts are true, regardless of the etymology of the word.

A school is a name for an institution, and a building. Education is what is supposed to happen there. Schooling means grouping, usually children, usually for the purpose of having similar lessons, similar curriculum and being graded according to one standard. One has had schooling if they have spent time in school or with the sort of teachers who are members of the institution.

Once we have made the distinction it should be easy to understand that a person can be educated without having attended an institution devoted to the purpose of education. A person can learn without schooling, and it is also an unfortunate truth that many people attend schools without learning any of the things we expect them to learn there.

I learned to make the distinction mostly from essays by John Taylor Gatto, a retired teacher who had been twice named New York City Teacher of the Year, and once New York State Teacher of the year. He is the author of “Dumbing Us Down” and other books.

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