In December of 1999, Time Magazine named Albert Einstein “Person of the Century” arguing that his discoveries revolutionized humans’ understanding of the universe.
Although lauded for his scientific mind, Einstein was also a philosopher. Borrowing from his experiences living in Nazi Germany, or during the time he spent straining to understand scientific principles, he expressed his ideas about the challenges of daily life.
As Einstein was a professor of physics, quite a few of his most known sayings relate to education.
These sayings are known as Einstein’s educational philosophy.
10 Components of Einstein’s Educational Philosophy
1. “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Some subjects are difficult for students. Specialists obviously know their subject very well, but it is important to see that subject from a student’s perspective, and to not necessarily assume prior knowledge or skills.
As a teacher, you should try to place yourself in the frame of mind of a novice learner, and only by doing this will you be able to fully comprehend your own studies.
2. “Everything should be as simple as it is, but not simpler.”
Although explaining material simply is often the best way to communicate to larger audiences, you shouldn’t water subjects down or remove important complexities.
3. “Information is not knowledge.”
As instructors and teachers we need to ensure that students are not just learning facts, but rather the meaning, trends, or application behind these facts. In lectures, quizzes, and assignments, we need to make sure that students are asked to understand and explain the importance of the material being taught.
4. “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”
We need to encourage students in learning, and emphasize that when they are done with a course or with a program their learning should not stop. It’s likely they will be more fulfilled and successful in life if they maintain a continued sense of curiosity and wonder about everything around them.
5. “Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics. I can assure you that mine are still greater.”
There is a myth that Einstein failed math when he was in school. He didn’t—he actually did well. But the point he is making here is that what he did in life did not come easily; he had to work very hard to do well. As teachers, we need to convey that even the truly great have to work to become great.
6. “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
Here, Einstein’s educational philosophy is again saying that his great scientific achievements required continuous effort and did not come to him “naturally.” He simply had a passionate desire to learn new things.
7. “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”
Here, Einstein isn’t saying students should forget everything they learn in school. On the contrary, we can interpret this to mean that if you develop the habit of study and curiosity, long after you have forgotten facts you retain an attitude that allows receptivity to new ideas.
8. “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”
As teachers we should find joy in our subjects, convey that joy to students, and expect it to be reflected in students’ work. This isn’t an easy thing to do, but it does make the subject memorable to those we teach.
9. “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.”
Einstein’s educational philosophy emphasizes that ideas and solutions come not only from logical, systematic thought, but also through imagination and out-of-the box thinking. If we can encourage this in our students, they will profit both in our courses and in life.
10. “Concern for man and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors. Never forget that in the midst of your diagrams and equations.”
We all want students to succeed in their courses and use their education to achieve.
Einstein’s Educational Philosophy reminds us here that education should not be purely utilitarian.
As teachers, we need to stress that whatever our students end up doing, it is important that they continuously strive to contribute to society at large.
Einstein’s Educational Philosophy stands the test of time.
[ Updated – October 16, 2020 ]