Saturday, November 24, 2012

Eric Hoffer: the central task of education


"The central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people.  The truly human society is a learning society, where grandparents, parents, and children are students together.

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future.  The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists."

-- Eric Hoffer --
from Reflections on the Human Condition

I agree here with Hoffer, but I also think that he neglected a significant number of  people:  those who actively reject being even a member of the learned.  These refuse to learn anything that conflicts with their ancient prejudices and tranquilizing dogmas and insist on  remaining locked in past centuries, not just years or decades.

I wonder which of the three is most characteristic of  the people of the United States.


  1. Eric Hoffer is model for students, and for all of us. The man did his learning on his own, after work. I suspect few have the respect for education that he did.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  2. Love of learning isn't just about "advanced degrees", though. I come from a family of learners, many of whom never went to college. My grandfather, father, and brother went through the apprentice program to become carpenters and learn a trade. During the Depression, my grandmother taught herself how to sew from pattern instructions and books so she could give her family affordable clothing. She also taught herself gardening and canning to provide her family with affordable food. My father and grandfather got books out from the library to teach themselves house repairs, like plumbing and wiring. My husband and I both have college degrees, but we've also learned house repairs from books and videos ( from the library) such as simple plumbing, instead of always calling repairmen. ( It saved us money, too. ) I've also taught myself how to sew, from books, so that I can make clothes and do alot of my own clothing repairs.

    However, not just people with "tranquilizing dogmas" refuse to learn. I've known "learned" people with advanced degreees who brag about all they know of a certain type of knowledge, but look down on learning other types of things - things like I've mentioned in my post. These people will sooner get into credit card debt than learn some things that would save them money. There can be a snobbery with learning, on both ends of the spectrum.

  3. Peter,

    I agree: there are few like him. I got to know about him when I first read his _The True Believer_. That opened my eyes considerably. It's worth a second read, and I probably will read it a third time, in conjunction with Karen Armstrong's _The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism_. The two go well together--Hoffer's sociological/psychological perspective and Armstrong's religious/sociological perspective.

  4. Cheryl,

    I agree. Hoffer doesn't have a degree, as far as I know, and I would definitely classify him as a learner.

    And, his definition of the "learned" is one who has stopped learning and thinks she/he knows enough, if not all. These could be people with or without formal degrees or education.

    Being one of the "learned" or "a learner" is not a matter of degree or diploma, but one of attitude.