Foster C. McClellan? Robert M. Hutchins? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Since you are a sleuth for origin histories I’m wondering if you’ve ever come across this quote or any references to its origins:
Education is not to reform students or amuse them or to make them expert technicians. It is to unsettle their minds, widen their horizons, inflame their intellects, teach them to think…
I found this credited to Foster C. McClellan, but no details were given. I’d welcome any info on the source.
Quote Investigator: The attribution to McClellan apparently is inaccurate. In 1929 Robert Maynard Hutchins delivered a speech that contained the text given; however, the precise wording and the ordering is different. Hutchins was about to become the president of the University of Chicago, and his address to graduating students was described in a widely distributed newspaper story from the Associated Press (AP) [RHSM]:
Dr. Robert M. Hutchins, dean of the law school of Yale University, who will become, next September, the youngest president of a large university in this country, outlined today his educational belief before this year’s graduating class at the University of Chicago. …
“My view of university training is to unsettle the minds of young men, to widen their horizons, to inflame their intellects. It is not a hardening, or settling process. Education is not to teach men facts, theories, or laws; it is not to reform them, or amuse them, or to make them expert technicians in any field; it is to teach them to think, to think straight if possible; but to think always for themselves.”
Interestingly, a report on the same speech appeared in the Chicago Tribune on the next day, and the printed text diverged from the AP account. Yet, it contained the same basic material. Below an excerpt is presented and additional selected citations in chronological order.
Hutchins candidly and humorously acknowledged that he was using mixed metaphors in his exhortation [RHCT]:
The conception of education as a process of settling, or hardening, of the fixation of sound principles and righteous dogma in the youth of America brings me at once to state my own view of the purpose of university training.
It is, that the purpose of higher education is to unsettle the minds of young men, to widen their horizon, to inflame their intellects. And by this series of mixed metaphors, I mean to assert that education is not to teach men facts, theories, or laws. It is not to reform them, or to amuse them, or to make them expert technicians in any field. It is to teach them to think, to think straight, if possible; but to think always for themselves.”
In 1933 another version of the quotation was given in a periodical called “Forum and Century” within a profile about Hutchins written by Milton S. Mayer. The author stated that Hutchins was “gently dropping his first charge of dynamite into the swollen lap of tradition” when he gave his 1929 speech. Once again the wording presented for the address was different. For example, the phrase “give them social prestige” appeared instead of “make them expert technicians” [RHFC]:
The purpose of college education is not to settle the minds of young men and women, to fill them with unnecessary information or righteous dogma; it is not to reform them, amuse them, or give them social prestige. It is to unsettle their minds, widen their horizons, and inflame their intellects. The college exists to teach its students to think—to think straight if possible, but to think always for themselves.
A streamlined version of the passage has continued to circulate. Here is an instance in 1985 from a Virginia newspaper where the words were credited to Hutchins [RTRH]:
In the words of the late Robert Hutchins, “Education is not to reform students, or to amuse them, or to make them expert technicians. It is to unsettle their minds, widen their horizons, inflame their intellects, and teach them to think straight — if possible.”
The website of the University of Chicago in July of 2011 proudly featured a version of the quotation on a page about “Admissions and Aid” [RHUC]:
“Education is not to reform students…or to make them expert technicians. It is to unsettle their minds, widen their horizons, inflame their intellects, teach them to think straight.”—Robert Maynard Hutchins, former University president (1929–51)
In conclusion, Robert Maynard Hutchins who was President of the University of Chicago spoke a version of the saying in a major speech he gave in 1929. The exact wording is uncertain because the available early sources differ. QI suspects that the excerpt in the Chicago Tribune is probably the most accurate. Thanks for your question.
(Many thanks to Jason Greenberg whose email provided the impetus for this investigation.)
[RHSM] 1929 June 11, The Southeast Missourian, Hutchins Outlines Beliefs Regarding Youth’s Education, [By The Associated Press], Page 7, Column 2, Cape Girardeau, Missouri. (Google News archive)
[RHCT] 1929 June 12, Chicago Tribune, Strive for Mental Liberty, U. of C.’s New President Says, Page 35, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)
[RHFC] 1933 November, Forum and Century, Rapidly Aging Young Man by Milton S. Mayer, Start Page 308, Volume 90, Number 5, The Forum Publishing Co., New York. (ProQuest American Periodicals)
[RTRH] 1985 October 7, Richmond Times-Dispatch, On Education by Ross Mackenzie, Section Editorial, Page 10, Richmond, Virginia. (NewsBank Access World News)
[RHUC] uchicago.edu website, Admissions & Aid section, Quote attributed to Robert Maynard Hutchins, “Education is not to reform students”. (Accessed 2011 July 26) link