Albert Einstein? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: A learner may accumulate a large number of miscellaneous pieces of information without achieving an integrated understanding and without acquiring an ability to use the material intelligently. Reportedly, Albert Einstein made a germane remark:
Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of minds to think.
I have not been able to find a solid citation for this insight. Are these really the words of Albert Einstein? What was the context?
Quote Investigator: In 1921 Albert Einstein visited Boston, Massachusetts. At that time, a questionnaire constructed by the inventor and research laboratory pioneer Thomas A. Edison was circulating. Edison used his controversial questionnaire to screen job applicants, but Einstein was unimpressed by some of the queries. For example, “The New York Times” reported on Einstein’s reaction to one question about a fact that was readily available in reference books: 1
He was asked through his secretary, “What is the speed of sound?” He could not say off-hand, he replied. He did not carry such information in his mind but it was readily available in text books.
Einstein’s response printed in 1921 fit the theme of the quotation because he deemphasized the value of simply memorizing facts. A longer description of this episode was presented in the biography “Einstein: His Life and Times” by Philipp Frank. A strong match for the quotation was included in the following passage. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2
While Einstein was in Boston, staying at the Hotel Copley Plaza, he was given a copy of Edison’s questionnaire to see whether he could answer the questions. As soon as he read the question: “What is the speed of sound?” he said: “I don’t know. I don’t burden my memory with such facts that I can easily find in any textbook.”
Nor did he agree with Edison’s opinion on the uselessness of college education. He remarked: “It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.”
Frank’s biography was originally written in German, and the English translation was released in 1947. QI does not know what source material was used by Frank to report on words of Einstein in 1921, but the reliability of Frank’s biography is largely viewed favorably.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1921 May 18, New York Times, Einstein Sees Boston; Fails on Edison Test: Asked to Tell Speed of Sound He Refers Questioner to Text Books (Special to The New York Times), Quote Page 15, New York. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1947, Einstein: His Life and Times by Philipp Frank, Translated from German by George Rosen, Edited and Revised by Shuichi Kusaka, Quote Page 185, Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩