School vs. Education: The Difference Matters

school is not the same thing as education

Often at the beginning of the traditional school year I recall something I heard Francis Schaeffer say at L’ Abri Fellowship in Switzerland: “Don’t let your children’s schooling get in the way of their education!”

Actually the expression was not original with Schaeffer. Although it has been widely attributed to the American novelist Mark Twain, the original maxim may be dated to 1894, the year science writer and novelist Grant Allen published his book, Post-Prandial Philosophy.

One year in Italy with their eyes open would be worth more than three at Oxford; and six months in the fields with a platyscopic [having a wide and flat field of view] lens would teach them strange things about the world around them that all the long terms at Harrow and Winchester have failed to discover to them. But that would involve some trouble to the teacher.

What a misfortune it is that we should thus be compelled to let our boys’ schooling interfere with their education! [emphasis added]

To say that I was stunned by Schaeffer’s comment is not too strong an expression. I had completed many years of school (grammar and secondary school followed by university) and had then enrolled in graduate school (read seminary). But a year of seminary had left me spiritually burned out. Schaeffer’s comment started a process that transformed my view of education.

What was Schaeffer saying? He was distinguishing between school and education. I had certainly been schooled. I had more schooling than most people in the world and more than many of my peers in the United States. I had put in my time in class. But I had not been educated.

My reflections led me to a number of conclusions. First, although as a child I had insatiable questions, as I grew older I stopped asking. My schooling did not encourage an inquisitive mind, critical thinking, and creativity; it trained me to memorize and regurgitate what the teacher taught me. My schooling was about facts and figures, rather than understanding and moral formation.

Second, I realized I did not know how to think. I had never had an original thought! I grew up on comic books (Images with few words). Today many children grow up with video games and TV (even more images and fewer words).

A third conclusion hit me while I was reading C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, for the first time, at L’Abri: I had the distinct sense that I had not lived before that moment. Fourth, I concluded that I learned more in two months studying informally and working in the L’Abri community than I had gained in nine months of formal education in seminary.

I had been schooled, but not educated. This understanding led me to the New Testament concept of repentance - metanoia - a fundamental change of mind. I repented, realizing that my mind needed to be born again. This led to a number of other convictions. I needed,

  • To be a life-long learner.
  • To learn from all my life experiences, take more opportunities to travel and meet people and learn from their lives and stories.
  • To always be reading several books, and always have a book with me to redeem the time while waiting for someone or something.
  • To become a life-long student of the Word of God, not just for my devotional life, but for all of life, including my work.
  • To take words and ideas seriously. Over the years I have developed a great love of words, their definition and history/etymology. This has brought me much pleasure.

The whole direction of my life was changed by the observation, “Don’t let your schooling get in the way of your education!”

What did Schaeffer mean by this statement? Education is a life-long process. Education is not limited to a classroom, a structured period of time, or formal instruction. Education can take place anytime, anywhere, in the middle of a full life, in formal and informal ways. It takes place In the midst of creation, society, culture, and work. The stuff of education may be described as the cultural trinity: Truth, Beauty and Goodness.

Sometimes schooling can stand as a barrier to children learning, growing in wisdom and understanding, becoming educated in knowledge and virtue.

Recently I did a study of the words “schooling” and “education” using Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of American English and the Online Etymological Dictionary [OED]. The results were fascinating and confirmed the distinction Francis Schaeffer was making.


In 1828, Noah Webster defined schooling as “instruction in school.” School is a place where instruction occurs.

The etymology of the word school is even more instructive. The OED listing looks as follows:

SCHOOL, n. [L. schola; Gr. leisure, vacation from business, lucubration at leisure, a place where leisure is enjoyed, a school. The adverb signifies at ease, leisurely, slowly, hardly, with labor or difficulty. I think, must have been derived from the Latin. This word seems originally to have denoted leisure, freedom from business, a time given to sports, games or exercises, and afterwards time given to literary studies. …]

The school is place where “leisure is enjoyed,” a place free from work. Literary studies take place after schooling. The idea of “‘students attending a school’ is attested from c. 1300; sense of ‘school building’ is first recorded 1590s.”


While “school” denotes a building, “education” is associated with the formation of a life. In 1828, Noah Webster defined education as follows:

n. [L. educatio. ] The bringing up, as of a child, instruction; formation of manners. Education comprehends all that series of instruction.

Note that education is comprehensive, of “all series” of instruction. And it deals with both the gaining of knowledge and the development of character – virtue. The combination of virtue and knowledge leads to wisdom.

The OED dates the word education to 1530 and defines its use as “childrearing.” This comes “directly from Latin educationem (nominative educatio), from past participle stem of educare.” From 1610 the word was used “of education in social codes and manners; meaning ‘systematic schooling and training for work.’”

The words schooling and education have very different meanings. The former is rooted in a place – a building, a place of leisure both separated from work itself and from the preparation of a person for work. The latter is a process of instruction that prepares the mind with knowledge and understanding, the heart with virtue, and the will with wisdom so that people may be prepared for life and work.

This distinction has been totally lost in the modern word. We would do well to heed Francis Schaeffer’s word: “Don’t let your children’s schooling stand in the way of their education.

-         Darrow Miller


This entry was posted in Education, Language and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to School vs. Education: The Difference Matters

  1. hello. Thanks for the reflection.

    I think the ideas of the intellectual and ex-priest Ivan Illich can expand the reflection on the difference between school and education. Illich developed part of his work in Mexico, and is linked to the massification of home-scool in USA, so I understand.


  2. Pingback: Edify - Education Through Sustainable Christ-Centered Schools in the Developing World

  3. I agree Mr Darrow in that education and schooling are different and I agree schools becoming stereotype and too formal have failed to provide true education to the learners
    as in all other walks of life. Yet schooling can’t be detached from education because whatever done formally or informally to acquire or add information, idea, skill is schooling. Only it must be made soundly work and it (schooling) must be sharpened, active, widened, dedicated and dutiful so it can meet the need of the learners.

    • admin says:

      Prakash, thanks for your thoughts. Ideally, schools would educate. But too often, in my country, schools exist more for teachers and administrators than for children. And I know, from years of global travel, most schools teach by rote. Children do not learn to think critically, reason or be creative. It is very sad.

      Thanks again for your thoughts.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>