Faith Bible Blog

Information and Reflections for the FBC Family

The Pain of Learning

Mortimer Adler (1902-2001) was a philosopher and educator who wrote on nearly everything.  Kairos Journal recently published a short quote by him that warns that there is never any learning that takes place without working.  The quote is from an essay published in a 1941 Journal of Educational Sociology.

One of the reasons why the education given by our schools is so
frothy and vapid is that the American people generally—the parent even
more than the teacher—wish childhood to be unspoiled by pain. Childhood
must be a period of delight, of gay indulgence in impulses. It must be
given every avenue for unimpeded expression, which of course is
pleasant; and it must not be made to suffer the impositions of
discipline or the exactions of duty, which of course are painful.
Childhood must be filled with as much play and as little work as
possible. What cannot be accomplished educationally through elaborate
schemes devised to make learning an exciting game must, of necessity,
be forgone. Heaven forbid that learning should ever take on the
character of a serious occupation—just as serious as earning money, and
perhaps, much more laborious and painful . . .

Not only must we honestly announce that pain and work are the
irremovable and irreducible accompaniments of genuine learning, not
only must we leave entertainment to the entertainers and make education
a task and not a game, but we must have no fears about what is “over
the public’s head.” Whoever passes by what is over his head condemns
his head to its present low altitude; for nothing can elevate a mind
except what is over its head; and that elevation is not accomplished by
capillary attraction, but only by the hard work of climbing up ropes,
with sore hands and aching muscles. The school system which caters to
the median child, or worse, to the lower half of the class; the
lecturer before adults—and they are legion—who talks down to his
audience; the radio or television program which tries to hit the lowest
common denominator of popular receptivity—all these defeat the prime
purpose of education by taking people as they are and leaving them just

Footnotes :

Mortimer J. Adler, “Invitation to the Pain of Learning,” in Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1988), 232-233, 235.

Author: John Pleasnick

John serves as a pastor and elder at Faith Bible Church

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