“The Most Important Thing about Education” —Churchill at Bristol

“The Most Important Thing about Education” —Churchill at Bristol

I am asked if Churchill ever said “the most impor­tant thing about edu­ca­tion is appetite.” He did, but it isn’t easy to find. I checked his Com­plete Speech­es under “edu­ca­tion.” Here is the extract, from a 1929 speech at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bris­tol, where he was Chan­cel­lor. He had nev­er had the advan­tage of a uni­ver­si­ty edu­ca­tion, Churchill said:

I was not thought clever enough to prof­it by it to the full. I was put to be trained in tech­ni­cal mat­ters of a mil­i­tary col­lege… almost imme­di­ate­ly after­wards things opened out very quick­ly into action and adven­ture [and] I found myself scur­ry­ing about the world from one excit­ing scene to anoth­er. Dur­ing years appro­pri­ate to study and the accu­mu­la­tion of knowl­edge, I was a pack-horse that had to nib­ble and browse such grass as grew by the road­side in the brief halts of long and weary­ing marches.

But see how very lucky you all are. You are a most for­tu­nate crowd of quadrupeds, to use a neu­tral term. (Laugh­ter.) You are admit­ted to a spa­cious pad­dock with the very best herbage grow­ing in pro­fu­sion. You  are pressed to eat your fill. I hope you are going to take advan­tage of that.

Churchill then added…

The most impor­tant thing about edu­ca­tion is appetite. Edu­ca­tion does not begin with the uni­ver­si­ty, and it cer­tain­ly ought not to end there. I have seen a lot of peo­ple who got clev­er­er until about 21 or 22 years of age, then seemed to shut down alto­geth­er and nev­er made any fur­ther progress. Take full advan­tage of these years when the wis­dom of the world is placed at your dis­pos­al. But do not spend too much time in buck­ling on your armour in the tent. The bat­tle is going on in every walk and sphere of life. —Bris­tol Uni­ver­si­ty, 14 Decem­ber 1929, Com­plete Speech­es V, 4674.

It wasn’t the first time…

Bris­tol wasn’t the first place where WSC had equat­ed edu­ca­tion with eat­ing. One thinks of his auto­bi­og­ra­phy, My Ear­ly Life, where he explained how he edu­cat­ed him­self dur­ing the “long hot Indi­an after­noon” while sta­tioned with his Reg­i­ment at Bangalore:

It was a curi­ous edu­ca­tion. First because I approached it with an emp­ty, hun­gry mind, and with fair­ly strong jaws; and what I got I bit; sec­ond­ly because I had no one to tell me: “This is dis­cred­it­ed.” “You should read the answer to that by so and so; the two togeth­er will give you the gist of the argu­ment.” “There is a much bet­ter book on that sub­ject,” and so forth.  —My Ear­ly Life (Lon­don, 1930, 135-36

Which I sup­pose speaks vol­umes on the dan­gers of read­ing too hap­haz­ard­ly or nar­row­ly. And with­out com­pre­hen­sion of oppo­site points of view. This is some­thing quite a lot of peo­ple tend to do nowadays.)

Leave a Reply

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

RML Books

Richard Langworth’s Most Popular Books & eBooks

Links on this page may earn commissions.