Encouraging Quotes for Back to School Blues

back to school by jesuscm (CC BY-NC-ND)

back to school by jesuscm (CC BY-NC-ND)

You understand Teacher, don’t you, that when you have a mother who’s an angel and a father who is a cannibal king, and when you have sailed on the ocean all your whole life, then you don’t know just how to behave in school with all the apples and ibexes. —Astrid Lindgren
I wouldn’t have minded school if they taught you important things like how to have good sex and what brand of wine is the best . . . but for some reason they were hell bent on teaching me algebra. —Ben Mitchell
We must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and soul. —Henry Miller


It’s that time of year again: clean slates, full schedules, and fresh prospects. Going back to school can be exciting—new grade, old friends, different teachers. No doubt you’ll learn a lot this year, in and out of the classroom. But after months of reprieve from the rigors of school, it can be hard to shoe-horn yourself back into the grind of lectures, tests, bells, and homework.

What’s more, school isn’t for everyone. Grades and desks and raising your hand for permission to go to the bathroom can be demoralizing. Many maverick souls chafe at lesson plans, dress codes, and standardized tests. Creative homeschooling, unschooling, and magnet programs are potentially rewarding alternatives, but their success requires initiative, skilled guidance, and good resources.

So for all the free spirits reluctantly returning to an assembly-line education, here are some encouraging thoughts from sympathetic souls. For great ideas to supplement (or replace) your conventional schooling, check out one of my favorite books, The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education by Grace Llewellyn.


Real Education


Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
—W.B. Yeats

Don’t be shy about making a teacher of any willing party who knows what he or she is doing.
—Sonia Sotomayor

There were other ways to learn, she decided. Things which could not be found in books.
—D.K. Holmberg

Don’t exist. Live. Get out, explore. Thrive. Challenge authority. Challenge yourself. Evolve.
—Brian Krans


Question Everything 


It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it. 
—Jacob Bronowski

It’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted. 
—Bertrand Russell

There are no facts, only interpretations.
—Friedrich Nietzsche

Our minds are information vacuums. Either we fill them with thoughts of our choosing or someone else will.
—Ray A. Davis

Try to be a filter, not a sponge.
—Stephen Chbosky




Personally, I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.
—Winston S. Churchill

We’re herded into schools and terrified into behaving. Taught how we’re supposed to pretend to be, taught to parrot all kinds of nonsense at the flick of a switch, taught to keep our heads down and our elbows in and shut off our minds and shut off our sex. We learn we can’t even piss when we have to. That’s how we learn to be plastic and dumb.
—Marge Piercy

In school, as in adult prisons, the inmates are told exactly what they must do and are punished for failure to comply. Actually, students in school must spend more time doing exactly what they are told than is true of adults in penal institutions. Another difference, of course, is that we put adults in prison because they have committed a crime, while we put children in school because of their age.
—Peter Gray

We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be.
—Doris Lessing


Some Teachers Get It


The learning process is something you can incite, literally incite, like a riot. 
—Audre Lorde, poet, essayist, and former professor

I’m more interested in arousing enthusiasm in kids than in teaching the facts. The facts may change, but that enthusiasm for exploring the world will remain with them the rest of their lives. 
—Seymour Simon, writer and former science teacher

With large industries throwing out the factory model as counterproductive, it is long past time for schools to do the same. I wonder how many adults would do well at dealing with different job requirements and a different boss every 47 minutes. 
—Susan Ohanian, teacher and writer

Slowly I began to realize that the bells and the confinement, the crazy sequences, the age-segregation, the lack of privacy, the constant surveillance, and all the rest of the national curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out to prevent children from learning how to think and act, to coax them into addiction and dependent behavior. 
—John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year and three-time NYC Teacher of the Year


On Rebellion


I believe in a lively disrespect for most forms of authority.
—Rita Mae Brown

Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
—H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

That fury is fuel—do something with it. 
—Chris Chibnall

Rebel children, I urge you, fight the turgid slick of conformity with which they seek to smother your glory.
—Russell Brand

Originality is the best form of rebellion.
—Mike Sasso


Do Your Own Thing


Insist on yourself; never imitate.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Everybody is a genius, but you can’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree.

Somewhere along the way, someone is going to tell you, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” What you should tell them is, “Maybe not. But there is an ‘I’ in independence, individuality and integrity.”
—George Carlin

I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.
—Ray Bradbury


Parting Thoughts


May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art—write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself. 
—Neil Gaiman



  1. The mind is an amazing thing. We all have one. We cannot escape its functions and its need for the new, different, exciting. It often flourishes in the places which are somewhat risky yet not life threatening.
    The challenge is how does a mind benefit in a world of other minds. Great Teachers excel at creating those places. Finding a system to keep 5,000 minds all together, fed, air conditioned, toileted, transported, free from harm and hospitable to Great Teachers is also very very difficult. Minds need to come to know they are all responsible for all of it too. Welcome Back 🙂 Your Teachers Love You!

    • Finding a workable system is indeed hard. And great teachers are priceless, often making even the most difficult school years worthwhile. If only getting great teachers weren’t so hit-or-miss, and the system supported great teachers’ efforts.

What do you think?