Filling a Bucket to Light a Fire

01 Apr

I’ve been pondering this well-known quote:  “Education is the lighting of a fire, not the filling of a bucket.”  Have you heard it before?  It’s one that is bandied around a lot in the homeschooling world.

“Education is the lighting of a fire”.  Sounds like a nice idea, doesn’t it.  We all want to spark the love of learning in our kids.

But what about the second half of the quote.  Until recently, I hadn’t given it much thought:  Education is “not the filling of a bucket”.  Now hold on a moment.  Are we not supposed to fill our children’s minds with information?  I believe a child who has been taught a lot of content, is well on their way to being educated.  I even believe that there is certain key content that all children should learn.  So I can’t agree with this part of the quote.  Not at all.

When we look at the metaphors in the quote, there’s a fire and a bucket, which is usually associated with water.  Is the quote implying that the intentional filling of your child’s brain will douse their love of learning?  Really?!  I don’t agree with that either.  Content isn’t detrimental to a child’s desire to learn  This quote is proving quite problematic.

Perhaps the suggestion is that the desire to learn is more important than learning content.  However, this could lead to the conclusion that little or no content really needs to be taught, as a child who loves learning could seek answers to their own questions.  “But would they?” is my question.  I would doubt that questions about unknown content would even occur to them.  To know more, you must first know something.  So surely a child must first experience content in order to kindle their desire to learn.

Filling our children’s buckets with content is not at the expense of loving learning.  I don’t believe the quote is accurate.  It just hasn’t been my experience.  I have found that the more children are taught, the more connections they make, the more questions they ask and, consequently, the more they want to learn.  The desire to learn is definitely like a fire, but that fire is first fed by filling those buckets with fuel.

So what’s to be done with this old quote.  Well I think I’ll tweak it.  My version would read,

“Education is the filling of buckets with fuel to ignite our children’s fire to learn.”







Posted by on April 1, 2014 in Homeschooling Thoughts


3 responses to “Filling a Bucket to Light a Fire

  1. sarah

    April 1, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    I love your version Tracey!

  2. Katie

    April 2, 2014 at 12:01 am

    Interesting…I think its great to make sure we don’t just react against everything that ‘school’ is. One of the thing I love about the way you do things, Tracey, is that you seem to determine what is best without feeling like you have to rebel against the school structure…sometimes it ends up looking a little like ‘school’, sometimes it ends up nothing at all like ‘school’

    As for me, if I was to rewrite the quote I would tweak it a little less…Education is more like lighting a fire than like filling a bucket.

    When I saw the heading I immediately thought of the bucket as a means of gathering the necessary kindling, sticks etc. I like the fire metaphor because you do need content in order to get to the best and most interesting spaces. For me the fuel is the content…light kindling stuff first which then moves to bigger and bigger twigs and sticks until the raging fire can take on the mightiest tree trunks.

    (Remember we are thinking love of learning here not destruction of life and property, so a raging fire in this context is good…perhaps the destructive imagery of the quote is another problem altogether…but I can’t think of a pretty way to say that education should be more like building a beautiful livable castle than a kit home or caravan )

  3. Petra

    April 2, 2014 at 1:40 am

    It’s an interesting expression. I can understand about “lighting the fire”, to me meaning getting children intrigued about learning, but what’s the point in lighting a fire if you’re not going to “fill a bucket”, to me that means filling a child’s mind with information. A child needs to be interested to find out more about something, therefore, igniting and filling is happening at the same time 😉


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