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Experience is the best teacher quote cs lewis
April 07, 2019 Wedding Anniversary Wishes 5 comments

Quote Experience: that most brutal of teachers. life right now, it has no power to keep you from having an amazingly good future if you will walk by faith in God.

I WAS AT FOUR SCHOOLS and learnt nothing at three of them.”

Thus Lewis spoke of his education during the period 1908 to 1914, between the ages of 9 (when he ceased being homeschooled) and 15 (when he began to be privately tutored). Even if we allow for hyperbole, it was still a damning verdict on the education he received during some of his most formative years. Much has been written about Lewis’s time studying under his tutor, retired school headmaster William T. Kirkpatrick (the famed “Great Knock” of Surprised by Joy). But Lewis had much to say about his education prior to Kirkpatrick as well.

Lewis attended four schools as a boy: Wynyard School, Campbell College, Cherbourg House, and Malvern College. The worst was Wynyard, presided over by madman Robert Capron. Campbell College had Lewis on its roll for only a single term. He detested Malvern College for its emphasis on athletics and for its “fagging” system, where junior boys were little better than slaves to their seniors. Cherbourg House was the only institution that Lewis remembered warmly. Enrolled there from 1911 to 1913, he flourished under the excellent guidance of its headmaster, Arthur C. Allen. But this positive experience was the exception: the rest of Lewis’s formal schooling was evidently dismal, as opposed to the hours he spent in breaks and summers browsing his family’s well-stocked bookshelves.

Reading, writing, and solidarity

Lewis was an unusually clever boy, and clever boys are apt to kick against the constraints of large educational systems geared to the needs and reach of the average. Perhaps the three schools he condemned would not have seemed quite so dreadful to a student of more regular abilities. And perhaps we might also assume that, because Lewis’s abilities were so astonishingly advanced, he would have intellectually survived almost any pedagogical sausage-factory, however terrible.

This was not his own view, though. Of Wynyard School he wrote in Surprised by Joy: “If the school had not died, and if I had been left there two years more, it would probably have sealed my fate as a scholar for good.” Indeed, even the most brilliant mind cannot escape all the negative effects of a hopelessly bad education. For Lewis schools needed to be held to the highest standard conceivable.

Wynyard School was the polar opposite of the ideal of good schooling. It closed because of a law-suit brought against the headmaster, Robert Capron. A cruel man who flogged the boys mercilessly, he was eventually put under restraint, certified insane, and lived out his remaining days in a lunatic asylum. Lewis, though never personally the target of Capron’s brutality, struggled for years to forgive him.

But one good thing came out of Lewis’s time at Wynyard: Capron’s rule was so vile that all the boys stood solidly against it. There were no sneaks or tattle-tales. Lewis wrote later that Capron was “against his will, a teacher of honour and a bulwark of freedom.” The boys would not have so successfully understood the importance of resisting tyranny if it had been Capron’s intention to teach that lesson. Truly the lesson learned was an accidental by-product of “a wicked old man’s desire to make as much as he could out of deluded parents and to give as little as he could in return.”

Lewis wished to emphasize that teachers teach without knowing it, and one can never predict the effects with total accuracy. While we are making our schools as excellent as possible, he would argue, we also need to remember our ignorance on this point and maintain a proper humility about our role in raising the next generation. There is a modern tendency among parents, teachers, and governments to try to devise a fool-proof pedagogy, the perfect “educational machine,” as Lewis calls it in “Lilies That Fester.” 

And this machine, though meant as a way of avoiding certain risks, can itself be very dangerous. It can easily squelch those whom it would instruct. Lewis wrote: 

The educational machine seizes [the pupil] very early and organizes his whole life, to the exclusion of all unsuperintended solitude or leisure. The hours of unsponsored, uninspected, perhaps even forbidden, reading, the ramblings, and the “long, long thoughts” in which those of luckier generations first discovered literature and nature and themselves are a thing of the past. If a Traherne or a Wordsworth were born to-day he would be “cured” before he was twelve.

The child who engages in forbidden reading may actually be teaching himself something of great value, Lewis suggested—a lesson he had learned well from his own unsupervised reading in childhood. The burnt hand teaches best, he argued: parents and teachers must not over-protect their charges. Though it seems like a kindness to wrap a child in cotton-wool, it is in the end unwise, for the child must learn to stand on his or her own feet one day. The longer that day is needlessly delayed, the likelier it is that the child will be overwhelmed when it finally comes.

Seeking the truth

The convent schoolgirl who goes off the rails as soon as she has her liberty is all too familiar a figure. A “fugitive and cloistered virtue,” as Milton observed, is really no virtue at all. Lewis put it this way in a letter to his former pupil Dom Bede Griffiths:

The process of living seems to consist in coming to realise truths so ancient and simple that, if stated, they sound like barren platitudes. They cannot sound otherwise to those who have not had the relevant experience: that is why there is no real teaching of such truths possible and every generation starts from scratch.

By “no real teaching,” Lewis meant no direct, immediate, inescapable teaching. Since the pupil is a live and independent human being, not a machine, you cannot teach him or her exactly what you would like; students learn in their own way and in their own time. We all know that you can lead a horse to water and not make it drink; but even horses that do drink, drink as deeply as they choose and in muddy parts of the river as well as in clear. 

Like seventeenth-century poet Traherne and nineteenth-century poet Wordsworth to whom he referred in “Lilies That Fester,” Lewis counted himself one of the lucky ones given space to breathe and grow in his educational upbringing. For the first nine years of his life, he was taught at home, untrammelled by the impersonal “educational machine.” And for the six years of his schooling, he had considerable independence during vacations. During these times he had free rein of his parents’ bookshelves. They contained

. . . books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents’ interests, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not. Nothing was forbidden me. In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves. I had always the same certainty of finding a book that was new to me as a man who walks into a field has of finding a new blade of grass.

Lewis was free to make his own mistakes and to bear the honorable burden of suffering their consequences, a freedom that Lewis thought could easily be curtailed in a risk-averse modern culture. 

He was especially alive to the fact that freedom could be curtailed most damagingly by elites: smart people’s pretensions to wisdom are always the highest, putting too much stock in educational systems they created or endorsed. When it comes to bringing up a child, Lewis opined in one letter, “Perhaps the uneducated do it best.” The reason? “They don’t attempt to replace Providence” in shaping their destinies. Instead of thinking they can work out a plan that will infallibly secure their children’s educational futures, less ambitious parents “just carry on from day to day on ordinary principles of affection, justice, veracity, and humour.”

In a letter to Mary Willis Shelburne, who was complaining about insufficient religious education (without Shelburne’s side of the correspondence we do not know the full context), Lewis wrote this refreshingly relaxed advice:

About the lack of religious education: of course you must be grieved, but remember how much religious education has exactly the opposite effect to that which was intended, how many hard atheists come from pious homes. . . . Parents are not Providence: their bad intentions may be frustrated as their good ones. Perhaps prayers as a secret indulgence which Father disapproves may have a charm they lacked in houses where they were commanded.

Just as Capron unwittingly taught Lewis and his confreres to be “solid” and not to tell tales, so the enemies of religion might teach a child the allure of prayer.

In correspondence with his American friend Vera Gebbert, Lewis’s skepticism about the extent of human control came fully to the forefront. He talked of “the educational gamble,” admitting that “very few of us get a really good education, whether in England or America,” and expressing a surety that “if fate had sent you to one of our ‘good’ girl’s schools, you would have found quite a few holes in your stock of learning when you had finished.” And then he made the statement we began with: “I was at four schools, and learnt nothing at three of them.” He went on: “But on the other hand I was lucky in having a first class tutor after my father had given up the school experiment in despair.”

And yet this first-class tutor, William Kirkpatrick, was a confirmed and rigorous atheist! That Lewis should not have become permanently an atheist himself due to his otherwise hugely influential relationship with Kirkpatrick reinforces yet again his point: parents are not Providence, and teachers are not fate:

While we are planning the education of the future we can be rid of the illusion that we shall ever replace destiny. Make the plans as good as you can, of course. But be sure that the deep and final effect on every single [child] will be something you never envisaged and will spring from little free movements in your machine which neither your blueprint nor your working model gave any hint of. CH
By Michael Ward

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #113 in 2015]

Dr. Michael Ward is senior research fellow at Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford, and professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University, Texas. He is the author of Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis and co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis.

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C. S. Lewis is one of the most quoted authors on Twitter. Related article: The 15 best quotes from Martin Luther King's "I Have .. Quote: "God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons that we.

C. S. Lewis

experience is the best teacher quote cs lewis

Who Was C.S. Lewis?

Born on November 29, 1898, in Belfast, Ireland, C.S. Lewis went on to teach at Oxford University and became a renowned Christian apologist writer, using logic and philosophy to support the tenets of his faith. He is also known throughout the world as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia fantasy series, which have been adapted into various films for the big and small screens.

C.S. Lewis Books & Film Legacy

Lewis was a prolific author of fiction and nonfiction who wrote dozens of books over the course of his career. His faith-based arguments as seen in texts like The Great Divorce (1946) and Miracles (1947) are held in high regard by many theologians, scholars and general readers. His satirical fiction novel The Screwtape Letters (1942) is also a beloved classic. Lewis also continued his love affair with classic mythology and narratives during his later years: His book Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold (1956) featured the story of Psyche and Cupid. He also penned an autobiography, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (1955).

Lewis' landmark series, The Chronicles of Narnia, has seen a number of on-screen iterations, including a cartoon version of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe that was released in 1979 and a 1989 BBC film series. Additionally, in 2005, a big-screen adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe hit movie theaters,starring Tilda Swinton as the witch Jadis and Liam Neeson as the voice of Aslan. Two more Narnia films were brought to theaters as well: Prince Caspian (2008) and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010). A movie version of The Silver Chair was slated to hit theaters in the near future, with filming starting in the winter of 2018.

Lewis' relationship with his wife, Joy, has also been depicted in Shadowlands, presented as a play and two films; one of the film versions was directed by Richard Attenborough and starred Anthony Hopkins as Lewis.

'The Chronicles of Narnia'

During the 1940s, Lewis began writing the seven books that would comprise The Chronicles of Narnia children's series, with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) being the first release. The story focused on four siblings who, during wartime, walk through an armoire to enter the magical world of Narnia, a land resplendent with mythical creatures and talking animals. Throughout the series, a variety of Biblical themes are presented; one prominent character is Aslan, a lion and the ruler of Narnia, who has been interpreted as a Jesus Christ figure. (Lewis would assert that his Narnia stories weren't a direct allegory to the real world.)

Though the book received some negative reviews, it was generally well received by readers, and the series retained its international popularity over the following decades.

Early Life in Belfast, Ireland

Author Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland, on November 29, 1898, to Flora August Hamilton Lewis and Albert J. Lewis. As a toddler, Clive declared that his name was Jack, which is what he was called by family and friends. He was close to his older brother Warren and the two spent much time together as children. Lewis was enraptured by fantastic animals and tales of gallantry, and hence the brothers created the imaginary land of Boxen, complete with an intricate history that served them for years. Lewis' mother died when he was 10, and he went on to receive his pre-college education at boarding schools and from a tutor. During WWI, he served with the British army and was sent home after being wounded by shrapnel. He then chose to live as a surrogate son with Janie Moore, the mother of a friend of Lewis' who was killed in the war.

Teaching Career at Oxford and Wartime Broadcasts

Lewis graduated from Oxford University with a focus on literature and classic philosophy, and in 1925 he was awarded a fellowship teaching position at Magdalen College, which was part of the university. There, he also joined the group known as The Inklings, an informal collective of writers and intellectuals who counted among their members Lewis' brother Warren and J.R.R. Tolkien. It was through conversations with group members that Lewis found himself re-embracing Christianity after having become disillusioned with the faith as a youth. He would go on to become renowned for his rich apologist texts, in which he explained his spiritual beliefs via platforms of logic and philosophy. Lewis began publishing work in the mid-1920s with his first book, the satirical Dymer (1926). After penning other titles — including The Allegory of Love (1936), for which he won the Hawthornden Prize — he released in 1938 his first sci-fi work, Out of the Silent Planet, the first of a space trilogy which dealt sub-textually with concepts of sin and desire. Later, during WWII, Lewis gave highly popular radio broadcasts on Christianity which won many converts; his speeches were collected in the work Mere Christianity

Marriage and Later Life

In 1954, Lewis joined the faculty of Cambridge University as a literature professor, and in 1956 he married an American English teacher, Joy Gresham, with whom he had been in correspondence. Lewis was full of happiness during the years of their marriage, though Gresham died of cancer in 1960. Lewis grieved deeply for his wife and shared his thoughts in the book A Grief Observed, using a pen name.

In 1963, Lewis resigned from his Cambridge position after experiencing heart trouble. He died on November 22, 1963, in Headington, Oxford.

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The 100 Best C.S. Lewis Quotes

experience is the best teacher quote cs lewis

C. S. Lewis was a famous Irish author who wrote more than 30 books, but he is best known throughout the world for his fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia.

While teaching at Magdalen College, a part of Oxford University, C.S. Lewis joined a literary group called The Inklings along with his fellow writer J. R. R. Tolkien. There, Lewis re-embraced Christianity and earned fame for writing apologist texts in which he explained spirituality by means of logic and philosophy.

During World War II, when people relied on faith almost entirely, Lewis began giving radio broadcasts on Christianity. His speeches became very popular in such dark times and won many converts.

C. S. Lewis is regarded as one of the most important writers of the 20th century. Here are 15 C. S. Lewis quotes to remind you some things about kindness and honesty.

Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.

Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.


Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.


Friendship is born at the moment when one man says to another ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’


If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.


Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.


You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.


I have learned now that while those who speak about one’s miseries usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more.


Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also harder to bear.


What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.


A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.

Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.


You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.


Nothing you have not given away will ever really be yours.


Do not let us mistake necessary evils for good.



Flavia Medrut

Flavia Medrut is a freelance writer, researcher and part-time psychologist. She believes music, long walks and a good sense of humor are imperative in keeping one’s sanity. Kindness and kittens make her heart melt.

C.S. Lewis Quotes on God, Jesus Christ, and Christianity .. “God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons that.

Learning what no one meant to teach

experience is the best teacher quote cs lewis

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15 Quotes Filled With Inspiring Life Lessons to live your life to the very fullest, these 15 wise quotes are a great place to start. ―C. S. Lewis.

experience is the best teacher quote cs lewis
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