No one illustrates the difference between learning and schooling more than President Abraham Lincoln. Here’s what he can teach us about education today.

President Abraham Lincoln had many traits to admire. But there’s one achievement that often gets forgotten in today’s mad rush for more formal schooling: his self-education.

The difference between schooling & learning

Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin in remote Hardin County, Kentucky.

When asked, he described his education as “defective.” By his own accounting he doubted he spent more than a year in formal schooling.

Yet none of this mattered in Abraham Lincoln’s pursuit of knowledge. Nearly every person he encountered in his life described him as a perpetual reader.

Growing up on the frontier, he didn’t have many options. But what his reading habits lacked in diversity, he made up for in depth. Lincoln read the Bible and the works of Shakespeare over and over, developing the wisdom and poetic cadence he would become famous for.

Reading developed his powers of concentration. That focus and self-determination prepared him for the challenges ahead.

Abraham Lincoln: life-long reader

It would be an understatement to say that Abraham Lincoln lived in tumultuous times. But the mind he trained through his constant pursuit of knowledge was ready to adapt to a changing world.

When Lincoln became a wartime president, generals marveled at his ability to pour over military strategy books and quickly grasp new concepts. Not only that, Lincoln was arguably our most eloquent president. We remember him for his words. At a time when our country was divided, Lincoln could clearly and thoughtfully make the case for the Union in speeches such as the Gettysburg Address.

We live in tumultuous times today, as well. Individuals who can think and adapt will power the economy of the future. We need an agile workforce built of lifelong learners, like Abraham Lincoln, to work in our rapidly changing world.

So the next time someone tells you that you need fancy credentials to be an educated, successful individual, tell them about Abraham Lincoln.

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