the real meaning of education

the real meaning of education
Photo by Riccardo Annandale / Unsplash

In 1919, The Chicago Tribune published articles calling Henry Ford an "ignorant pacifist" for his opposition to World War I. Incensed, Ford sued the newspaper for libel and took the extraordinary step of testifying to refute the "ignorant" allegation.

The Tribune's lawyers grilled Ford on history and current events, clearly revealing his lack of knowledge. The questions became more absurd, and Ford grew irritated at the trivial pursuit.

Later, when asked about the number of British troops sent to defeat the Revolution, Ford nonchalantly answered, "I do not know the exact number, but I have heard it was considerably more than ever went back." The entire courtroom erupted in laughter.

After an hour or more of this line of interrogation, Ford grew tired of it, and in reply to a question that was obnoxious and demeaning, he pointed his finger at the questioning attorney and in a serious tone replied: “If I should really wish to answer the foolish question you have just asked, or any of the others you have been asking, let me remind you that I have a row of electric push-buttons hanging over my desk and by placing my finger on the right button I could call in men who could give me the correct answer to all the questions you have asked and to many that you have not the intelligence either to ask or answer. Now, will you kindly tell me why I should bother about filling my mind with a lot of useless details in order to answer every fool question that anyone may ask, when I have able men all about me who can supply me with all the facts I want when I call for them?”

There was pin-drop silence in the courtroom. The questioning lawyer’s jaw dropped, his eyes popped out of his head. The judge, in astonishment and awe, gazed in Ford’s direction. Many of the jury members suddenly “woke up”; they became aware and alert, as if a bomb had just exploded out of the blue. A bomb did explode indeed, and the attorney stood there stupefied, not knowing what to do (or ask) next.

Ford had proven his point. Accumulating knowledge mattered little next to the wisdom to surround oneself with diverse expertise and the judgment to weigh that counsel. The lawyers’ quest to expose Ford’s ignorance and make a laughing stock out of him had only revealed Ford's practical wisdom.

With that, the libel suit ended in Ford's favor. The fundamentals of leadership — clear vision, sound judgment, and good teambuilding — had prevailed over any trivia the lawyers could conjure. Ford was no ignorant pacifist, but a man whose modesty and pragmatism showed true wisdom.

Napoleon Hill, giving Ford’s example, later pointed out that true education is all about the development of the mind and its faculties, not merely the gathering and classifying of knowledge. He wrote, “Ford could not, in all probability, have named the capitals of all the States of the United States, but he could have and in fact had gathered the ‘capital’ with which to ‘turn many wheels’ within every State in the Union.” Hill further offered this wonderful gem of wisdom that I encourage you to write down in your journal: “The man who can intelligently use the knowledge possessed by another is as much or more a man of education as the person who merely has the knowledge but does not know what to do with it.”