Stirner begins by stressing the importance of education: "the school question is a life question."
He then sketches a brief history of education from the Reformation. For him, the Enlightenment introduced a new principle behind education to challenge the classical humanist principle. Where education had taught the few "to talk about everything," the Enlightenment saw the rise of the realist "demand for a practical finishing education." Stirner concludes "Henceforth, knowledge was to be lived..."
Stirner saw educational theory in his day as a battlefield between the two parties - humanists, grasping the past, and realists, seizing the present. He criticised both as seeking power over the "transitory," as viewing education as a "struggle towards mastery in the handling of material." Stirner supports the realist criticism that the humanists seek knowledge for its own sake, but asks whether the realists do any better. Because the realists merely supply the individual with the tools to achieve his will, without reforming that will, they fail to achieve what Stirner calls "freedom of will." They fail to reach self-understanding (a concept Stirner took from Hegel and twisted in his fashion in The Ego and its Own) and "fall in the abyss of their own emptiness."
If the failures of the humanists (and realists) are truly to be overcome, "the final goal of education can no longer be knowledge." Asserting that "only the spirit which understands itself is eternal," Stirner calls for a shift in the principle of education from making us "masters of things" to making us "free natures." Till one knows oneself, one has not mastered one's own will, and one is merely subservient; once one masters it one is free.
Stirner names his educational principle "personalist," explaining that self-understanding consists in hourly self-creation. Education is to create "free men, sovereign characters," by which he means "eternal characters...who are therefore eternal because they form themselves each moment."