Sunday, November 18, 2012

What should an educated person know?

I've asked myself many a time, what constitutes an educated person? What should an educated person know in today’s ever-changing world? John Taylor Gatto wondered too and in his essay ‘The Curriculum of Necessity or What Must an Educated Person Know?’ he shared with readers a list of qualities that Harvard University issued to students. Not surprising to me, these qualities are less about academics and more about the person’s ability to be adaptable in thought and flexible in his or her approach to daily living. Here’s the list:
1) The ability to define problems without a guide.
2) The ability to ask hard questions which challenge prevailing assumptions.
3) The ability to work in teams without guidance.
4) The ability to work absolutely alone.
5) The ability to persuade others that your course is the right one.
6) The ability to discuss issues and techniques in public with an eye to reaching decisions about policy.
7) The ability to conceptualize and reorganize information into new patterns.
8) The ability to pull what you need quickly from masses of irrelevant data.
9) The ability to think inductively, deductively, and dialectically.
10) The ability to attack problems heuristically.

‘Without guidance.’ ‘Alone.’ It really hammers home the idea of independence in thought. The way I see it, the logical conclusion to being educated leads to taking responsibility for one’s actions in the world.
Other top universities have issued similar lists. Here’s Princeton University’s list of skills that make an “educated person”:
The ability to think, speak, and write clearly.
The ability to reason critically and systematically.
The ability to conceptualize and solve problems.
The ability to think independently.
The ability to take initiative and work independently.
The ability to work in cooperation with others and learn collaboratively.
The ability to judge what it means to understand something thoroughly.
The ability to distinguish the important from the trivial, the enduring from the ephemeral.
Familiarity with the different modes of thought (including quantitative, historical, scientific, and aesthetic.)
Depth of knowledge in a particular field.
The ability to see connections among disciplines, ideas and cultures.
The ability to pursue life long learning.

Summarizing these qualities, it becomes clear that education begins with YOU the learner. Education is not dumped into you. Education is pursued doggedly, lovingly, with an independent will, with the desire for mastery, for truth, for freshness and innovation. Education is about building character. It’s about being part of and contributing to the community. An educated person is a creative person, a creative thinker, a person who can think for themselves and act accordingly. To be educated means to be able to teach yourself. Increasingly, in today’s world having acquired degrees and such is not enough to be considered educated. An educated person seeks to know her/himself; who they are.


allie said...

I appreciated this post - there is a tendancy to use a very narrow lens when thinking about education, and sometimes I think we could all take a hint fron understanding by design and think about the abilities and skills that you share, and think about whether or not the activities and lessons that are "learned" in school really are helping us become whole people. I imagine we'd find the contrary.

Thanks so much for sharing.

rfs said...

@allie-thanks for the comment.I like the idea you've presented-'whole people.'

Danae said...

Couldn't agree with you more, rfs. As usual.

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