Concept and Philosophy of What is an Educated Person

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Education is a concept that can take many forms and is one of the greatest wealth’s one can attain. To ensure that our young people are educated to fulfil what our society hopes to achieve in the future, we must reflect on our educational practises both globally and within New Zealand.

Education can be described as anything that expands our thinking. We are constantly learning, unconsciously at times, by absorbing information in our surroundings through formal, informal and non-formal environments (Smelser & Baltes, 2001). This information provides us with the knowledge, skills, values, and beliefs needed to shape us into well-educated individuals. In New Zealand, almost everyone in our society is schooled in some way. However, the terms schooling and education tend to be intertwined and can be misinterpreted. Education is a lifelong process of learning as much of the knowledge we acquire is gained through individual experience rather than what is traditionally taught in schools. Schooling is necessary to gain technical skills to work in areas of expertise, however education as a whole is a journey we all experience to grow and become better people. Schooling tends to be the most accepted form of education which refers to a predetermined range of subjects taught across a number of years in a controlled environment. However, problems can occur using this method of educating as learners may be treated as objects to be moulded rather than as participants and creators of their own learning which opposes the true essence of education. This approach takes a less formal stance without the institutional environment of schooling. It is a means to discover new things and increase our knowledge about the world, creating well-rounded individuals who are empowered to maximise their potential and contribute to society.

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Education has an aim or purpose. It is not simply an activity we undertake for mere pleasure, but because we want to achieve something. Concepts of education are beliefs about what is worth learning and how people should obtain that learning (Smelser & Baltes, 2001). Two major functions of education are qualification and socialisation. Qualification is traditionally acquired through schooling and provides young people with the knowledge and skills that allow them to achieve something, either specific or general. For example, this could be achieving professional education or preparation for living in today’s society. Another function of education is socialization, which includes the ways in which we become part of existing social, cultural, political, professional, or religious groups through the process of education (Smelser & Baltes, 2001).

An educated person can be considered as someone who is both a good citizen and an expert in their field. They have the knowledge to understand the processes underlying problems which enables them to contribute to positively improve their community. Well-rounded and educated individuals are capable of independent thinking which allows them to recognise and appreciate a number of different perspectives. This quality is essential to ethical and moral change within society, as opposed to simply being motivated to fulfill selfish desires that may not holistically benefit others. In other words, an educated person is one who believes that simply being is more important than knowing or having.

English philosopher, R.S. Peters, believes that for a person to be reformed in their education, they must change for the better in some way. Education is a worthwhile process for those who are committed to it and requires initiation into the intellectual disciplines. Peters believes education should focus on the understanding of these worthwhile disciplines of knowledge, since such understanding prepares individuals to become well-rounded citizens who question everything. For Peters, this quality of the development of reason is how humans are rewarded with eternal joy, satisfaction and absorption which make the educational process worthwhile (Tesar & Locke, 1973). Peters believes that only through liberal education, we can foster his ideal of the educated person. This is because liberal education, as described by Peters, transforms the common view of the educated person and enables them to develop with a different view through the educational experience, rather than simply arrive at a set predetermined destination (Mehrmohammadi, 2004).

As Peters ideal of the educated person may fail to reflect todays ideal, several professors criticize Peters definition of the educated person including I.A. Snook and J.R. Martin. In Snook’s account, he believes education should focus on more than just reason which opposes Peters beliefs (Snook, 1973). He advances an ideal that builds on Plato’s concept of a three-part soul consisting of appetite, spirit, and reason which are all required to be in harmony within a just person. Snook argues for this harmony between appetitive, spirited and rational activities in educational practises. By focusing on ethical and political commitment, relationships with others, and enjoyment (Snook, 1973), rather than just the development of knowledge, we can create well-rounded individuals to fulfil Snook’s educational ideal. Being educated should be concerned with more than the development of the intellect as the just man holds worldly knowledge that is obtained through experience, rather than purely through the predetermined process of schooling.

Alternatively, Martin provides a feminist critique of Peters ideal. She is concerned with the concept itself rather than the language used as Martin acknowledges that Peter intended his account of the educated man in a gender-neutral way (Martin, 1981). She asserts that gender is a difference that matters when considering the ideal of the educated person. Martin believes that Peters concept of the educated person does serious harm to women and is also inadequate for men due to the injustice it does to women. She promotes that this ideal should be gender-sensitive and recognize the significance of emotions and feelings, and interpersonal relationships (Mehrmohammadi, 2004). Martin considers this gender bias in the intellectual disciplines of Peters’ ideal because he focuses predominantly on male productive processes, rather than recognizing the importance of reproductive processes in society. The vital roles women play in nurturing and family activities must be valued and recognized in our ideal of the educated person and enforced in the curriculum to ensure men and women are treated as equals. If gender differences are failed to be considered in the conception of the educated person, the nature of the ideal will be skewed as men and women perform different roles and have different abilities and behaviours. When gender is thought to make no difference, as Peters implies, women's lives, experiences and activities are overlooked and an ideal is made to suit men and their traditional roles (Martin, 1981). This ideal is narrow as it is established through stereotypical ways of perceiving males and their place in society. Gender must be considered if an ideal of the educated person is not to be biased as both men and women will suffer if the ideal fails to consider the reproductive processes of society. Educational ideals which solely focus on the productive processes of society will be narrow, and failure to acknowledge the valuable traits and skills associated with reproductive processes will result in harm to both genders.

In our culture, masculinity and femininity lie at opposite ends of the continuum which explains the strong divide between genders. Rather than being concerned that females cannot develop the rational qualities which Peters holds as ideal, Martin believes the problem is the masculine mold enforced on women. Masculine traits become valued, while feminine qualities are ignored or devalued. For a male, displaying feminine traits is seen as a loss of masculinity, while for a female, masculine traits are seen as a loss of femininity (Martin, 1986). To resolve this, educators must address both the idea of gender distinction and the underlying cultural construct of gender. Both productive and reproductive processes are central to life, however they are respectively associated with roles played by males and females. Peters ideal of the educated man is suited to fulfil a role within the productive sphere, rather than roles within the reproductive sphere. This exclusion of traits such as compassion, empathy and generosity, traditionally associated with female roles, represents an injustice to both men and women (Martin, 1981). Peter fails to address important areas of human life such as child rearing, marriage and family life in his ideal (Martin, 1986). For Martin, any ideal of the educated person must acknowledge and respect reproductive processes which are fundamental to sustain life. Because the concept of education currently contains this male bias, Martin believes that treating men and women equally will have negative effects on women. Peters ideal leaves women in a dilemma because when women acquire the rational, male traits that Peters upholds as an ideal, they will be criticized. They will not be seen as fully feminine and as a result, will not be treated by men as their equals. Therefore, we should not strive to promote Peters’ ideal. Instead, we should aim to overcome prejudices against women engaging in rational activities. Martin proposes an alternative ideal where she concentrates on the development of the whole person, not just their rational minds. This method pays attention to emotion as well as reason, linking thought with action (Martin, 1981). We must address these differences in the treatment of men and women to create a just ideal of the educated person, exempt bias and discrimination.

Both the concept of education and the ideal of the educated person require ongoing reflection in the setting of our ever-changing world. It is important that as scholars we take the time to critique these ideals as we rarely reflect on what we are doing when we educate our young people and what we hope to achieve. Change is inevitable and we must adjust our processes accordingly to develop our citizens into the best versions of themselves for the benefit of the wider community. 

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