Meaning of Being an Educated Person


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How do we define a word so cosmic, that is, at the same time, limited to finite such applications? The extent of what it means to be educated is difficult to define, in his article What Does It Mean To Be Educated? Steve Denning attempts to do this. His vision of an educated person includes critical thinking, originality, and creativity, and implying that you can add value to society—which, I agree is very crucial—but it is limited to ideas and practices that, for the most part, is learned in a classroom setting or from books. Of course, it’s quite obvious that having academic knowledge is a part of being educated, however, it’s more than just that. Steve Denning leaves out the importance of social intelligence in his definition, which includes: humility, empathy, wisdom, and the ability to effectively your ideas.

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A part of being educated in the practice of humility: being comfortable with being the armature, being able to look up to, and learn from, others who are more knowledgeable you, and the faculty to admit that you are wrong or ignorant. Richard P. Feynman once said, “I think that when we know that we actually do live in uncertainty, then we ought to admit it; it is of great value to realize that we do not know the answers to different questions.’ Richard P Feynman was a very educated man who studied quantum physics, quantum electrodynamics, quantum computing, particle physics, and nanotechnology, won a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, and even worked on the Manhattan Project—he also scored 125 on an IQ test. Richard Feynman is a theoretical physicist, all the questions he comes up with within the start are just a guess from an overactive imagination, he compares the consequences with tests and if it doesn’t do, he won’t follow through with it. A large part of his work is accepting the possibility that he will be wrong most of the time; no matter how genius his guess is, it can be wrong, and if it’s wrong you should be able to admit that and learn from it. It’s best to spend your time following the truth, than defending a lie. And despite how successful he was, he never saw himself above others. The reason he is so smart is that he was wrong most of the time! Sure, he knew more than most about very complicated subjects, but it’s not like he got it on the first try—and he made that known the best he could. He did everything to remind the world that he too was dumb and a simple-minded human just like everyone else. With self-deprecating humor, drawing all over his notes, pulling pranks in the lab, admitting he was wrong most of the time—he was a rebellious image of everything a 60’s Nobel prize-winning physicist should have been. This is an important trait in teachers, it shows reliability and a trustworthy mind that you can learn from them. This humbled teacher is there to watch you make mistakes, and not citizen them, but to help you learn from them because they too know what it’s like. He knows better than anyone that your first time doing something, will always just be that: the starting point. And this self-realization that brings down, even the most knowledgeable of persons, to the same level as others keeps people in higher power from abusing their title. I had a borderline abusive art teacher, (who will be known as Ms. Pain for the sake of anonymity), who was unable to humble herself. She was above all students because she was the teacher. She made it well known that she knew more than us, she held power over us, and she knew what everyone thought about her unacceptable behavior and that they were wrong. She refused to change. She taught a class of mine that involved computers that she was obviously not qualified for. When she didn’t know something, she would say she didn’t care about it anyway and refused to be taught by other students who did. Students would be teaching other students about things none of us have ever had any knowledge of, and we were all comfortable with the fact that we had ignorance and were willing to learn from that. I am so thankful for how we all communicated in that class, without that teamwork, I, and many others would have surely failed because of a teacher that had too much pride to learn.

Another important point in social intelligence is empathy. Not only does it gain respect from other people to want to learn from you—making you an active member in adding value to society–, but it widens our understandings of the world through another person’s experience. Having a high degree of empathy, in general, will create a web of deep, interpersonal relationships, giving a person a worldly knowledge of the history of people and culture of humanity in the past, present, and, perhaps, the future. This has happened throughout every turning point in human history. This can be found in many major events concerning the civil rights of certain people. For example, we have learned many things from the Holocaust and the Civil Rights movement. Although these are two very different events in history we can see parallels in what we learned from it: how we should treat those who are targeted by government-sanctioned acts of violence; that some are less privileged than others and those people deserved to be listened to and to be treated like human beings, instead of animals to be hunted and used for inhumane practices; that we shouldn’t buy into stereotypes brought forth by bigoted propaganda; all in all, that each human who survived these cruel time, and each one who didn’t, all had their own individual stories, and everyone should be able to look at those stories from their perspective, clearly say “this is wrong” and feel a twinge inside of them to want to do something about it. That’s you show empathy—by setting aside your privileges, going in without prejudices, and listening, to what you understand, is another human, and experiencing through them to learn from them. It’s a simple process of understanding someone, getting rid of a divide between two or more people, and having both sides connect to another part of the human race. Destroying alienation is a part of sympathy, which allows you to be understanding, which makes you: educated. In fact, just being chaotically kind is an empathetic behavior. In a 1993 study by Theo Wubbels, Jack Levy, and Mieke Brekelmans, tests were conducted by measuring interpersonal teacher behavior and their effects on the students. A model of four main behaviors ((D)dominance, (O)position, (S)submission, and (C)cooperation) was broken into 8 parts (OD admonishing, DO strict, DC leadership, DC helpful/friendly, CS understanding, SC students’ responsibility/freedom, SO uncertain, and OS dissatisfied. Teachers who were categorized on the right side of the chart (DC through SC) had positive results in students’ achievement and attitude. However, no matter what, teachers who showed CD friendly and CS understanding had positive results. The descriptors of these traits are as followed:

“CD helpful/friendly: assist, show interest, join, behave in a friendly or considerate manner, bakeable to make a joke, inspire confidence and trust.

“CS understanding: listen with interest, empathize, show confidence and understanding, accept apologies, look for ways to settle differences, be patient, be open.”

As you can see, the amount of empathy one shows does affect the learning process. Remember Ms. Pain? She was also my art teacher who was unable to grasp empathy. On Wubbel’s chart, she would be categorized on the exact opposite of CS understanding—OD admonishing: get angry, take pupils to task, express irritation and forbid, correct, forbid, punish. In fact, up until I saw that chart, everything made perfect sense. She threw temper tantrums if you were in the bathroom for more than five minutes, yelled and screamed and slapped objects and fists against desks—which caused me to have panic attacks and a boy next to me, who was auditory sensitive, to get visibly upset—drew all over my artworks on where I did something wrong, and even destroyed projects. During that time I became filled with a new level of self-loathing, and her classes destroyed my love and enjoyment of art. My behavior became so worrisome at a quickening and unexpected rate that my parents were ready to go down to the school and see the teacher herself, I begged them not to. Since that class is over, nearly years later I am still recovering from the experience of Ms. Pain, only by showing myself empathy, being patient with myself and my art, understanding that I didn’t deserve what I went through. And by accepting the fact that, even though she seemed to like it at first, Ms. Pain was not an educated woman.

So far, we have talked about humility and the practice of empathy, skills in which we home over time that help us show our wisdom. Wisdom is kind of like its own educational system, only it can not be taught in school or textbooks, but through time, in life, from the experiences, we have in the world around us. It gives us the ability to rationally judge the state of what is, what is to come, and what should come, from prior knowledge from past experiences, ours or otherwise—always looked through a humbled lens. Aforementioned, through empathy, we were able to listen and understand those who have lived in the era of the Holocaust and the struggling of the Civil Rights movement in America. Through their stories, we not only have a sort of indirect, deep interpersonal relationship with these people but we are also able to find what to be cautious for in the present. We are becoming more aware of the signs of the mistreatment of certain groups from hate groups, who we now know what they and their leaders look like and their beliefs; society (the marginal, rational part, anyways) now knows better than to discriminate and separate people over uncontrollable, trivial qualities. But it isn’t always a life or death survival tactic; wisdom can also be used by being self-aware to better oneself for their own quality of living through self-control—not letting one’s emotion affect how to act or control the truth, thinking rationally, knowing the needs vs the wants. By having self-control we can lead a calmer, happier life which is, in the end, the key to a successful life that isn’t measured by wealth or social status. There is an African proverb that goes, “one who causes other’s misfortune also teaches them wisdom.” Ms. Pain made the most difficult part of life (you know, being a teenager) way more complicated than it needed to be by sucking almost all the love I had for art– which was pretty much all I had– right out of my tiny little, dried-up heart. But through her, I learned everything about what it means to be educated from everything she lacked, and I bettered myself in ways she couldn’t do for herself. And now I know the falsehoods of those in a higher position than I am who pose as educated people.

Lastly, one must be able an effective communicator—the key to success is the connection and that can only be gained through communication. Denning and I both agree that originality and creativity are needed to be educated, but none of that means anything to anyone if you can not articulate your thoughts. How will you prove your knowledge of something if you don’t even know how to explain it to yourself? Richard Feynman was once asked to explain why spin 1/2 obey Fermi-Dirac statistics to an audience, and Feynman said he’d prepare a freshman lecture on it. He eventually came back and said, “you know, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t reduce it to a freshman level. That means we really don’t understand it.” Being able to effectively communicate your ideas shows how educated your ideas are and how educated you are on your ideas. There’s a difference between knowledge of something and knowing something, it’s a level above critical thinking. This will help to better you as an educated person and subconsciously further your education by challenging the limits of what you know. This was a survival tactic I had in both classes I had with Ms. Pain, due to her refusal to teach or to learn, it was easy to fail her computer graphics class because she knew about the program and (because of a provided book) she knew of a small portion of the hundreds of buttons and tools in the program that. At home, I would pull up the program (that I had to pay $80 for just to do this for 4 months) and a manual provided online and play around with the program to get a deeper understanding of how everything worked so the next day when I went back to class I can share the expanding extent of my knowledge the next day. This really helped me out when I entered an advanced class that used the program we were working with.

As you can see having an extended knowledge of multiple academics is not enough by itself to count someone as an educated person. It’s a matter of how you connect with the people and the world around you through humility, empathy, wisdom, and communication. All of these apply to how socially intelligent you are and how you use that intelligence. And remember, you can learn from everyone, even those who teach you nothing at the moment.

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