Education looked at as a social enterprise deemed essential for human survival, is a formal system extending from nursery school to prestigious universities. This is so in every civilised country in the world. Having gone through the system from infancy to youth and maturity, and acquired a formal education culminating in graduate and post-graduate qualifications, it is fair to assume that the end product would be an educated person. However, this is not always so. The word ‘product’ is unlikely to be associated with a truly educated person. It has the connotations of a process conducted on factory premises. This process, at best, is training for a specific purpose, such as a job, profession, or career. It also has associations of standardisation, which may cater to the ambitions of the vast majority of people. But the truly educated person, is his own person, and is unique. He or she stands out from the crowd. He/she is likely to be well-trained to hold a position of responsibility within an organisation, but that is not what defines him/her.
What distinguishes the truly educated person is his/her independence of thought and strength of character. The mass market does not necessarily enthral such people. For such persons education does not stop with the acquisition of degrees. Education for them is a lifelong process. An educated person is unlikely to be a celebrity. They do not seek publicity at any cost. They are persons of integrity. They usually abide by the society’s norms, but will always challenge them, if they are unjust, or indefensible. However badly or indifferently they were treated during their lifetime, posterity will always accord them their due. Think of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King,and Nelson Mandela. Of course great intellects of the calibre of Newton and Einstein are among the educated. So are those who developed their aesthetic sensibilities through art, music, drama and literature. Who would forget Michael Angelo, Beethoven, Shakespeare, and Tolstoy? What about the philosophers, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle? Innovators in any field or discipline, including religious leaders like Buddha and Confucius, were not only among the educated, but they were also great educators.
That brings us to the role of the teacher in education. The teacher does not know it all. As Galileo said, ‘You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.’ Any other form of teaching would be indoctrination. Telling others what to think is not teaching. On the other hand, as Epictetus, the Greek philosopher said, ‘Only the educated are free.’ Teaching is a collaborative effort as exemplified by the Socratic dialogue. People learn not only from teachers at a school or university but from almost everybody around them starting with parents, close relatives, even neighbours, and continuing their education through books and other media. The educated person is all too aware, that he/she knows very little, and therefore is always prepared to learn.
Increasingly, we are told that we live in a knowledge society, the post-capitalist society. This means that there are such sheer volumes of information now than ever there was on the planet. All this information is embodied in books, databanks, and software programmes, but their possession is not equated with education. It is the educated person who embodies and manages such knowledge in the interests of total global well being. As Bill Gates has demonstrated, with knowledge as the key resource, the educated person faces new demands, challenges, commitments, and responsibilities. We are not talking of ‘polymaths’ here, which is a concept from the past, perhaps only applicable to Leonardo da Vinci. The truly educated person now has to be a citizen of the world with deep and genuine empathy for others from quite different cultural milieu. It helps if the educated person travels to other parts of the world and gains first-hand experience of conditions far from home. ‘Think globally, act locally’ is likely to be the motto of today’s educated person.
To conclude this essay two well-known educators are cited. They have listed what they think are qualities needed which define the educated person. John Taylor Gatto who was once named New York State’s Teacher of the Year lists the following:
1) Establish an individual set of values but recognize those of the surrounding community and of the various cultures of the world.
2) Explore their own ancestry, culture and place.
3) Are comfortable being alone, yet understand dynamics between people and form healthy relationships.
4) Accept mortality, knowing that every choice affects the generations to come.
5) Create new things and find new experiences.
6) Think for themselves, observe, analyze, and discover truth without relying on the opinions of others.
7) Favor love, curiosity, reverence and empathy rather than material wealth.
8) Choose a vocation that contributes to the common good.
9) Enjoy a variety of new places and experiences but identify and cherish a place to call home.
10) Express their own voice with confidence.
11) Add value to every encounter and every group of which they are a part.
12) Always ask: Who am I? Where are my limits? What are my possibilities?
Adapted from Gatto, John Taylor (2009) Weapons of Mass Instruction, New Society Publishers.
A shorter list from another source reads:
1) Has a deep and genuine empathy, striving to understand others, with the ability to withhold their own judgment until they are sure they do understand.
2) Is sensitive to the psychological, physical, moral and cultural milieu in which they find themselves, showing respect and caring at all times.
3) Has a clear understanding of their own values, wants and preferences without wishing to impose these on others.
4) Is independent within the constraints of collaborative living, in action and thought taking responsibility for the health and well-being of their body and their mind.
5) Understands the connectedness of everything in the world, and even in the universe and so acts responsibly in everything they do.
6) Is congruent, meaning that the person will be comfortable in their own skin, able to acknowledge their own feelings and the feelings of others without condescension.