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What Does It Mean to Be Well-Educated?, Part 1

Written by Zoe Weil | Published on December 8, 2010 | Filed under Humane Connection
The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Humane Education website at http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2010/12/08/what-does-it-mean-to-be-well-educated-part-1/

There’s a great education blog, Cooperative Catalyst, that I’ve mentioned here before, and there’s an excellent post titled, “What does it mean to be well-educated?”, that’s well worth the read.

Since I’m always asking (and then answering) the question, “What is schooling for?” this post, with its different but related question, really got me thinking. My post for today is an edited response to Sabrina, the teacher and writer who posed (and then answered) the crucial question, “What does it mean to be well-educated?”

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Your question, What does it mean to be well-educated?, is so important. I often ask a similar question: “What is schooling for?”. The difference between the two questions leads to different approaches in the classroom — ones that can complement each other beautifully (assuming that the answers to the two questions are themselves complementary). As I have written in my blog, books, and articles, I think that our answer to “What is schooling for?” needs to embrace a bigger goal than our current national approach, and that we need to graduate a generation of solutionaries who can solve interconnected and entrenched problems so that we can live more peaceably, sustainably, and humanely. But your question really has me thinking, even on a personal level. Am I well-educated? By the standards of our society, I sure am. I went to a fancy private girls’ school in New York City and got a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees from two Ivy League colleges. Although in my early twenties I couldn’t remember what the Revolutionary War was, I was overqualified when I applied for a kennel job at a local humane society. On the other hand, I can’t fix a thing; I can’t build much of anything either. I don’t know how most of the things I depend upon work. When the tractor breaks, my husband fixes it. When my computer fails, my husband comes to my rescue. He’s a veterinarian. He can set a broken bone, perform surgery, sew up a wound and make sure it doesn’t get infected.

But in terms of my own goal for education — graduating a generation of conscientious choicemakers and engaged changemakers who perceive themselves as solutionaries no matter what fields they pursue — then I am well-educated. The system I’m trying to influence is the system of schooling, and I am bringing a solutionary approach to the problems that I see. I’m well-educated about global problems and the interconnected issues of human rights, animal protection, environmental preservation, and issues related to media, consumerism, and psychology. In today’s world, we are all specialists (even seeming generalists like me), and that is why not all of us will know what to do if/when technology fails, climate changes, we’re on the other side of peak oil, and so on. We’ll still rely upon one other and bring our expertise. As long as we have expertise in something; as long as we are lifelong learners ready and able to always learn more, and as long as we’re solutionaries, prepared to solve the challenges we face because we have good critical and creative thinking skills, I think we can consider ourselves well-educated. We’ll have our historians and philosophers and psychologists whom we’ll need alongside our farmers and engineers and builders. Your great post has me thinking. Thanks so much! Much more to ponder because of your great question. Thank you, Sabrina.

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So what do you think it means to be well-educated? Take a look at Sabrina’s post and share your thoughts.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education

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