It’s safe to say that most people want to be an educated person.
Last night I was asking myself these two questions: Who is an educated person? What does someone have to know in order to be considered an educated person? Look at the following:
- Do you need to have an advanced degree in order to be considered well-educated?
- Does it mean being prepared to join the work force?
- Are there certain books that you have to have read?
I did some research in order to be able to answer these questions. After reading several lists of the characteristics of an educated person—including Harvard and Princeton University’s lists–I came up with the a list of the 50 characteristics of an educated person.
50 Characteristics of an Educated Person
1. An educated person has the ability to think clearly and independently.
2. An educated person has good judgment.
3. An educated person knows how to learn.
4. An educated person knows how to acquire desired skills by identifying and utilizing available resources, deconstructing the process required for learning a particular skill, and experimenting with potential approaches.
5. An educated person has the ability to take initiative and work alone.
6. An educated person has the ability to communicate thoughts and ideas in writing, clearly and concisely.
7. An educated person has the ability to speak clearly.
8. An educated person has the ability to reason analytically and critically.
9. An educated person has the ability to think inductively and deductively.
10. An educated person questions assumptions.
11. An educated person doesn’t blindly accept what they are told; they go see for themselves. They can discern truth from error, regardless of the source.
12. An educated person knows how to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information (between the important and the trivial).
13. An educated person knows how to make productive use of knowledge; they know where to get the knowledge that they need, and they have the ability to organize that knowledge into a plan of action that is directed to a definite end.
14. An educated person understands human nature and has the ability to establish, maintain, and improve lasting relationships.
15. An educated person knows how to establish rapport with others; they know how get others to trust and respect them.
16. An educated person knows how to cooperate and collaborate effectively with others.
17. An educated person knows how to resolve conflicts with others.
18. An educated person knows how to persuade others.
19. An educated person has the ability to conceptualize and solve problems.
20. An educated person knows how to make decisions.
21. An educated person has the ability to see connections among disciplines, ideas and cultures.
22. An educated person is able to cross disciplinary boundaries and explore problems and their solutions from multiple perspectives.
23. An educated person is someone who has been educated holistically: creatively, culturally, spiritually, morally, physically, technologically, and intellectually.
24. An educated person has a broad liberal-arts education. They have a good overview of the following subjects: the natural sciences; the social sciences; history; geography; literature; philosophy; and theology.
25. An educated person has depth of knowledge—that is, specialized knowledge–in a particular field.
26. An educated person has achieved victory over themselves; they know how to withstand discomfort in the short term in order to achieve important goals in the long term.
27. An educated person has the capacity to endure and persevere.
28. An educated person is self-aware; they know how to perceive and manage their own internal states and emotions.
29. An educated person knows where and how to focus their attention.
30. An educated person has ethical values and has integrity.
31. An educated person has the ability and the discipline to do what is right.
32. An educated person is well-read and has cultural sophistication.
33. An educated person has equal esteem for everyone, without regard to gender, race, religion, country of origin, and so on.
34. An educated person understands their obligation to leave the world a little better than they found it.
35. An educated person is capable of doing new things; they have the ability to generate ideas and turn them into reality. An educated person is innovative.
36. An educated person is one whose natural curiosity has been awakened with the purpose of satisfying that curiosity.
37. An educated person has the ability to identify needed behaviors and traits and turn them into habits.
38. An educated person has the ability to identify harmful behaviors and traits—including thinking habits that are not serving them well—and the ability to modify them.
39. An educated person has the ability to keep their life in proper balance.
40. An educated person has the flexibility to admit when they’re wrong.
41. An educated person has quantitative literacy; they know how to use arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and statistics to solve problems.
42. An educated person can speak at least one language other than their own.
43. An educated person has financial literacy; they have the knowledge necessary to make sound financial decisions.
44. An educated person is adaptable and knows how to deal with change.
45. An educated person knows how to handle ambiguity.
46. An educated person has the ability to explore alternative viewpoints.
47. An educated person has aesthetic appreciation; they can sing and dance well, play at least one musical instrument, and can appreciate architecture, great art, and other expressions of creative genius.
48. An educated person has developed the personal philosophy that will allow them to be happy and successful.
49. An educated person has the ability and the discipline to constantly improve.
50. An educated person has the ability to pursue lifelong learning.
I consider the 50 characteristics above to be those that are necessary in order to be a well educated person. In turn, being an educated person is an essential prerequisite for living your best life.
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to “Daring to Live Fully” by clicking here and get free updates.
I originally wrote this several weeks ago, but I'd like to publish it again in the hopes that I can help advance a more serious (and genuine) conversation about education in this country. Before we move any further down a path to "reform," we need to take some time to talk about what, exactly, our goals are for our children.
"What does it mean to be well-educated?" This is another one of those simple, but complicated questions I consider daily. Whenever I summarize my view for others, I say something along the lines of, "An educated person is someone who has the habits of mind, hand, and heart to adapt to whatever life might throw at him or her." So what does that mean?
Well, for starters, it's a lot broader than simply being prepared for the work force. My whole body cringes whenever I hear politicians and other public figures talk about education as though its most important (or even sole!) function is serving the needs of the economy. Of course, making a living is important. But one major reason we try to educate all of our citizens in America (something most other countries make no attempt to do -- including many of those we're unfairly compared to in those misleading international rankings!) is to prepare us to act as full participants in a democratic republic. Likewise, I believe that education can and should be personally fulfilling, allowing us to appreciate life more by giving us the power to do things like read for pleasure, or compose music, or better understand the world around us, and so on and so forth.To me, a good education is about developing:
- Habits of mind like curiosity, analysis, criticism, problem-solving and creativity.
- The ability to make things, to satisfy a need or just for fun.
- The capacity to love yourself, other people, and the environment; and to find an appropriate balance between your own needs and the needs of the group and/or the natural world.
During the school day, however, we can do a lot to achieve these goals. The best classrooms and schools I've seen/worked in embrace the idea that their job is not to fill students' heads with facts and information, but to help them develop certain skills and habits that will be useful in a wide variety of situations. Some do it using project-based learning, where students are continually engaged in a collaborative process of researching, creating, and presenting their learning to others. Others integrate all aspects of the curriculum through the in-depth study of a topic (Ancient Greece, the local watershed, etc.) or questions generated by the teacher and/or students. They take the time to teach and review certain skills to ensure students "get it" whenever necessary. But students spend most of the day actively approaching their learning the way it happens in real life -- where knowledge isn't broken up into subjects, where you have to work with others, and where you must draw upon several skill-sets and bodies of knowledge simultaneously in order to solve problems.
I think there are a lot of ways to provide children with a rich, useful education; there is no one "right" answer that will work for every child or every school. I do believe there are some wrong answers, though, and that's why I do what I do.
For starters, the schools that I'd call "great" assess students frequently to ensure that they're progressing, but their instruction is not "data-driven." After all, if you're trying to develop students into productive, whole people, there is no one measure -- and no valid number! -- that can tell you if you've done that. Great schools do not spend three months of the year on testing, and they certainly don't base all of their instruction on measures as narrow as the ones required by state and federal law. Rather, they observe students all the time, examine the work they produce, and offer ongoing feedback and adjust instruction as necessary.
These schools also operate collaboratively, and recognize that all stakeholders' input can be valid. They don't persecute and blacklist teachers for having differences of opinion or philosophy, or retaliate against them for involving parents in important decisions. They share responsibility and accountability, rather than concentrating power and control into a select few people's hands. (They also make sure that there is enough time for such collaboration to take place; the norm at these schools was for teachers to have 90 or more minutes of planning time. In Denver, for example, teachers get 45 minutes. Whatever additional time is needed has to come from their own "free" time. How many parents out there like the idea of their children's teachers sacrificing sleep and/or lunch to get their work done? Fatigue and low blood sugar... A productive combination, no?)
Finally, good schools aren't forced to treat children or teachers as objects to be standardized. They don't necessarily expect that each student will graduate thinking, talking, and acting like everyone else in the class, and they don't expect that all teachers will practice in exactly the same way. I think that's a really important point to be emphasized. Right now, our school "reform" regime is pushing to make students, teachers, and schools increasingly alike -- by adopting the same standards, pushing for certain types of performance on certain tests, and trying to identify and "scale up" teaching practices and interventions that increase test scores. This will never be a successful process -- human beings are not widgets, and they won't all fit the same mold.
And would that be desirable, if it were possible? I look back at the other part of my view of a good education -- "to adapt to whatever life might throw at him or her." What would happen to a society of people who have been trained to think and act exactly alike? Monocultures in farming are dangerous because when plants are genetically identical, anything that can destroy one of them can destroy them all, causing famine or other problems. Monocultures of thought could be equally dangerous -- what will happen to our democracy if we create students who are uniformly incapable of thinking critically? What will happen if we encourage students to specialize in a certain field, in a world where people's jobs and roles in life change every few years? What will happen if we train children to be dependent on "21st Century" technology, and something happens to render that technology useless? Individuals and societies need to have a wide range of capabilities in order to survive when -- not if -- the world around us changes. I don't see how that can happen when school systems are bribed or forced to submit to one way of doing things.
But that's enough from me. What do you think it means to be well-educated?
Follow Sabrina Stevens on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TeacherSabrina