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The definition of education is not universal; nor is the definition of an educated person. In some cultures, education may mean being well-versed in age-old magical rituals, herbal lore, and spiritual healing. In others, education may mean a complete command of the tools of agriculture and animal husbandry. In yet others, education might denote mainly the acquisition of specific skills, applicable to a specific trade. In modern Western European and North American cultures, an educated person need not be knowledgeable in religious or spiritual matters; in farming methods; or in a specific trade. Rather, education and being educated connote entirely different and in some cases less practical things. For example, an individual with a PhD in Philosophy will be thought of as an "educated person" by nearly every citizen of the United States. However, place that person in the woods with no food, shelter, or clothing, and he or she would be unlikely to have enough of an education in survival to make it through more than a week or two. Therefore, what constitutes education and being educated in our culture is not necessarily universal, and nor is it constructive. The concept of education as we know it in the United States is largely derived from a set of cultural beliefs, beliefs that draw largely from the Greek philosophical traditions and from the eighteenth-century cultural revolution we call the Enlightenment. In his book Building a Bridge to the 18th Century, Neil Postman reveals his affection for Enlightenment values from which the modern American definition of "educated person" largely derives. The definition of education that is coming to be more widely accepted in the twenty-first century includes many of the traits espoused by Postman as well as the other thinkers we have encountered from Plato to Robert Park.
What each of these philosophers have in common is a penchant for the abstract, the intellectual, and for rhetoric. The glorification of rhetoric stems largely from Plato's writings such as Crito and The Apology. In both of these works, Plato's protagonist Socrates employs rhetoric to promote his view of education and of the educated person. In Crito, Socrates ironically suggests that the educated person would follow even the most unjust of laws. Socrates simultaneously believes that education and wisdom derive from reason and not from blind faith in the supposed wise men. Socrates' rhetoric is a manifestation of his being an "educated man" not because his rhetoric gets him out of trouble but rather, because his education preserves his integrity. For philosophers like Plato, values like reason and rationality trump even the most basic survivalist values. An educated person must be willing to die for the greater cause of the promotion of truth. In his book Integrity, Stephen Carter furthers a similar belief in the efficacy of truth over individual survival. For Carter, an educated person must be willing to sacrifice social embarrassment in order to promote truth.
The promotion of truth at all costs is therefore one of the main values that many Western philosophers view as being integral to education. An educated person must also be willing to sacrifice pride and sentimental beliefs. In his book Voodoo Science, Robert Park explains how easily people become seduced by pseudo-science. An educated person must struggle against sentimentalism. As an educated person, I must be willing to sacrifice my very beliefs in favor of the truth. The opposite of the educated person is the religious fanatic who, in spite of a massive amount of evidence to the contrary, cannot grapple with the essence of scientific proof.
Therefore, although the definition of an educated person may differ from culture to culture, and while education does not necessarily correlate with wisdom, I believe that all educated persons must be willing to make sacrifices for the truth. Chief among these sacrifices is not necessarily even death or martyrdom. Socrates' example serves largely as a metaphor for the more realistic sacrifices an educated person might have to make in order to preserve and promote the truth.
It is the core responsibility of the educated person to set aside personal biases as well as cultural biases. One of the main criticisms I have with the readings we encountered is their bias toward the Western view of education. While the Western view has shaped my views of education, I also believe that it has significant limitations. For example, the readings we have encountered do not equate education with intelligence. For example, an intelligent person might have elected to escape from prison with Crito; Socrates' belief in his own intellectual supremacy appears egotistical, his conforming to Athenian laws, rigid. Similarly, Robert Park's view of the educated person is rigid and dogmatic. Like some of the pseudo-scientists Park criticizes, an over-emphasis on the scientific method can be detrimental to the acquisition of wisdom and intelligence. Neil Postman is highly biased in his proposition that the Enlightenment era marked a pinnacle of education, that Enlightenment values essentially helped create the educated person. In fact, such Western cultural biases lie at the root of the decimation of age-old cultures and traditions by Europeans and caused the cultural superiority that still characterizes American civilization.
Therefore, my definition of an educated person most closely resembles the philosophy of Stephen Carter, as set forth in Integrity. An educated person uses discernment and discrimination when encountering new thoughts and ideas. An educated person is aware of his or her values and beliefs, and is willing to undergo growing pains. Carter's notion of nonconformity as being integral to education is a key concept. However, I would take Carter's analysis, which closely resembles that of Plato in its emphasis on self-sacrifice, one step further. I believe that while the educated person is willing to make personal sacrifices, he or she also retains wisdom, intelligence, and common sense.
The educated person accepts nothing at face value but subjects every idea to careful scrutiny and critical thinking. The educated person is highly creative and able to entertain novel ideas. However, he or she does not aver an idea as true before analyzing it carefully and empirically. The scientific method, which grew out of Enlightenment values, is one of the main tools of the educated person. On the other hand, the educated person must be careful to not to aggrandize the scientific method, which can too easily block out emerging paradigm shifts.
I strongly believe that the educated person must be willing to accept paradigm shifts and to be keenly aware of the cultural and personal biases that shape his or her worldview. My responsibility to the community is not yet totally clear. As a student I am currently advancing my own education by absorbing as much as I can from the classes I take at school, by learning what I can from social situations, and by reading books on my own. Thus for now, my core responsibility to the community is to be an active but flexible participant in life. Like Socrates, I will make sacrifices as needed. Yet unlike Postman, when confronted with a bias that I carry with me due to my personal background, I will hopefully be able to acknowledge it. Like Park, I will try to apply critical thinking and the scientific method to new theories but at the same time remain open-minded and willing to entertain ideas that do not fit into our current paradigm. The educated person, to me, is above all an open-minded person.
As I prepare for my final courses at Grand View, I realize that my self-concept has changed significantly since matriculation. Among the experiences that most helped shape how I think of myself include encounters with other students, encounters with professors, and encounters with academic knowledge. Encounters with other students have introduced me to the wide range of worldviews that…[continue]
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