5 Questions for . . .
Anyone who has any connection to his or her local school — whether through teaching or parenting children, chatting with neighbors, or watching the news — is aware of the ongoing efforts at the state and national level to improve schools. There seems no end to the flow of new policies and programs aimed at making teaching and learning more effective. Hence, this digital roundtable on recent education reform efforts. While this discussion is centered in Massachusetts, the issues are mirrored in virtually every state.
The participants were sent the questions and responded to them by email. Their answers are presented here just as they wrote them, save correcting the odd typo. One final introductory note: While the participants constitute a rich mix of perspectives on the topic, the discussion would have been further enriched by the inclusion of one or more officials of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) — the body driving much of the reform effort. Sadly my attempts to get anyone from DESE to participate failed.
Here is who is sitting at the table:
Rachael Avery Barton, Middle School History Teacher in Leominster
Michael Capuano, U.S. Representative for Massachusetts’ 7th District
Kenneth Hawes, Senior Lecturer in Education, Wellesley College
Phillip James, History Department Coordinator, Lincoln-Sudbury R.H.S.
Véronique Latimer, High School Art Teacher
Arthur Unobskey, Assistant Superintendent, Gloucester Public Schools
Isa Zimmerman, Executive Director, Massachusetts ASCD (Association
for Supervision and Curriculum Development)
1. What does it mean to be well-educated?
Rachael Avery Barton
This is a question I have thought about for some time now. The academic in me wants to answer all about how a well-educated person is able to converse in any subject whether it be physics, ancient Chinese history, or American poets. The realist in me, the honest teacher who looks at my students and knows that there are many who will be “well-educated” and still not remember every detail of my lessons, just wants them to be prepared for what they want to do in life. If a student has the knowledge and ability to succeed in their chosen life profession they are well-educated...as in educated enough to be successful in what THEY want to be successful in. Who says they need to know everything?
Additionally, I think being well-educated means being able to hold your own in an argument or a conversation. The ability to defend oneself, to debate, to argue with logic, these are qualities of a well-educated person. Every little fact does not need to be known. They don’t need to be “Jeopardy” contestants. They just need to know how to stick up for themselves in an articulate and logical way when someone is pushing them down. (Side note: It would be wonderful too, if everyone knew their rights! That is something EVERYONE well educated or not should have knowledge of.)
Is a curious? About something?? Do they know how to problem solve? Can they look for more ways to find an answer than simply google. A well educated person is curious about things, and knows how to think quickly and problem solve.
As any smart pol would say – that depends. First, to me it means a person achieving the highest level of opportunity that person desires. For some, that would mean an Ivy undergrad with an Oxford graduate degree. To others, that might mean a high school diploma. It is not the level of achievement that matters most to me – it is the opportunity to achieve the highest level desired.
A trash collector who is capable of reading only at second grade level would be well-educated to me if he could understand the funny-papers. An auto mechanic who enjoyed Shakespeare would be as well. Is a brain surgeon truly well educated if he cannot (or worse, will not try to) comprehend the complexities of politics?
Using a more traditional interpretation of the phrase, to me that term would mean being able to think. Knowing “stuff” is a beginning, not an end. It is being able to use “stuff” knowledge to put together a thoughtful approach to a topic. This does not require a formal education, but that basis helps most people.
Oh, my! Well, it depends on context of course. In a given context, credentials or titles may matter, and specific knowledge and skill. I suppose a general idea would be that a well-educated person is someone whom others believe they can rely on for certain types of advice or specific knowledge or problem-solving or work/creative work.
To be well-educated means a few things. A person needs to think clearly, critically, and creatively; write effectively; do basic mathematical calculations and understand how numbers “work”; understand the principles of scientific reasoning; have some knowledge of history and literature; and be open minded and empathetic. Perhaps most importantly, s/he should love learning. This may seem to be a mere list of catchy phrases, but if one pursues her/his education in each of these ways, they will push towards being well-educated. It is difficult to say that any one individual has reached this goal. It is a continual effort as education never really stops. A person needs to be exposed to many areas of knowledge and a variety of methods to understand humanity and the universe in which we live. S/he needs to interact with a variety of people and learn to appreciate many perspectives. A well-educated person needs to become comfortable with ambiguity and the lack of simple answers to many of the questions that are asked in life. There is no real formula for attempting to be well-educated, and the experience is difficult to measure in a quantitative manner. Yet I would maintain it is an important experience that all students must be engaged in with the help of their teachers, fellow students, and family members.
I think being well educated is not just having been exposed to many different subjects through one’s studies and life experience, but being curious and wanting to learn more about the world around you. I think that sense of curiosity is the most important thing – wanting to learn more – asking questions, wondering how what you have learned pertains to your life and where you live.
A well-educated person has significant experience and training in the use of the specific intellectual disciplines demanded in science, math, history, literature, philosophy and the arts. She or he should understand how influential thinkers in those disciplines have enabled us to survive and build the communities we have today and how those communities interact. Through their broad, liberal arts experience students should have the mental agility to frame new information from different perspectives enabling them to achieve deep understanding, communicate that understanding clearly and powerfully, and apply that understanding to address new challenges.
An educated person possesses 21st century skills, is well read, knows history (in order not to repeat its mistakes), thinks about important issues confronting society and acts thoughtfully and after reflection. An educated person also has a body of specialized knowledge on which he/she bases his/her work.