What does it mean to be educated? The conventional answer is that being educated means that an individual earned high grades in school and mastered basic core subjects such as math and science. However, I feel that there is much more to being well educated than doing well in school. I believe that being educated means being aware of what is going on in the world around you. One can not be considered educated if they are ignorant of key issues that impact their life. I also think that being educated means having the ability to digest information and make decisions based on what an individual believes is the right choice. In the democratic nation of America it is imperative that one is able to make informed decisions. In order to do so, cognitive skills should be sharpened. In my opinion, being educated means to be a well informed, self-directed thinker who is able to make knowledgeable choices on their own.
I cannot completely dishonor the education taught in American schools as they do help to create well informed pupils. In english classes, students read classic American novels such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain that not only strengthen student’s ability to analyze texts but also teach about American history. In history, previous events are compared to present day events giving students the ability to find trends and propose solutions to modern day conflicts. In science classes information is taught about how our world works as well as how the human body works and evolves. Mathematics classes teach problem solving skills that can be applied to all aspects of life. Foreign language classes create cultured individuals who are more understanding and sensitive to other cultures around the world. All of these skills are necessary for success in modern society, and many of them would not be taught without educational institutions. Students could not be well rounded citizens without the skills and information that they acquire in schools.
The issue with schools is that they often do not focus on the skills, but rather on the content of what they are teaching. Many times teachers and students are more concerned with memorizing content only to quickly scribble it down on a test and get an A. For example, in an AP history class a teacher might put emphasis on memorizing the date Fredrick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison were born since there is a chance it will be on the AP exam. Students will focus on memorizing this small detail instead of making vital connections. Douglass’ methods to achieve abolition are comparable to Malcolm X’s methods of attaining black separatism in the sense that they were both radical notions. Although this connection would involve deeper levels of thinking and show a greater mastery of the topic, teachers are instead focused only on what will help their students get a good grade on the exam. Although AP exams scores are significant, being able to make intellectual connections are a more important life skill that should be more emphasized in schools. Another flaw in the educational institutions in the United States is that if teachers actually set the standards high, but students lack the skills or motivation to meet them, the standards will drop (Jesness). In other words, teachers would lower the standards so that everyone can meet them instead of ensuring that their students are developing the critical life skills they need to do well. In place of teaching students to write a well supported essay dissecting the question from every angle, they would only expect them to write a one sided paper that barely answers the question so that everyone could meet standard. This type of teaching does not prepare students for solving real world conflicts and does not produce well educated citizens that are able to think critically.
I think that well educated people are mostly created outside of the sterile school environment. An example that comes to mind, especially since 2016 is an election year, is electing a president. It would be in the United States best interest if people made an educated decision before voting for a candidate. One would need to gather information on every candidate and compare their policies. They would then need to analyze the information and decide who they think would be the best choice for America. An educated individual is able to evaluate the pros and cons of their choice and ensure that their decision is based on sound evidence. They are not swayed by other’s opinions, but are able to hear these opinions and either refute them or accept them. I know some people who say that both of their parents vote but their mom just votes for the same person their dad does or vice versa. To me this is not setting a good example for their children. They are portraying that it is better to succumb to the opinions of others than to think of their own. An educated person has the ability to make informed decisions on their own.
Being educated is about having awareness. “It is about simple awareness-of what is so real and essential, hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: ‘This is water, this is water’” (Wallace). This sense of awareness is not something you can necessarily learn in school, but something you must experience on your own and constantly remind yourself of. It is about questioning things around you that normally fade into the background such as the people around us, education, and our daily routines and schedules. Constantly thinking and internally analyzing situations constitutes as being an educated citizen. A higher level of awareness can give way to a keen sense of intuition. Rob Herzog worked on the 96th floor of the world trade center in 2001. On the morning of September 11 he took a local subway train to work as always did. However, when he would normally switch to the express A train he did not since it was very crowded. On this particular morning he switched back onto the local train making him five minutes late to work. Those five minutes saved his life, as he avoided the Boeing 767 that crashed into his office building (cnn.com). Although he believes that this incident was due to luck, I believe he had a keen awareness of what was happening around him. He turned off his default setting of only focusing on getting to work on time and following his typical routine. Herzog realized that his surroundings caused him to feel claustrophobic and that the express A train was suffocating. This small fracture in routine ended up saving his life. He became completely aware of what was going on around him, embraced the ‘water’ that surrounded him, and avoided a catastrophic event. Herzog demonstrates that someone who is educated has a keen sense of awareness.
Being educated means being aware of your surroundings, a self directed thinker, and well informed. Education is acquired through life experiences and not entirely through traditional schooling as some may think. It is of vital importance that everyone becomes educated. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”