What Does It Mean to Be Educated?

What Does It Mean to Be Educated?

Educated. It’s a word commonly associated with schooling and social prestige, but what does it truly mean? At a federal level, individuals who have completed some form of secondary education and are literate are considered to be “educated”. However, a far more common definition of the word is used to refer to those who have received formal schooling in “core” academic subjects such as history, english, and mathematics. Yet, such definitions of the term, upon closer inspection, quickly fall apart. Not all individuals who are considered to be “educated” are knowledgeable in all rudimentary subject areas. For instance, consider the federal definition of “educated”. According to this standard of an educated populace, approximately 99% of the U.S. is “educated”, yet, nearly ⅓ of all Americans can’t even identify the Middle East on a map, making one question the validity of this definition of the term. This issue of general subject deficiency is addressed by the latter definition, but it too fails to hold any substantive meaning. Under the latter definition of the term, having knowledge in “core” subject areas is merely an indication of the substitution of a depth of knowledge for breadth of knowledge. Individuals that fall into this category of the term “educated” certainly cannot be called so, as they are lacking crucial opportunities for intellectual development across a broad spectrum of topics. Clearly, a new definition of the term is required, and I would propose that the term be applied to those who pursue their interests and aspirations without being forced to do so- those who learn, read, and write not for the sake of some secondary objective but rather for the sake of the content itself, and that the term “educated” ought not be applied to one’s skills and knowledge, but rather to one’s pursuit of the two.

One may question the validity of this definition of “educated”, yet I stand that it is a relatively accurate definition of the term on the basis of advancement, whether individual or societal, as such advancement is the most important goal of the educational process. Those who are truly “educated” are those who, through their studies, contribute to the intellectual, political, and economic development of society. Such individuals are overwhelmingly autodidacts who pursued their fields out of genuine interest rather than mediocre obligation. Although many examples exist within documented history, a few of the more prominent examples of such autodidacts and their contributions to society include Albert Einstein, Alan Turing, and Jonas Salk. Without Einstein, we would have never developed nuclear reactors, solar panels, nuclear chemistry, and accurate GPS technology (due to the effects of relativistic time dilation, GPS satellites, over time, develop significant time gaps relative to the Earth, resulting in inaccurate triangulation). Without Turing, computers wouldn’t exist, the Enigma code would have never been broken (possibly resulting in the loss of WWII), and every single electronic device with any programming including but not limited to: cellphones, modern televisions, telephones, ATM machines, desktops, laptops, projectors, and even the security features on credit cards, would have never existed. Likewise, Salk invented the Polio vaccine and helped to save the lives of millions from one of the worst recorded epidemics in American History. All three of the individuals whose names and accomplishments I have listed above were all self-educated in their subjects of interest; Einstein would skip school to study physics, Turing passed the time in his Math classes by practicing cryptography in passing coded notes to his boyfriend, and Salk was well known to have skipped his college classes, which did not have appropriate laboratories, to study biology and chemistry at a local research center. Clearly, these individuals exemplify the definition of the term “educated” — they dedicated their time, thoughts, and soul into their research, research which ultimately brought about the advancement of human society. As the individuals who do not contribute to this aforementioned advancement merely perpetuate the status quo of our society — including the very problems that education is intended to mitigate or resolve, such individuals are those who truly ought to be referred to as “educated”

Likewise, the individuals who teach, tutor, or mentor these individuals may also be considered to be “educated” under these terms, as they stimulate the intellectual development of the individuals bringing about the aforementioned advancements in human society. Without the influence of these individuals, those who advanced the frontier of human knowledge may have never done so, as they would have lacked the proper mentoring, instruction, or motivation to have accomplished the work that they did.

Due to the contributions of Einstein, Turing, and Salk, as well as those who preceded and proceeded them, we enjoy a greater quality of life than ever before: we have increased access to ever-improving digital technology, advanced medical research which has helped to increase our life spans, as well a seemingly unending stream of knowledge on nuclear chemistry which has enabled us not only to create environmentally friendly electricity at low costs, but which has also helped in radioactive imaging, radiotherapy, and a host of other applications. Without the educated, we would make no progress as a society, instead, we would maintain the status quo or possibly even stagnate in our intellectual development. The educated are those who pursue their fields not as an obligation, not as a salary, not as part of a secondary objective, but rather for the sake of the subject itself. These are the individuals who push the boundaries of human knowledge, who advance and better the state of our society, who persist in the face of difficulty and thrive in their passion. These are the individuals who have truly been educated.