What Does It Mean to Be a Well-Educated Person?

alex atkins bookshelf educationToo often today, we hear someone described as being “well-educated.” The adjective is tossed about quite liberally — but ponder it for a moment: what does that really mean? Perhaps it means that such a person attended to a respected university, right? Don’t be fooled: attending a prestigious university does not really assure a great education — if the student did not challenge him or herself, took frivolous classes (eg, Invented Languages: Klingon and Beyond, Zombies in Popular Media, How to Watch Television — you get the picture), and barely graduated due to poor grades. “What does it mean to be a well-educated?” is indeed an important and thought-provoking question; naturally it deserves a thoughtful answer.

Enter Marelisa Fabrega, a Jesuit-educated lawyer who founded the blog “Daring to Live Fully: Live the Length and Width of Your Life.” One night, Fabrega was ruminating on that very question: what does it mean to be an educated person? Her initial response was the one most of us have when we hear the phrase: perhaps it means someone attended a good college and earned advanced degrees; or perhaps it means the person is very well prepared for their career; or perhaps it means that the person is very well read. Fabrega’s next step was to review what others had written — one of those was a list of ten characteristics of a well educated person developed by Harvard University:

  1. The ability to define problems without a guide.
  2. The ability to ask hard questions which challenge prevailing assumptions.
  3. The ability to quickly assimilate needed data from masses of irrelevant information.
  4. The ability to work in teams without guidance.
  5. The ability to work absolutely alone.
  6. The ability to persuade others that your course is the right one.
  7. The ability to conceptualize and reorganize information into new patterns.
  8. The ability to discuss ideas with an eye toward application.
  9. The ability to think inductively, deductively and dialectically.
  10. The ability to attack problems heuristically (learning by trial-and-error)

Princeton University, on the other hand, believes there are 12 characteristics of a well-educated person:

  1. The ability to think, speak, and write clearly.
  2. The ability to reason critically and systematically.
  3. The ability to conceptualize and solve problems.
  4. The ability to think independently.
  5. The ability to take initiative and work independently.
  6. The ability to work in cooperation with others and learn collaboratively.
  7. The ability to judge what it means to understand something thoroughly.
  8. The ability to distinguish the important from the trivial, the enduring from the ephemeral.
  9. Familiarity with the different modes of thought (including quantitative, historical, scientific, and aesthetic.)
  10. Depth of knowledge in a particular field.
  11. The ability to see connections among disciplines, ideas and cultures.
  12. The ability to pursue life long learning.

A hallmark of Jesuit education is to never simply accept the status quo. Jesuit education encourages a student to dig a little deeper for the truth. And that’s exactly what Fabrega did. She reflected deeply on the question and came up with 50 characteristics of a well-educated person that considers not only academics, but emotional and social intelligence:

An educated person….

1. has the ability to think clearly and independently.
2. has good judgment.
3. knows how to learn.
4. 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. has the ability to take initiative and work alone.
6. has the ability to communicate thoughts and ideas in writing, clearly and concisely.
7. has the ability to speak clearly.
8. has the ability to reason analytically and critically.
9. has the ability to think inductively and deductively.
10. questions assumptions.
11. doesn’t blindly accept what they are told; they go see for themselves. They can discern truth from error, regardless of the source.
12. knows how to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information (between the important and the trivial).
13. 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. understands human nature and has the ability to establish, maintain, and improve lasting relationships.
15. knows how to establish rapport with others; they know how get others to trust and respect them.
16. knows how to cooperate and collaborate effectively with others.
17. knows how to resolve conflicts with others.
18. knows how to persuade others.
19. has the ability to conceptualize and solve problems.
20. knows how to make decisions.
21. has the ability to see connections among disciplines, ideas and cultures.
22. is able to cross disciplinary boundaries and explore problems and their solutions from multiple perspectives.
23. is someone who has been educated holistically: creatively, culturally, spiritually, morally, physically, technologically, and intellectually.
24. 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. has depth of knowledge—that is, specialized knowledge–in a particular field.
26. 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. has the capacity to endure and persevere.
28. is self-aware; they know how to perceive and manage their own internal states and emotions.
29. knows where and how to focus their attention.
30. has ethical values and has integrity.
31. has the ability and the discipline to do what is right.
32. is well-read and has cultural sophistication.
33. has equal esteem for everyone, without regard to gender, race, religion, country of origin, and so on.
34. understands their obligation to leave the world a little better than they found it.
35. is capable of doing new things; they have the ability to generate ideas and turn them into reality. is innovative.
36. is one whose natural curiosity has been awakened with the purpose of satisfying that curiosity.
37. has the ability to identify needed behaviors and traits and turn them into habits.
38. 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. has the ability to keep their life in proper balance.
40. has the flexibility to admit when they’re wrong.
41. has quantitative literacy; they know how to use arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and statistics to solve problems.
42. can speak at least one language other than their own.
43. has financial literacy; they have the knowledge necessary to make sound financial decisions.
44. is adaptable and knows how to deal with change.
45. knows how to handle ambiguity.
46. has the ability to explore alternative viewpoints.
47. 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. has developed the personal philosophy that will allow them to be happy and successful.
49. has the ability and the discipline to constantly improve.
50. has the ability to pursue lifelong learning.

With this comprehensive list that sets the bar for a “well-educated person,” Fabrega asks us to think twice before bestowing that important adjective on an individual — particularly when students might attend college, but do not really learn.

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For further reading: http://daringtolivefully.com/educated-person

What Do You Call Someone Who Collects Comic Books?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsA close cousin of the bibliophile, a collector of books, is the pannapictagraphist, a collector of comic books (also known as comic magazines or simply comics). Comics are instantly recognizable for their unique format and paper quality, featuring colorful artwork and handwritten text inside speech and thought bubbles. Although the Japanese introduced the first comic books in the late 1700s, the first comic book in the United States, Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics, was published in 1933 by Dell Publishing. It originally sold for ten cents. Just like a famous painting, a rare comic book is a great investment. Consider that the most valuable comic book in the world is Detective Comics No. 27 (May 1939) that is the first to feature Batman. In 1939 it sold for ten cents. Today it is worth $3.08 million! Holy cow, Batman!

You cannot talk about comic books without mentioning the king of comics, Bob Bretall, a computer programmer living in Mission Viejo, California, who is the poster boy of pannapictagraphists. Bretall, now 55, owns more than 101,822 comic books — and that is not counting duplicates and thousands of superhero memorabilia. With great purchasing power comes responsibility. His passion began 47 years ago (he was eight years old) when he bought the Amazing Spider-Man #88 [The Arms of Doctor Octopus, September 1970] with story by the legendary Stan Lee and artwork by John Romita. That comic book is worth about $5,000 today. Decades later, Spider-Man remains his favorite superhero: “Spider-Man will always have that spot as my favourite even though I no longer read new Spider-Man comics coming out today.” Lucky for Bretall, he has a very patient and understanding wife; he explains “My wife has always been supportive, she doesn’t read comics, but helps me catalog and maintain the collection. My kids, nieces and nephews, and their friends generally think the collection is pretty cool.” Bretall collects and reads about 115 comics a month. Most of them are stored in his family’s three-car garage.

And what is the value of Bretall’s tremendous comic book collection? It’s anybody’s guess. In many interviews, Bretall shies away from providing a valuation. At a minimum it is worth $5 million. He has consistently expressed in interviews that he never plans to sell the incredible comic book collection; he plans to pass it on to his kids. Let’s just hope that they value it as much as he does…

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For further reading: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/0/10-valuable-comic-books-world/detectives-comic-no27/

The Meaning of Life – Albert Einstein

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsStrange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that man is here for the sake of other men — above all for those upon whose smile and well-being our own happiness depends, and also for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of my fellowmen, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.

From Living Philosophies (1931) by Albert Einstein (1879-1955), Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist and poster boy for geniuses and bad hair days. Astute fans of the acclaimed CBS show, Northern Exposure, will recognize that a portion of this quotation was read by Chris in the Morning during his insightful philosophical musings in “Lost and Found” (S3E17). 

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For further reading: https://sciphilos.info/docs_pages/docs_Einstein_fulltext_css.html

My Favorite Words – Julia Glass


Julia Glass is an American novelist and freelance journalist and editor. Glass is best known for Three Junes, her debut novel that won a National Book Award for Fiction (2002), and The Widower’s Tale (2010). Glass discusses her favorite word, widdershins, drawn from the world of folklore:

As a child, I was a robust consumer of folklore from every conceivable culture. One of my favorite books was a volume of Joseph Jacobs’ fairy tales, with commentary by W. H. Auden (though his name did not impress me then). The best and most haunting tale in the book was “Childe Rowland,” which begins when three boys are playing ball with their sister on a church lawn and she vanishes into thin air. The brothers­ — who will, this being a fairy tale, set out on serial quests to rescue their sister — discover that she’s been abducted by a sorcerer because she ran around the church widdershins: in the opposite direction to the sun (that is, counterclockwise).

From the moment I read that word aloud, I fell in love with it; I’ve used it more than once, though very selectively, in my fiction. To this day, it evokes mischief, superstition, and black magic, yet also the dire solemnity of saving a loved one from peril. (It also summons up a grisly illustration from the book: the youngest brother, the ultimate hero, in the necessary act of beheading an innocent horseherd.) During an extremely painful period of loss and grief in my midthirties, I remember thinking that it felt as if my life had gone widdershins. Just now, pulling that book off a shelf and paging through it for the first time in a few years, I dipped into Auden’s charming afterword and learned that a Scottish synonym for widdershins is wrang-gaites — and that the opposite of widdershins is deiseal. How many rich, delicious words the world contains, and how fortunate I am to be in the business of using them!

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For further reading: Favorite Words of Famous People by Lewis Frumkes, Marion Street Press (2011)

How Much is a Jane Austen First Edition Worth?

alex atkins bookshelf booksToday, July 18, 2017, marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s (1775-1817) death. Like fellow British writers Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare, Austen is a perennial literary sensation — her works have never been out of print over two centuries. Her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, was published anonymously (the title page simply stated “BY A LADY”), as a three-volume set in 1811, selling out just two years later. Following Sense and Sensibility, Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), Northanger Abbey (1817), and Persuasion (1817). Austen began a seventh novel, Sanction, in 1817 but died before it was completed. Austen’s popular six novels have inspired more than 70 TV and film adaptations and thousands of books. To get a sense of the impressive Austen canon, type in “Jane Austen” into the Amazon search field and you will find 14,594 books (compare this with 40,203 books about Dickens and 134,625 books about Shakespeare!). Naturally, a bibliophile (especially a Janeite bibliophile) wonders: what would a first edition of each of Jane Austen’s cost? Excellent question. According to current prices at AbeBooks, an entire set of first editions of Jane Austen six novels would set you back $190,000. Serious coin — about the cost of a college education in America. The most valuable books in the set are Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Interestingly, all the first editions were published as multiple volume sets. Here is the value of each first edition:

Sense and Sensibility: $30,000

Pride and Prejudice: $45,000

Mansfield Park: $20,000

Emma: $45,000

Northanger Abbey: $25,000

Persuasion: $25,000

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For further reading: Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin
Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence
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What Makes Life Meaningful?

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThe experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action… There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in numbers, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way… It is this spiritual freedom – which cannot be taken away – that makes life meaningful and purposeful.

From Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl (1905-1997), an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist who founded logotherapy. Frankl was a survivor of the Holocaust, having been imprisoned at the Auschwitz concentration camp, and later Kaufering and Durkheim (both affiliated with the Dachau concentration camp in Upper Bavaria) from October 1944 to April 1945. Having endured unspeakable suffering in the concentration camps, Frankl discovered meaning even in the most horrific, most dehumanizing situations. This belief, that there was meaning even in suffering, became one of the foundational concepts of logotherapy. According to Frankl, the striving to find meaning in life is the primary, most powerful motivating and driving force for all humans.

The Lord of the Books: Creating A Library From Discarded Books

alex atkins bookshelf booksGarbage collector Jose Alberto Gutierrez took the adage, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, to heart when he rescued thousands of books from the trash bins over a period of 20 years to create a free library for his neighborhood in Bogota, Colombia. So how many books did Gutierrez rescue? He collected more than 20,000 books, earning the nickname “Lord of the Books.” Lordy! Two immediate take-aways: 1. people of Colombia throw away perfectly decent books? and 2. Gutierrez, who stores these books in his home (he lives there with his wife and three children), must have a very patient and understanding wife (Jose — when are you gonna start clearing out some of these books? — if I trip on Infinite Jest one more time!….).  

Gutierrez is passionate about reading even though he had to leave elementary school when he was young to earn money for his family. “I got my inspiration from my mom,” he explained in an interview. “When I was little she would read to us every night.” Then when he was 13, he read a book that changed his life: Homer’s great epic, The Odyssey. “After reading it,” Gutierrez recalled, “I became a traveler in my own odyssey. I will only reach Ithaca when I see libraries and books everywhere in my country.” This passion for reading and education is what fueled his goal to open a free public library, that he calls “La Fuerza de las Palabras” (The Strength of Words), in 2000. The first book he collected was Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. He was shocked that someone would toss such an important literary work into the trash. I mean, if the book were 50 Shades of Grey — that would make sense, right?

Gutierrez’s generosity is not limited to his own neighborhood — over the years he has donated books to more than 235 organizations and schools in his native country to help disadvantaged students to discover the joy and benefits of reading; he explained, “The whole value of what we do lies in helping kids [to] start reading.” The library has also become a mecca for writers, poets, and education specialists who visit the library to browse, research, and to sip from this impressive literary monument.

So next time you finish a book, but don’t want to keep the book, think of the Lord of the Books. Donate the book to a library or a neighborhood lending library, so it can be passed on. Perhaps one day, it may end up thousands of miles away in La Fuerza de las Palabras. Now that would be quite a literary odyssey…

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For further reading: https://aleteia.org/2017/06/13/a-colombian-garbage-collector-built-a-free-library-out-of-discarded-books/

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