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.

Read related posts: What Books Should You Read to Be Well-Read?
The Books That Shaped America
The Books that Influence Us
What to Read Next
30 Books Everyone Should Read
50 Books That Will Change Your Life

The Most Assigned Books in College Classrooms

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

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