Let's talk about ... what it means to be "educated".
Well that's obvious isn't it? Or is it?
It is in fact, a concept that I have been pondering and reading around for some time. The best way for me to illustrate my thoughts is through a series of statements.
#1: In order to be classed as educated, you at least need to be able to write.
But then I thought of people I personally know, and at an extreme example, even a famous scientist (Stephen Hawking sprang straight to my mind), who can't physically put pen to paper, but yet I/we would class them as educated. There are dyslexic people who struggle to write and accurately get their words into physical form. A quick internet search will soon bring up a list of dyslexics who make great contributions to many fields and who are considered educated. So is the ability to put pen to paper and write, a prerequisite to being classed as educated?
#2: In order to be classed as educated, you must at least have basic numeracy.
But then I thought about those people who might struggle with numbers, may be diagnosed/classed as having dyscalculia, yet who excel in other areas and who add to the field of human knowledge where number literacy is not critical. So it struck me that being numerate was also not a prerequisite to being classed as educated.
#3: In order to be considered educated you need to be able to read fluently at the age of x years.
Research into natural reading acquisition (i.e. outside of a schooled arena) clearly shows that "late" reading does not impact learning in other areas, as long as that person has access to a diverse sources of information and is not stigmatised for not being able to read. It is not uncommon in this situation for "late" readers to suddenly acquire reading and "catch up" in a very short space of time, and where their first books are totally "age appropriate" or beyond. The life outcomes/contributions/successes of these people are not compromised by not reading earlier. So does reading by a particular age act as a definition of being educated?
#4: In order to be considered educated, you need to have knowledge of the fine arts.
Within society there is this notion that someone is well educated if they attend opera, theatre, are a classical music expert, attend art galleries, read and discuss poetry etc. Is this what we mean when we talk about being educated?
#5: You can be considered educated if you attend an elite academic institution eg. Eton.
Or conversely, you can be considered "uneducated" if you "only" went to a state comprehensive. There are certainly people in society that hold this view of education. Is this the definition of being educated?
#6 In order to be educated you need to go to school.
In human history context, school is a recent phenomenon, only being around for 150-200 years (depending on your definition). Are we saying that all the great thinkers, innovators, healers etc born before the advent of schooling were not educated? If we believe this to be true, are we saying that children educated at home are not in fact educated at all?
#7: To be educated means to have lots of academic qualifications.
But then I thought of those people who have lots of academic qualifications, but who can't apply these to, and in, real life, and remain enclosed in academia. So is solely the acquisition of academic qualifications the definition of being educated?
There are many other examples, but I think you get the drift.
It's not for a moment that I am saying people should not learn to read, write, spell accurately, be able to handle numbers, should not obtain qualifications etc. These things can all help form part of an education, and facilitates people to navigate, and contribute to, the world around us. What I am saying is that we should not define, and confine, education by, and around, these notions. Defining a "suitable" education as needing to achieve minimum age related homogenous standards across all these areas simultaneously, sounds reasonable on first brush but, as we can see, is problematic. It is reductionist. It lacks understanding of the capacities and capabilities of humans, and the richness of human diversity. It risks limiting, damaging and stifling the contributions to society, and the world, of people NOT simultaneously making all of these arbitrary standards, who are often made to feel worthless due to shame and stigma. I am suggesting that rather than looking to prioritise, and only value, conformity to a standard, we look at valuing the full range of human diversity, contribution and capability. I am suggesting we value, connect with, and respect, the full spectrum of humanity.
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