Term Paper: Education the Definition

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[. . .] If it is there to be done, it must be done. An educated person knows there are no demeaning vocations, that every vocation contributes to the running of the world for all of us. Again, grace is needed. Grace is needed when an educated person finds himself or herself underemployed, or unable to find anything in his or her chosen vocation. Grace might also be needed, or needed even more, if a person finds extraordinary success in his or her vocation. An ignorant person will self-aggrandize. An educated person will take pleasure in the achievement, look for ways to pass the good around, and then look for the next good thing to accomplish. Grace will keep that person from being a boor or acting in a trashy manner. To an educated person, the choice of vocation is not nearly so important as what one does with it, and how much one enjoys it and brings to it in terms of interest, even passion, and the will to excellence.

Competency in math and the natural sciences is difficult for some educated people, just as the humanities are difficult for others. I almost think that in these two areas, it is necessary to use some grace when contemplating requirements regarding competency for the educated person.

Some people find math awfully hard, although they may like the natural sciences. Their love of the natural sciences may express itself as an avocation, a desire to paint 'plein air' style like the Impressionist painters. Or it may be just an interest in leaning about new medical procedures. Their interest in mathematics may be truly unknown to them. For example, I am really fond of Stephen Hawking, the British physicist. I have no notion that I would ever understand the formulae he invented in his contemplation of the universe, but I'm glad he did it, and I know that his contribution to human knowledge and understanding is great. I applaud it, but I cannot replicate it. I can, however, know enough mathematics to perform the life of an educated person. That might include, like Jefferson, drawing up some designs, maybe for a cabinet for my office, maybe for a new room for my house. Or maybe some time I'll decide to become an architect. Every day math is necessary for an educated person, and maybe a bit more. Understanding the concepts of the stock market, of economics in general, would be very useful to planning and living an organized, prosperous life that would allow one to perform all the other tasks and pleasures of an educated person.

The natural sciences seem a more universal necessity. In an age of environmental problems, knowing enough to be able to decide what one believes about issues of conservation of land, air and water -- and consequently to vote appropriately to put into office politicians who will attempt to husband those resources intelligently -- seems an absolute necessity. From strip-mining to water fluoridation, there are endless issues for an intelligent person to consider. An educated person will be able to consider them from all angles, including ethical, fiscal, and scientific, and will be able to logically come to a workable conclusion. If that educated person also possesses the communications skills he or she should possess, then those ideas can be presented to the community. An educated person will, however, be able to choose those issues about which he or she can make the most difference or which seem to be -- weighed with logic as well as compassion -- as no one can do everything.

Math and the natural sciences, but most especially math, seem to have become all-important in some circles, with the rise of technology. And with the advance of technology, of course, came the idea that we must have it. Still, there is a danger there, and that is becoming so enamored of the technology that one forgets what it is for; it is to be a servant to us, not our master. An educated person will understand that, and, as attached as we get to our computer (even I!), there is more in the world to be investigated than can be Googled. The natural sciences and math are also becoming blurred with religion, a very exciting prospect. For so many years, scientists claimed not to believe in God, or to be agnostics at least. These days, quantum physics is actually attempting to prove the existence of God. No matter whether one chooses to believe in God, or even in quantum physics, it is necessary for an educated person to know that these investigations are going on. Without that knowledge, an educated person just mimics what has been said about either one for centuries, blocking off the new information the pursuit of which is the hallmark of the educated person. Indeed, it is about the natural sciences and math that for centuries, those not involved mention 'discoveries' and 'research,' thinking erroneously that those two concepts do not apply to the humanities. But clearly they do. Of all these six competencies, the humanities might be the single most essential one. The humanities are a synthesis of all that has gone before, and all that there is. Discoveries happen in humanities, but they are more likely to be the discoveries of interconnections between things or events that the uncritical would never link. But linked, they suddenly shed more light on human life. For example, knowing that the Celts are not synonymous with the Irish might seem useless knowledge at first. But then realizing that the red-haired people inhabited what is now most of France and parts of Germany and northern Italy before moving to Ireland would help explain the points of similarity in all three cultures, or might cause someone to look for them. So what? That's about another of the competencies, community. We tend to narrowly define our community, unless our real education shows us that they are all interrelated. Again, so what? It's hard to fight with someone who is your mirror image. This sort of thing struck me a few years ago when some Irish friends invited me and a Japanese friend to an Irish concert. The band played some Spanish-sounding tunes, and it turns out the Celts were on the Iberian Peninsula as well. The Japanese girl was really into the music, but it seemed so un-Asian. And then the Irish band did some Chinese tunes on their Irish instruments, and all of a sudden it was clear that there are similarities in the music of all cultures. It was a discovery, a personal one for me, but others had made it before, and used it to increase knowledge, community and so on.

I will admit to some bias in favor of the humanities as a competency for an educated person. The connections, and the opportunity to find more, and just to realize how interconnected everything really is fascinates me. I think that that quality, the ability to be fascinated, is particularly valuable to an educated person, and particularly well served by the humanities.

Here's a connection between humanities -- which discovered and presented the connections -- and the sciences that makes it clear that so much is interrelated. One of the most rapidly spread modern inventions was eyeglasses. Few know that they were invented in about 1270 by English Franciscan friar Roger Bacon. An educated person can already see some connections; here is religion and science. But Bacon probably also wanted to indulge, and let others indulge, in reading and seeing beautiful things; humanities. And needless to say, communication -- both incoming and outgoing -- is more difficult for anyone who cannot see well. This was, in fact, the perfect educated person's invention. "Reading glasses for the elderly were in use at the papal court in Cairo by 1300, and at the sultan's court in Cairo by 1300, and at the court of the Mongol emperor of China no later than 1310." (Drucker, 1993) Only two inventions spread faster, the sewing machine and the telephone. (Drucker, 1993) And one of those was about communication.

In fact, things we might call technology were once thought to be scientific inventions. One of these was the stirrup, which made it possible to fight on horseback. Without them, riders fighting with lances, swords or a heavy crossbow would have been tossed off the horse by the force that Newton described in his Third Law: "To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction." (Drucker, 1993) A whole community then developed around this 'fighting machine,' an armed man on horseback. In fact, the stirrup created a political system, feudalism, because it required at least fifty peasant families' work to support each night, his squire, his three horses and his 12 to 15 grooms. (Drucker, 1993) That, it seems to me, was the beginning of specialization, and the very thing that caused the need of a concept of an educated person. . A specialized person… [END OF PREVIEW]

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