Monday, November 22, 2010

Guest post: What does it mean to be well educated?

[From Chris; originally posted at A Blog About School]

So much of educational debate focuses on how to assess whether our schools, teachers, and kids are meeting certain goals, but the goals themselves seem very narrowly defined. It sometimes seems like we are letting assessment itself drive the goals -- as if we’ve concluded that there’s no point in pursuing any goal if it can’t be measured on a test.

That strikes me as impoverishing our conception of education, so I wanted to open up that topic here. In one recent post, I described one quality that I hope education will instill in my kids: healthy skepticism, by which I mean not just being able to evaluate other people’s claims about the world, but being inclined to do so.

What qualities do you think a good education would instill in a person? How do they break down between acquired knowledge, skills, behavioral traits, mindsets, and values?

(The title of this post is borrowed from a book by Alfie Kohn.)


  1. I've become convinced that the only objective of my local school system is to produce high standardized test scores. It does not matter to them at all whether the kids that come out of the system are at all prepared for their adult lives.

    So for this system, "does well on tests" = "well educated."

  2. PsychMom says:

    I became immediately suspect of my own degree back in 1986 when I knew I was graduating beside someone who completed all of her statistical analysis for her thesis on a calculator, because her supervisor didn't believe in computers. That was the moment I knew that basically everything I had spent 7 years agonizing over was basically wouldn't help me at all to get my first job.

    As I look back, it was my personality, my dedication, my people skills and my ability to work independently that got me work. Rarely did even a resume come into play, because it was who I knew and what they knew of me that was important. So definitely, I think that an ability to communicate and engage people is key to life success, on many levels. In the computer age, acquiring knowledge is a's what you do with the knowledge that distinguishes people.

  3. PsychMom, you figure education is all about getting a job? Hmm ...

    I certainly want my kids to be able to support themselves, but I also want them to be complete human beings who care about things besides their employment. For one thing, I don't know what the economy and job market will look like for their adult lives.

    I like Chris' emphasis on healthy skepticism. I also hope both of my kids will find something that brings them joy, whether they can get paid for it or not.

    And lest I sound too fuzzy, I do care about math skills, the ability to think and write coherently, and knowledge of history and culture.

  4. Oh, and @Matthew -- absolutely right, all they care about is test scores. Welcome to NCLB.

  5. PsychMom adds:

    I guess my post missed the mark because I think I was trying to say that education didn't have anything to do with work.

    But I take your point, in that I made it sound like I had hoped my education would get me a job. Though, that was actually the case, I was too young and too hyped up on marks to expect anything else from my education.

    What I hope for my child is that her education will make her confident, and engaged in her world rather than detached from it. I hope she finds people and causes that she really cares about because she's more likely to do things if her heart is in it. I hope her education allows her to pursue them, and doesn't only encourage marketable skills.

    But I'm very skeptical right now.

  6. PsychMom, I figured you didn't really think school should just be for the purpose of getting jobs.

    "Confident and engaged" sounds good to me too.

  7. Thanks, everyone, for those comments. Like FedUpMom, I do hope that my kids will come out of school with some fundamental math and literacy skills, as well as knowledge about the world around them. But I agree, too, that there's a lot more to a good education than just raising test scores. What's become of all those other concerns -- skepticism, joy in learning, engagement in the world, self-confidence, and I might add creativity, self-understanding, initiative, intrinsic motivation, and curiosity? Right now, if a school doesn't raise its test scores, it can get in serious trouble. But if it utterly fails to address those other concerns, or even sacrifices them to raise test scores, nothing bad will happen to it. Who decided that that was a good idea?