A deep, useful definition of “educated”

The Six Virtues of the Educated Person and this website are based on a simple premise — until we define “educated” in a deep, useful way, we will not be able to improve education. We are such an aphilosophical society that even teachers ignore what it means to be educated as they try to improve what they have not defined.

Education policymakers have filled the vacuum with a knowledge and skills definition of “educated,” because it is useful, not because it is deep. Standardized tests, that supposedly measure knowledge and skills, are used to hold teachers accountable.

This is unfortunate because it moves education away from a virtue definition of “educated.” Philosophical insight, however, tells us that virtue leads to knowledge and skills, but knowledge and skills don’t lead to virtue. America’s position in the world is not jeopardized  because graduates lack knowledge and skills, but because they lack the six virtues of the educated person,

Recent history provides examples of how the vices of our uneducated human nature (ignorance, intellectual incompetence, weakness, fear, pride and selfishness) have damaged our national life and reputation. The political and business leaders responsible for military appropriations scandals, Enron, the Savings and Loan bailout, the mortgage crisis, the BP oil spill, and our involvement in Middle East wars are uneducated in the most profound sense of the term. Their actions demonstrate the vices of our uneducated nature. Their knowledge and skills have no value because they don’t make the world better.

The outlook for improving American public education is dreary as long as we fail to define what it means to be educated and as long as we believe more research is needed. My blogs in the “Teacher Reads,” “I Love Irony,” and the “NurtureShlock” categories explain that a deep, meaningful philosophy is more useful than research findings. The good news is that, as soon as we embrace the six-virtue definition of the educated person, the path to educational improvement is clear — model and teach those virtues.

That is why I am seeking other deep, useful definitions. They should be “deep” because they are supposed to inspire us to greater depths of teaching and learning. They should be useful because, if they aren’t, they won’t tell us how to deal with a wide range of classroom and school situations. If they can’t guide action, what good are they?

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