A Postscript to Education

30 October 2011, by A. Cedilla

A while back we posted the following entries:

  • Free Classes Online! (Or, Rethinking Education) – “Hard times do ease up, however, and while you can’t predict the future, you still decide your own fate. You do what you can to keep going, and if that means going for more education, you still have options.”
  • Taking Action (Rethinking Education 2) – “There’s no time better than the present to train yourself to being flexible and open to change. This is something you have to teach yourself, and no course or college can give it to you.”

While these articles touched on the various choices available today for people looking to continue their education, today’s discussion touches on a different aspect of the issue:

  • One, what does it mean “to be educated”?
  • And two, what will it mean to educate yourself?

What does it mean, to be “educated”?
This is a very old question, and one which has been hotly debated by the great minds of history, but for today, What Must An Educated Person Know? (The Personal MBA) is an excellent staring point.

Usually when people talk about “getting an education”, they’re talking about college, when in fact college is an institution that facilitates education but isn’t a guarantee of it (face it, we’ve met people with very nice degrees who can’t handle PowerPoint, or exhibit common street-sense).

In the article, things like majors, extra-curriculars and internships aren’t even touched on. According to Joshua Kaufman, being educated is all about skills acquisition and practice.

A diploma is an assurance from an educational institution that its graduates have successfully met and complied with the requirements needed to pass.

It is not a guarantee of the wisdom that comes from practical experience and learning from actual, I’ll-never-live-this-down screw-ups.

A diploma isn’t proof of street smarts and common-sense — book-learning isn’t people skills, and does the term “ivory tower” ring a bell?


Education is supposed to equip you with the inner tools, the knowledge and the training for you to make your own life and be a member of society. A good education leaves you with knowing enough to not only manage your own life but make a contribution to humanity of it, whether in an improved social condition, someone learning to read or make a living for himself, or a myriad of other ways we help make life even just a little easier for each other.


“Education” comes from the word educare. In its essence, being educated leads us on the path :

  • to act in a better way.
  • where we are enlightened to the connection between our actions and their consequences.
  • to realize our role as a member of a very big tribe, a citizen of humanity.
  • to draw out what skills, abilities and gifts which are inherent in each of us, and then to strengthen and refine them in our own service and that of others.

What You Wish You Knew in College (LifeHacker) is also a very good place to start. The public discussion where commenters picked each other’s brains to learn from other people’s mistakes and learn from borrowed hindsight is a valuable must-read.

Even the article itself is a testament to how we learn informally. You talk to people who’ve gone through similar experiences, who have already gone the distance, and you listen to what they learned mattered or didn’t matter.

On your own, you think of this new data in light of your own life and use what is applicable by testing it against your own experience, discarding the rest that doesn’t hold up or apply. Before the internet, we talked it out among older friends, relatives and mentors… after the internet, we talked it out among people willing to share their experiences.

Education is meant to let you be enough on your own, look after yourself and others, and be a vibrant, connected member of a very big family. It is supposed to bring you into learning about yourself and how to make your own place in this world. It’s not a sheet of fancy paper with calligraphy. That’s just a symbol.

Unfortunately, the general state of education today suggests it’s all about the grades. You chose a major based on how much you’ll get out of your degree, fine, no problem. But education is not confined to academics. You will still grow up physically without college, mentally it is exposure that matters.

BK Phil shared:

Going to college is all about:
1) learning the stuff you’re studying
2) learning to manage your life on your own (budgeting, planning, balancing)
3) learning to play/work with others (getting laid, networking, making friends)If you walk out of college lacking in any of these three areas, you’re headed for trouble. There are exceptions, but the odds will be stacked against you.For #1 the point is no so much what you’re learning, but rather the ability to complete the task. If you can’t get yourself organized to graduate with good grades, you’ll probably screw up other major endeavors – jobs, career, marriage, etc.For #3, maybe it’s toking up a storm, drinking yourself silly, geeking it up with the band, getting all queer in the drama club, or exercising/drinking till you puke with the crew team – doesn’t really matter. But if you don’t walk out with a large number of close friends that you’ll stay in touch with for decades to come, and with an even larger number of people who will recognize you at reunions, you’re probably going to fail at establishing and maintaining the social relationships that are required to succeed in the workplace (and in other critical social environments, including extended family).

f86sabre said:

This applies to engineers, but probably runs across the board. College is about learning how to solve problems. Critical thinking, research and building confidence. Work hard on these skill and attributes. You don’t necessarily use the detailed subject matter you studied (three years of calculus are pretty much expunged from my mind) but they are stepping-stones to building critical thinking skills.

hybridbynature shared:

If I could do it all over, it would pay more attention to what I wanted out of my future and concentrated on pinpointing those things.

What will it mean to educate yourself?
Keeping educated means keeping an open mind. Educating yourself also means you accept that you don’t know everything, and even your information can change without warning.

Life breaks everyone down one way or another — what you do next shows what you know and what you’re made of. Be open to learning new ways to live and new ways to be in this world, adapting when the situation calls for it. Amass enough know-how in a particular field to make a living, and enough knowledge about yourself to make a life.

Bonus link:
We end this article with a recommendation to read writer David Foster Wallace’s awesome Kenyon College 2005 commencement address. It’s not very long, and it can seem to ramble on at a few points, but it’s incisive, and brilliantly outlines the value of a real education.

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