Considering the Meaning of Being a Well-Educated Person

To even consider what it means to be a ‘well-educated person’ identifies a well-educated person as one of special distinction.  This is because the privilege of obtaining a higher education sets one apart from others and provides one with special opportunity.  The learning required of an educated person is a process of gaining knowledge in a way that distinguishes one as an expert in a particular profession, calling, lifework or field.  For some, to be educated might mean to focus in-depth on an insight into a particular subject of interest.  Yet, others may find the need to expand their knowledge in a broad way in order to better understand themselves and others and our surrounding world.  Some might have the view that one approach (focusing versus expanding) is the correct approach, but in reality, each method works to fill a special need.  Likewise, identifying ourselves and others based on levels of education (educated versus uneducated) simultaneously creates notions of superiority and inferiority that perhaps might better be avoided.  Therefore, rather than attempting to define what it means to be a well-educated person, perhaps it is better for me to consider instead my purpose for gaining a particular form and extent of education and what specific knowledge I may need to achieve those goals.

My purpose for gaining a higher education is so that I can use this knowledge to create my vision of a better world.  This would be a world where folks no longer competed with each other in the increasing consumption of supposedly limited natural resources.  Instead, it would be a world in which folks acted in community and in a way that cared for one another and their environment in order to expand and share available resources, and it would be a world where all people would have their basic needs met.  My vision for a better world would be one of much greater peace and harmony.

Some important educational goals that I have are consistent with what Marcy Paulson wrote in her essay, Benefits of a Liberal Arts Education (Paulson, M., n.d.).  They are:  to have curiosity and imagination; to be able to access and analyze information; to be able to think critically and solve problems; to be able to initiate, collaborate and provide leadership; to be agile and adaptable; and to have the ability to communicate well.  To be clear, Paulson was pointing out that these skills are “essential in a powerful workforce that is ready to compete in the global marketplace (Paulson, M., n.d.).”  Yet these skills are not only essential to compete powerfully in an economic sense, they likewise are essential in accessing power for the purpose of building community, sustainability, and a lasting peace.  The education I seek is one that does not so much tell me what to think, but rather it allows me the privilege and freedom to discover the best way for me to use the gifts that our creator has given to me, and it will allow me to fulfill a very special need.

It appears that I value a liberal arts education.  William Cronon confirmed this notion of a liberal arts education when he wrote that a “[l]iberal education is built on these values: it aspires to nurture the growth of human talent in the service of human freedom . . . But what might an education for human freedom actually look like? (Cronon, W., n.d.).”  Cronon questions, and so do I, what abstract values (such as freedom or peace) actually mean, and how might a person go about discovering the answer to such questions.

Cronon reminds his readers that the original medieval list of liberal arts required courses were necessary learning before one could attain the status of becoming a ‘free man’.  Today, our notions of freedom have expanded such that we now “include a greater range of human talents and a much more inclusive number of human beings, holding out at least the dream that everyone might someday be liberated by an education that stands in the service of human freedom (Cronon, W., n.d.)”.  The liberal education that I value is one that gives me the freedom to discover, in my own way, the way in which I may best be of service to my fellow human beings.  Yet, it is clear that I cannot accomplish this on my own.  I need to lean on and rely on my broader community and their generosity, knowledge and wisdom.  It is also clear that this situation binds me in a relationship where I will also have responsibilities to my community that ultimately limits my freedom.

This notion of connectedness leads me to expand on the previous list of educational goals that I maintain.  Therefore, I desire to always have imagination and a curiosity about everything and everyone.  Because of this, I wish to read and understand what I read, and I want the ability to speak with anyone, communicating well by the use of both listening and hearing what they say and mean.  When I access and analyze information, I want to be able to think critically in order to solve a wide variety of puzzles and problems.  I want to understand how to get things done in the world and I want to nurture and empower others to do the same.  I would like to practice humility, tolerance, and self-criticism, therefore I want also to respect academic and professional rigor not so much for its or my own sake but as a way of seeking truth.  I want to be agile and adaptable to changes in the world and those around me. Additionally, I want to be able to write and speak clearly, persuasively, and movingly.  Finally, I would like to be able to connect all of this learning in community so that we together may gain the wisdom and ability to make a positive difference in our own lives and the lives of others.

To my way of thinking, to be an educated person is to be a person of distinction, for sure.  This distinction is a privilege that sets me apart and requires certain responsibilities from me.  This is because learning is not only a process of gaining knowledge of oneself and others and our surrounding world.  It is also gaining the ability to create what did not used to be and to understand what once, before, we could not see, and ultimately it is to share these new things with the broader community.


Cronon, W. (n.d.). “Only connect . . . “: The goals of a liberal education. William cronon [Web page]. Retrieved from

Paulson, M. (n.d.). Benefits of liberal arts degrees. Suite 101 [Web page]. Retrieved from

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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