Trained or Educated?

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Are you a trained teacher? Or an educated one?

"Both, of course," you may answer indignantly.

But are we quite sure about the difference between training and education as they concern ourselves? We can hardly claim we are educating our students if the distinction is blurred. Education is not only something we are providing for others but a process in which we, too, are involved.

So the professional-development courses dutifully taken in our precious evenings and summers take care of that, don't they?

We can hardly claim we are educating our students if the distinction between training and education is blurred.

The courses we study add to our knowledge of teaching techniques, methodology, behavior management, and a wide variety of other strategies. These are supposed to make us function more efficiently in the classrooms. We learn to perform in ways designed to bring results in students' measurable learning--and conformity. What we are actually doing is continuing the teacher training begun in the colleges of education--in Europe more accurately called teacher training colleges. We are becoming better pedagogues.

What most teachers want from these courses are fresh ways of presenting ideas. They welcome tips on how to inspire their students to work more productively; to find essential triggers that bring out the best in students; to hear suggestions for motivating reluctant learners.

All these may appear to make a teacher more effective. He or she will be seen as a good class manager with a comprehensive program and a repertoire of neat strategies for every contingency. But the students will miss the most valuable part of the classroom experience if the teacher lacks the spark of the real educator. Unless teachers are educated people in the true sense, they will fail to have any lasting effect on students beyond giving them a few tools to help them perform commercially salable functions.

So how should we equip ourselves to become more "educated?" What is an educated person? Here is my list of qualities. Perhaps others could add to it, challenge it, as educated readers:

  • A facility with language--preferably more than one--would seem essential. To think through ideas, evaluate concepts, debate values, and for a host of other functions important for personal growth, we need words. Great minds of our civilization, those who have shaped our way of thinking, have been masters of language. The greatest have left us words that transcend cultures, nationalities, and generations. They serve as beacons on the way to our understanding of our potential. We must learn to read widely and express ourselves lucidly if we are to extend our experience and enrich our store of knowledge.
  • Specialized knowledge of some kind indicates a person committed to the pursuit of learning. It can contribute to the total perception we are struggling to achieve. But we must avoid viewing the possession of such knowledge, often defined by formal degrees or titles, as a guarantee of an educated mind, of wisdom. Sometimes it can reflect the opposite--a narrowly directed consciousness that only operates within limited parameters.
  • It is important for an educator to have a feeling for values. This does not mean he has a set of rigid, inflexible attitudes which he forces on his students. But he needs to be constantly searching and defining his own values, showing he is concerned with vital issues and sensitive to the views of others. He should recognize his own prejudices and rid himself of any that interfere with a sense of harmony with other human beings. If he has been lucky enough to find a value system that appears to generate this sense of community and give insights into the nature of humanity, he should live it, not expound it.
  • We should try to face the world as it is and not as we wish it to be. Once we can see, we can take steps to deal with problems in whatever way we think will bring benefit to those concerned. An educated person faces reality, does not live in a world of illusions. He can approach difficulties with confidence and knowledge--and can enter into the joy of full participation in life. And though reality can be elusive at times, education will help us recognize it more readily.
  • Speaking of joy, we should not forget that education, like any increase in awareness, can bring happiness as well as despair. The worlds of music, art, literature, science, nature, and everything else this extraordinary experience of being alive can give us are things in which we can glory. The inner surge of delight that greets a new discovery or experience is a spur to expand our horizons and venture further along the way. Knowledge can also bring pain, but if we accept that and deal with it as part of our total experience of living, we are learning to educate ourselves in the fullest sense.
  • Solitude. Can you cope with it? Do you make every effort to escape it? Can you bear the silence? Can you exist as a single entity, responsible for and joyful in yourself? Do you value the chances you have for reflection? If you can say yes to these questions, you are on the way to the "self-possession" that is a characteristic of an educated person. "Know thyself" is as useful a command today as it was centuries ago. Unless we can know ourselves, we will find it difficult to know or love others. Without this ability, we can never be fully educated as full participants in the human community.
  • The educated mind searches for understanding of different cultures, societies, and philosophies. If we are ignorant of how "the other half" lives, how can we have any idea of our own place in the world? If possible, we should have the experience of living in another culture, another social situation. This is the best way of understanding and eliminating prejudices. If not, we can seek out people who have and learn from them.

Perhaps my list is long enough for a beginning. What it suggests is that if we become educated, we are, as James Truslow Adams said, learning to know "how to live," not "how to make a living." If we want to educate ourselves, which we must if we are to make the most of our own lives as well as our students', we need to reach out and embrace all that life has to offer.

Why not professional-development courses on great literature? Or music? Why not travel to places that have made our history? Have contact with societies that have enriched our culture? Communicate with other worlds out there where people toil to survive, create businesses, climb mountains, and explore space. Let's take a look at our leisure activities. At our long-term life goals. Are we just distracting ourselves? Being passively entertained? Handing over our minds and missing out on so much? Do we take time out for silence and reflection?

Most of our teaching is of what we are, not what we have lined up as curriculum. We teach about ourselves involuntarily alongside the teaching of history, language, and mathematics. We need to give our students a perspective of education as we pursue and express it in our own lives, not train them like robots for a brave new world. There is really no such thing as an educated person--only people at varying levels in the process of being educated. Education is something acquired along a never-ending path. "Getting an education" is not a closed process, like shopping for a new car. And if we are real educators, we are doing our job by including our students in a process which is part of our own living experience.

Anne Spencer taught for 30 years and is a free-lance writer in Victoria, British Columbia.

Vol. 19, Issue 6, Page 47

Published in Print: October 6, 1999, as Trained or Educated?
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