I have just finished reading a book by Tara Westover entitled Educated: A Memoir.   The story is about a young woman who overcomes immense odds to seek out the education she was denied as a child; in fact, this is a story about the author highlighting her challenges, insights, conflicts, and persistence as she chose to define herself beyond her religion and her family.   Tara, having taught herself enough math and grammar to be accepted into university at the age of 17, began her learning journey, leading to the completion of her PhD at Cambridge 11 years later at the age of 28.  This story, which is as much about tenacity and desire, made me reflect upon what it really means to be educated!

In Webster’s dictionary, the following synonyms are used to define the term educatedinformed, literate, “schooled”, well read, learned, knowledgeable, and enlightened.  These words do not include the attributes of a learner nor do they reference disposition or ability; they say nothing about being intellectually curious or the ability to speak and write persuasively.  Schools may provide the baseline for our knowledge, but an education shapes our perspective, our thoughts, and our ability to become lifelong learners.  An education is more than doing well on a test, successfully mastering a concept, taking notes in a class, or demonstrating a skill to a teacher or coach.  It is more than getting a degree from an accredited school, aspiring to a certain job position, possessing a certain title, or displaying your degrees on the wall of your office.  Ultimately, being well educated is comprised of the desire as well as the means to make sure that the learning journey carries on beyond the formal structure of a “school” education.

To be prepared for the future, we need individuals with imagination, creativity, and innovativeness, as well as analytical capacity.  In that context, I believe that to be truly educated, one must be willing to seek out the hidden complexity of our world by:

  1. Knowing what questions to ask and how to find the answers not yet discovered.
  2. Being proficient in ways that make sense of new experiences and applying them to current and future scenarios.
  3. Connecting the past with the present and utilizing the “lessons learned” to influence the future.
  4. Appreciating the treasures of history, literature, art, music, dance, and theatre of previous civilizations.
  5. Exploring alternative viewpoints to develop empathy, understanding, and collective purpose.

At SMS, we don’t want our students to be merely compliant or “good students;” rather we want them to be responsible for their own learning and to invest in every opportunity that helps them grow as individuals while remaining curious about the world. We want our girls to take risks, to learn from failures, to celebrate the effort as much as the outcome of their hard work, and finally, to be open to possibilities. To be well educated, then, is to have the desire as well as the means to make sure that learning never ends!

“Unless you learn to ask questions, do things hands-on, recreate things in your own mind and transform them as is needed, then ideas just disappear and knowledge is never developed.”
Howard Gardiner



Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. 2018

What Does It Mean to be Educated? – A young person’s perspective