What Does It Mean to be Educated?

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I recently wrote that education is more than simply taking classes and passing tests. This is frustratingly clear in things like driving tests. I took my student to try to earn her license yesterday. Unfortunately, the stress of the situation weighed heavily on her and things didn't go super smoothly. Ultimately, she was failed because she didn't realize -- in the moment -- that she could turn left on a green once traffic cleared after the turn signal.

Traffic Light

She passed the written test months ago. She's studied. We've spent hours driving around. But all that education does not make her "road ready." I need to spend more time driving with her before her driver's education is complete.


Google the word "educated" and you'll find the definition is "having been educated." (I guess Google doesn't care that you're not supposed to define a word using said word. <sigh>) So I propose this definition: You are educated when you can use or apply your instruction/training in life and accomplish the tasks before you.

My student will have learned how to drive when she can drive safely on her own.

Given my working definition, questions of being "more" or "less" educated prove silly. Am I, a guy who writes blog posts, less educated than a woman who performs surgery? Would she be less educated than an inventor creating the next propulsion mechanism? Who is more educated: A grandmother who has seven grandchildren or a twenty-something who has taken six Master's level courses in Information Systems technology?

I'm not aware of a word to distinguish between one who has taken many classes compared to someone who has learned much through life experience. But the reality is that there is always more to learn, postdoctorate or postpartum. This life-long learning thing is a reality of our finite humanity, not just a nice phrase for educators.

Once you have developed an appetite for learning, you'll never feel "less educated." That's not a phrase you'll even consider because your focus is different: You're not done. You're always growing. I found, a few Father's Days ago, that feeling well-educated hindered me. Far better to be like my dad who -- albeit incredibly informed -- maintains an attitude of humble ignorance, always ready to take input from others.

Sitting in classes does not mean you're being educated. Passing tests says little about how much you have learned. That's not to say that classes and tests don't help (they can!), but it should be an encouraging reminder that education is much more than either. If anything, tests and classes help foster an education, they are not, themselves, an education.


Academics are important (please read that post). Academic excellence is a huge part of being educated, and it honors God. And this is where my proposed definition of education -- "being able to do what you need to do" -- falls short. A large portion of becoming educated requires us to expand beyond ourselves.

Let's say, for the sake of example, that I wanted to become the next Alton Brown. I have lots of experience with eating food and making quirky, edutaining video vignettes (such as the ever popular Discover & Do and MathTacular DVDS). I could learn how to cook more than macaroni and cheese, hone my film making skills, and eventually become a star of television culinary arts. But would I be "educated"?

In one sense, yes; I'd know quite a bit more about food preparation than I do now. But in a very real sense, no; if all I knew was film and food, I'd be missing out on much of life.

That is why Sonlight offers a more "liberal arts" approach to learning. Trade schools and interest-focused education can be great for equipping for a job or hobby, but a prevailing schooling experience should provide a far broader perspective.

  1. The more you learn, the more you can learn. I've been told that acquiring multiple foreign languages allows you to think better and learn other languages more quickly. But I don't have to speak Latin or Spanish to see this in my own life. When I learn a new English word, suddenly I recognize it everywhere. My increased knowledge enables me to take part in that information rather than letting it circumvent me.
  2. Reality interconnects. Focusing overmuch on one subject disconnects it from the wider world. A liberal arts education allows us to make connections across the broad spectrum of disciplines and human knowledge.
  3. You can discover new interests. The broader our experience, the more opportunities lie before us. If I had never been exposed to woodworking and Legos, I wouldn't have realized that I enjoyed building things. Give your kids many chances to find their passions.
  4. You use everything you learn. It's true.

To be educated, then, means that you can do what you need to do and have a broad foundation upon which you can grow.


A truly great education does more than just set you up for both the present and the future. A well-educated person has been given a hunger to learn more. Thus, a huge part of any education should be the art of learning how to learn. You and I, and your children, will never know everything.

A great education is only the beginning of an education.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

P.S. Do you want to instill a life-long love of learning into your children? Sonlight's homeschool curriculum is guaranteed to help you love to teach and your children love to learn. And given everything we've just discussed about what it means to be educated, this is the curriculum for you.

P.P.S. Okay, maybe not. Sonlight is not for everyone. If you haven't at least glanced over the 27 Reasons NOT to Buy Sonlight, please do. I want you to love your homeschooling experience more than I want to sell you curriculum. Of course, with our 1-year money-back guarantee, I think you'll quickly see for yourself that Sonlight provides exceptional outcomes.

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  1. Pingback: From Luke’s Inbox: What About AP Classes? | Sonlight Blog