What Does It Mean to Be Educated Essay Example


The subject of education has been a key element of societies since its inception, inherently shaping the knowledge passed down from generation to generation.  Education has been used to divide and classify groups of people to create a perceived order and hierarchy curated to a culture’s desired skillsets.  In Western societies, such as the United States, education has become intertwined with capitalism, shaping our society and skewing perceptions of academia.  In accordance with the Western belief that the individual decides their future through a series of choices, the American education system and capitalistic economy work together to provide a false sense of inclusion whilst perpetuating systemic inequalities.

The American cultural and pedagogical emphasis on choice is intertwined with the ongoing debate over which courses should be required in schools.  Exhibited through the documentary, Precious Knowledge, the idea of curating high school courses to reflect the diverse cultures and identities of its students showed immense improvements in overall academic performance and graduation rates.  Depicted as a “curriculum that [was] in conflict with the values of American citizenship,” the ethnic studies department’s direct opposition to the traditional curriculum highlighted how the value of education tends to favor an American, often White, narrative over those of underrepresented groups (Precious Knowledge 29:10-12).  This idea both challenges and supports traditional definitions of an education individual; by uniting people through a shared curriculum, it supports the notion that education is inherently unifying by providing basic foundations in varying subjects.  On the other hand, it challenges this belief by asserting that education consists of varying elements from different cultures, and must be learned with that in mind.

So, while students may have the choice between a limited set of options, this close-minded approach to freedom and individualism shapes perspective.  If students are praised for learning materials that only reflect a primarily white, American perspective, there leaves little room for true expansion into other cultures and narratives.  This limited scope of what constitutes a “good” education only upholds a In the case of American schools, the rejection of “anti-American and anti-western” cultures as a part of the curriculum only furthers the belief that an educated individual can only earn such honor through a traditional set of materials and resources.

In relation to capitalism, the markers of a well-educated person are often intertwined with a sense of belonging to the middle or upper classes through ownership over material possessions, affectively turning education into a commodity with a numerical value attached.  As demonstrated in Robert Bulman’s Teachers in ‘Hood: Hollywood’s Middle-Class Fantasy, the middle class has become synonymous with a “calculate[ed] attitude toward educational and occupational choice…determining criteria for the choice of spouse, friends, and voluntary associations,” highlighting the intersectionality between socioeconomic status and education (Bulman 256. While this allows space for social mobility and financial freedom, it also reinforces the notion that education is exclusive to a certain financial status, heavily implying that valuable knowledge is limited to a select few.  In determining what the image of an educated person is, race and class have been used to inherently marginalize certain groups while praising others.  Exhibited through film, “mostly nonwhite students must change their behavior and accept middle-class values and cultural capital to achieve academic success” with the hopes of being able to leave low-income neighborhoods, demonstrating an increased physical and social mobility afforded to them (Bulman 256).  Typically neglecting the students’ current situations, and effectively their race and class, teachers impose notions of what their education should look like through a curriculum designed without them in mind.  As a society, we have been trained to associate the material value of an object with its actual value, blindly believing that if something is worth more, it must be of better quality.  Serving as a key element of what distinguishes private and public schools, this idea shapes how we value any education.  The action of paying for an education under the guise that it will be of greater value relies on limited access to financial resources for one’s education.  Choice: the driving force central to capitalism, functions as a divisive measure to uphold the standard that education is only as valuable as its monetary value.

In conjunction with capitalistic values and systems, the idea of an “educated” person cannot be discussed without acknowledging the opportunity, social mobility, and inclusion that shape our perceptions of the highly educated.  If the value of one’s education cannot be separated from a Western ideal of who holds the most knowledge within a society, hierarchies that favor wealthy, white Americans continue to be reinforced.  With this narrative dominating schools curriculums across the country, and inherently job markets and politics, the value of an education shapes life far outside of schools; so, education means power.  While beneficial to those in power, this hierarchy continues to disadvantage those without access to resources, such as private schools and universities, effectively fortifying the belief that knowledge is exclusive to the upper class.  Analyzed by Lauren Rivera and Adrás Tilcsik in How Subtle Class Cues Can Backfire on Your Resume, hiring practices that favor candidates from wealthier backgrounds, regardless of education, continue to highlight how this hierarchy is not limited to schools.  Although education can and has been used for increased social mobility between classes and professions, it cannot be ignored that the disparities between classes continue to widen. Likewise, the theme of the self-made man in American culture reinforces the idea that anyone has the ability to gain wealth, power, and influence through hard work and dedication. Education functions as a false sense of inclusion, within American culture, whilst upholding exclusionary practices.

Education does not follow one clear narrative; it is the compilation of experiences and lessons that shape how we think critically about the world.  To define what a well-educated person is, one must acknowledge and critically dissect the practices that have shaped how the public views the highly educated.  Through elite private preparatory schools and universities, the American view of knowledge has become a defining factor of wealth and status. The implications of this have resulted in systemic prejudices, disadvantaging minority, and low-income populations through exclusionary measures. As a commodity, education is a sign of cultural capital, reflective of class and opportunity. In short: an individuals education is only as valuable as the dominant culture decides it to be.

Works Cited Rivera, Lauren, and Andrs Tilcsik.Research: How Subtle Class Cues Can Backfire on Your Resume.Harvard Business Review, 21 Dec. 2016, hbr.org/2016/12/research-how-subtle-class-cues-can-backfire-on-your-resume.

Teachers in the Hood: Hollywoods Middle-Class Fantasy.Hollywood Goes to High School: Cinema, Schools, and American Culture, by Bulman C. Robert, vol. 34, Langara College, 2002, pp. 251274.

Precious Knowledge. Dir. Ari Palos, Eren Isabel McGinnis. Dos Vatos, 2011. Kanopy.

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