Four professors offer education definitions

by Cathy Wu | 1/12/07 6:00am

Four Dartmouth faculty members offered different perspectives on what it means to be well educated in a forum held at Dartmouth Hall yesterday evening.

The panel, moderated by Dean of the College Daniel Nelson, is the second in a series of forums held the first Thursday of every term sponsored partly by the Tucker Foundation.

Responses to the question "What does it mean to be well educated?" ranged across the spectrum. Irfan Aziz, Muslim student advisor, referenced to the Koran and Islam.

"Knowledge within the Islamic tradition is to be approached with the utmost respect and humility," Aziz said. The Arabic word for knowledge is used over 700 times in the Koran, he added.

Aziz's comments were echoed by Edward Bradley, professor emeritus of classics. To be well educated, Bradley said, goes far beyond a university education. Using two historical figures, St. Augustine and President Lincoln, as paragons of success who discovered the difference between being well educated and receiving fine education.

A common theme that ran throughout the discussion was that education is an ongoing, and sometimes lifelong process.

"Education within Islam is an ongoing process. It is not completed after receiving a four-year-degree or a six-year-degree or a seven-year-degree," Aziz said. "So from our birth to our death we must try or stride to seek knowledge."

Bradley spoke about the importance of committing lives to examination, a view that was further explored by Susan Brision, professor of philosophy.

According to Brison, being well-educated is an interpersonal process that requires introspection. Brison recounted a near death experience as an event that challenged her to examine what made life worth living. For her, it was music and poetry and "knowing in a deeper way than I had before, how to care for others and be cared for."

Brison encouraged students in the audience to find an activity that would help sustain them through hard times and to learn to have empathy for other people.

"There will be times when in your life, when you'll need to reach deep down and remind yourself, what makes your life worth living," she said.

Bradley agreed with Brison's view and elaborated that commitment to the needs of others is a requisite part of being well educated.

"They have to be part of what we understand to be a well educated person," he said.

Most of the faculty conceded, however, that due to the specialized structure of the College, it is often hard for students to explore educational options at Dartmouth.