For the last 30+ years, Roger Soder has been a professor here at the University of Washington College of Education. We have been so lucky to have him as he has spent nearly his whole professional life pursuing a simple question: What does it mean to be an educated person? Roger, who retired this year, has consistently reminded us that the question is more complicated, more important and more deserving of our attention than we might imagine at first glance. As you finish your degrees—some of you as undergraduates and others of you as graduates—I wanted to think just for a minute or two with you to answer that question with a grateful nod to Roger. He reminded us just as he left our hallowed halls that he has not yet found a complete and satisfactory answer to his own question!
An educated person gathers learning in order to be of service. A terrific education should not separate you from others nor elevate you above those who have less of an education. It should not be worn close as a cloak that makes you seem unapproachable. Gene Edgar, a faculty member in special education, has a tremendous commitment to public scholarship and believes that an educated person should strive to be of value to others, should strive to put her good fortune to good use on behalf of others, should use his education in order to enrich others.
An educated person tends to her own learning. A truly educated person knows that learning is never complete—there is always more to do. Elham Kazemi gave us a terrific example of this. She is an elementary math educator and she ripped apart her approach to teaching teachers to teach math because she was not yet satisfied that her methods were teaching children fast enough, thoroughly enough. Allen Klockars, who has taught statistics here, is another example. Each year he finds new contemporary challenges for learning statistics—wine, grading, elections—whatever is important in our daily lives. He doesn’t allow for complacency and quests after the next idea, a better solution, another approach. An educated person knows about his own learning strengths and weaknesses and tries to balance those. To be educated is not something that one completes and that is frankly one of the things that make an educator’s life so compelling, interesting, rewarding and frustrating!
I learned from two others of our faculty, John Bransford and Lani Horn that an educated person who has an area of expertise, often doesn’t understand what novices in their field struggle with. So, educated people force themselves to learn new things outside of their area of expertise in order to remember what it is like to try to learn something new. They do this in order to understand learning in all of its facets and they do this in order to have the kind of humility that allows them to teach others with greater facility and more sensitivity.
Truly educated people always make those who know less feel great about what they DO know while encouraging them to persist, to correct, to delve more deeply. They find keys to motivate people to keep going, to want to learn despite the fact that it is hard. Sue Nolen, an educational psychology professor here, reminds me frequently that motivation is key to learning and that great educators have to be motivators.
An educated person seeks feedback, thirsts for it, and asks for it with a kind of relentlessness. Cap Peck is our wonderful director of teacher education who has led our faculty and students to a new and important process for preparing teachers. He demonstrated how important it was to gather data on our own effectiveness. Then, with Cathy Taylor, he built a feedback loop into the program that is rigorous and demanding. He insists that the feedback, painful as it might be, is critical to ensuring that, as educated people, we accept the responsibility we have to make sure that we are actually educating others successfully.
An educated person is someone who embraces new things—because to hang on too tightly to old ways denies that the world is in constant flux. Reed Stevens, a faculty member in the learning sciences, created a new technological tool that helps us analyze our own work. When he couldn’t find a tool to do what he thought was needed, he created a new one—now helping many across campus. Steve Kerr, faculty member in C&I, is twittering away in his classes in order to understand right along side his students the value of a new technology.
An educated person values diversity—diversity of culture, opinion, background, religion, language, learning preferences. An educated person believes that all of this diversity adds richness, texture, depth, breadth to our society, to our workplaces and to our personal lives. Educated people do not shy away from differences but reach out to explore them.
Susan Sandall, in creating the early childhood program, reinforces for her students that their classrooms will be filled with the world’s children—and that each child’s differences, contribute to the resources the early childhood educator has. Manka Varghese, whose expertise is in bilingualism, reminds us that multiple languages are an asset—to be sought after by all.
I could go on of course; I’ve mentioned only a few of the wonderful faculty we have here; all of them have helped to educate me while they are about the business of helping you. I have only one more example, which I’ll draw from my own life experience. This one is the negative example: what educated people should never do! I have had moments when I felt cocky—like I knew a lot, that I knew more than others. I have had moments when I felt irritated with those around me because they weren’t paying enough attention to my advice, my opinions, and my ideas. I have given too much advice, too quickly, forgot to listen, forgot that learning happens everywhere. For me those moments have often come just after finishing something—like finishing my doctorate, which I, like many of you today, did here—or just when I started something new—like when I got my first job as a researcher or when I first became a new dean. It’s moments like these that I now know mean that I am not as well educated as I’d like to be. Whenever I get that feeling now, whenever I start to puff up with my own importance, I know to go home and go back to bed until it passes because to be so self important is never endearing to others, never enriches their lives, never makes them want to become an educated person if it means they would have to be like me!
So, my friends, congratulations! You have finished something important, something of real value, and you have the bonafides to call yourselves educated people. The trick now is to live it. Thank you all so much for enriching our college in your time here.
College of Education, University of Washington
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