What does it mean for a person to be “educated”?
That might seem like a strange question, especially coming from a student who spends a fair deal of his time, money, and effort in the pursuit of education. But look again and ask yourself what you’re aiming to accomplish with your degree at the end of your time in university.
There’s the obvious answer: your education, at least on paper, means you’re going to get a good job when you graduate. There’s also the idealistic view: you will benefit by learning as much as possible and expanding your worldview. These are perfectly suitable answers—I have subscribed to both during my time here—but neither seems to capture the full scope of the effect of education.
I’m tempted to think that the real goal of education is to influence us in making good decisions. That might sound like there’s a lot of overlap with the other two answers, but when taken one step further, you can see the differences. Will you use your knowledge to make the world better in some way, or will it be used simply to help you achieve some professional position? Will you contribute to society in a meaningful way or are you content with keeping your knowledge to yourself? Education, as I understand it, is meant to give you the tools you will use to help others.
David Suzuki, the famed Canadian academic and broadcaster, used his education to spread awareness of the environmental sciences and contribute to a greater good. Einstein, Oppenheimer, and many others felt similarly about the societal benefits of science in a post-nuclear world. Kurt Vonnegut, a trained mechanical engineer and employee at General Electric, rallied against the effects of “negative (useless) education” in his literary works, instead opting for a humanist approach. These were educated people, making informed decisions. More importantly, they understood the profound and positive uses of education and wanted to expand on them.
The late Dr. James Frasier Mustard was also one of those people. A member of the University of Toronto community, he was perhaps most well known for his influence in the study of early childhood development. With a medical background (he was part of the team that discovered the effects of aspirin in preventing heart attacks), Mustard promoted the importance of early brain development in children—the results of which have had, and will continue to have, tremendous positive social implications. Most recently, Dr. Mustard was working on an establishing the Institute for Human Development at our university.
Dr. Mustard died at his home on Wednesday after battling cancer, but his work continues to benefit people around the world, paving the way for a future generation of educated people.
A memorial celebrating his life will be held at Hart House this Friday at 1 p.m.
Michael Di Leo