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What Is Education?

By Chorphie Charlie - February 15th 2005

"...Sawyer’s past experience socialized him that modern success requires a terminal degree and, for that purpose, through some shadowed connections, Sawyer entered a university. Lacking in personal mental potential, to handle the laborious academic task, Sawyer managed through similar shadowed mechanism and succeeds in acquiring a terminal degree in government affairs, without actual knowledge of the subject matter. ....."


I have challenged myself to engage a question that demands deep epistemological understanding regarding concept, perception, and reality (Hume, Locke, Descartes, Plato ect). In what follows, is a struggle to ground critical analysis dealing with issues concerning the nature, scope, and source of education. Forgive me if I fail this test. The attempt here is simply to provoke a kind of dialogue that separates ‘what is’ from ‘what ought to be’.

I choose to take on this subject recognizing the heighten stress burdened upon many of Liberia’s political heavy weight and their followers, given the current political dynamics in Liberia, in which a common footballer is poised to assume the mantra of state leadership. This paper itself suffers that burden.

What Is Education?

Without retrospecting Liberia’s political paradigm, which has shifted this present political culture permitting a political footballer. We must engage this subject rejecting subjective egotism by allowing our rational self to supervise the discourse. What then is education?

Education, to me, can be defined from a philosophical standpoint. Simply put, education is, borrowing from an epistemological meaning, a theory of knowledge. According to Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary:

“Education is 1a: The action or process of educating or being educated; also: a stage of such a process b: the knowledge and development resulting from an educational process 2: the field of study that deals mainly with methods of teaching and learning in schools.”

And an educated person is, from the same source of definition:

“Educated is 1: having an education; esp : having an education beyond the average 2 a : giving evidence of training or practice : skilled b: befitting one that is educated c: based on some knowledge of fact.”

This definition intentionally crippled any claim to specify methodology as the sole tenet to becoming an educated person. It does not locate an American university, University of Liberia (breeding ground for Liberia’s chaos) or the Poro Society’s School of government, as the proper avenue to gain an education.

What it does, is recognized processes and conditions that relates to the human understanding. For example, under what conditions a subject knows P to be true. To answer such inquiry, let’s assume the “original position” behind the “veil of ignorant” (John Rawls: Theory of Justice, ).

Hypothetically, Sawyer’s past experience socialized him that modern success requires a terminal degree and, for that purpose, through some shadowed connections, Sawyer entered a university. Lacking in personal mental potential, to handle the laborious academic task, Sawyer managed through similar shadowed mechanism and succeeds in acquiring a terminal degree in government affairs, without actual knowledge of the subject matter. On the other hand, Mydea possesses strong mental capabilities demanding of the rigorous university experience. With zilch (zero) social resources to support her ambition, she embarked on an independent scholarly project concerning similar subject matter like Sawyer, government affairs. Intensive studies over a relative collegiate period of time by Mydea produced demonstrative ability, comparing equally to an actual degree holder with full understanding of the subject matter, although Mydea does not earned a formal degree. Revisiting the premise of this paper; who among the two, Sawyer or Mydea, is an educated person in government affairs?

Edmund Gettier (Analysis, 1963) enjoined this debate with what he posits as “Justified True Belief.” Gettier’s Analysis analyzes knowledge, in our case education, as a “Justified True Belief” (JTB). But we must ask ourselves whether JTB is education, especially in looking at the Sawyer and Mydea cases. That is, Sawyer believes that a degree in government affairs qualify him as an educated person, if and only if:

  • The degree is legally obtain (P is true)
  • Sawyer believes that the degree is real, genuine, (S believes that P, and) and
  • Sawyer is justified in believing that the degree by itself qualifies him as an educated person (S is justify in believing P)

To refute Sawyer’s claim of being an educated person requires counter-argument that seeks to nullify his belief as lacking in knowledge. I am speaking of his actual understanding in government affairs, not mere appearance of effects-a terminal degree. The degree by itself does not demonstrate Sawyer’s personal knowledge of government affairs. However, the physical degree in Sawyer’s possession represents justification that Sawyer is an educated person. And so, it becomes a difficult task to challenge Sawyer’s JTB assertions.

On the flip side, Mydea’s capabilities show proven understanding in government affairs, to a greater degree, far outreaching Sawyer. Therefore, Mydea considers herself as an educated person. One can maintain that Mydea’s JTB satisfy the proposition of an educated person because she is knowledgeable of government affairs. Is this really the case?

Externalism versus Internalism

The Sawyer and Mydea accounts invokes opposite types of epistemological understanding, externalism versus Internalism. In Sawyer’s case, the epistemic externalist claims to education and/or its justification depends exclusively on causational factors and reliability of mechanism validating a subject belief-what ought to be. From the externalist’s (Sawyer) standpoint, an educated person is justified by matters outside of subject internal’s point of view, meaning a terminal degree from a recognized institution. The epistemic internalist (Mydea), on the other hand, does not reject the relevancy of factors acting outside of the internalist, which facilitates education. For example, an internalist must be taught by someone to know one plus one equal two. This is not a wrong answer from another person who was schooled in the academy. Thus, internalists insist that special access to certain information primarily based on justification status constitute education.

For example, by showing how a subject, Sawyer can fail to know something even though he meets the conditions proposed. And also to show that another subject, Mydea can know something despite failing to meet the conditions the account proposes.

In conclusion

The attention here, as it relates to the question of leadership and education in a democracy, like what we hope to practice in Liberia, attempts to attack and overcome the presence of a powerful skeptical argument, which threatens to dismiss beliefs that certain range lacks certain status. Nevertheless, the central epistemological quest is to underscore ‘what is’ and not, ‘what ought to be’. Thus, education (Mydea) differed from achievement (Sawyer). On the altar of God I pledge undying resistance to miseducated Liberians and hostile intellectuals. “Excuse me while I throw out.”

Articles by Chorpie Charlie>>>>

About the author:

Chorphie Charlie is a social and political commentator who resides in Philadelphia. He can be reached at

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