(Google has this little-known tool–so I made a quick “SearchStory“. Kind of fun, maybe a useful tool? You can try one. They are very quick and easy.)

We’ve talked in the past about the differences between training and education, and one difference we mentioned (or at least I mentioned it) was that “training” is something for animals. Education is for human beings.

But there’s a deeper question at the core of that distinction, and in this unit we can start to explore that deeper question. What does it mean to be a human being?

One way to begin defining a word or concept is to look at it differentially–to try to define what it’s not. There are several ways to slice up the concept of “human being.” Anthropologists and paleontologists look at our pre-human hominid ancestors (there’s a great timeline here). Sahelanthropus tchadensis (around 7-6 million years ago) really wouldn’t fit what we think of as “human” today. Homo neanderthalensis (200-28 thousand years ago) was a lot closer, and what we used to call “Cro-Magnon” is now pretty much accepted as “early Homo sapiens sapiens.”

So at some point between Sahelanthropus tchadensis and Homo sapiens sapiens some very important things changed.

And we can also slice the concept in terms of species–we have some very intelligent non-human neighbors today. Dolphins and chimpanzees are probably the closest to us, but my dog, Jerry, certainly thinks he’s a human being. And my cats are certain that they are superior to human beings.

Or we can go in another direction–a different kind of neighbors. Is an intelligent alien (probably not a Martian–but what about a Vulcan? A Romulan? an Overlord?) a human being?

And there’s yet another direction. The artificial beings–computer intelligences, cyborgs, androids–are they human?

So if we look at those various slices, we see that there are certain things that the non-human ancestors and the non-human neighbors don’t have, while the human ones do.

And if education is something for human beings–what is it about human beings that education is for?

In Yiddish, as I’m sure some of you know, the word mensch means a lot more than just a human being. To be a mensch is to be what a human being should be (Judaism has some pretty definite ideas about what qualities are included there–but what are your ideas?). And maybe that’s what education is for–to make us what we should be.

How can education take us to the place where we are the best that we can be?