Learning, Innovation & Tech

Bombs & Breakthroughs

Noam Chomsky: The Purpose of Education

CJ Westerberg, October 31, 2013 1:20 PM


(UPDATE: October 31, 2013 - Editor's Note: There is an upcoming Noam Chomsky animated documentary film via Sundance, which we preview the trailer here:



For those not familiar with Chomsky's bio or thinking, below is an original post we featured early 2012 which continues to get views today.  Do check out Chomsky's take on technology beginning at the 6:15 mark - it is FASCINATING to hear his views 18 months later . . .   C.J. Westerberg)

"Education is really aimed at helping students
get to the point
where they can learn on their own. . . "
- Noam Chomsky

Video Below

Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor and Professor Emeritus at MIT, presented "The Purpose of Education" recently at the "Learning without Frontiers" Conference in London.

Video runs about 20 minutes and topics include the role of technology and tests in education. Here are some notable take-aways aligned with time segments (transcript and quotes are non-official):

:30   Two Types of Education

The first kind of education is related to the Enlightenment  - highest goal in life to inquire and create; search the riches of the past; try to internalize ;  carry the quest  ---  help people how to learn on their own; it's you the learner;  it's up to you what you will master.

The second kind of education is related to Indoctrination - from childhood young people have to be placed into a framework where they will follow orders that are quite explicit.

3:15 -  schools and universities had to increase measures toward more control; imposing  more debt to capture students into conformity

4:15  - do you train for passing tests or creative inquiry?

4:40 -  when you get to a research institution like MIT follows the enlightenment view of education ;  urge to challenge and question;  question authority;  search for alternatives;  work with others; what an educational system should be like all the way down to Kindergarten

6:15  Education and the Impact of Technology

7:30  - tech changes now come no where near the tech advances of a century ago:
does not compare to the shift of the sailing ship or a telegraph

7:55  - Technology in education is neutral;
It's like a hammer - can build or kill

8:32 -  If you know what you are looking for the internet can be very valuable

8:50 -  always ask if your framework is the right one - what is significant, what isn't, what should be put aside

9:36 -  You can't expect someone to become a biologist by looking through the Internet

10:25  - well-constructed directive - could be harmful
random exploration through the Internet could be a cult-generator

11:15  -  You have to be able to evaluate, interpret and understand

11:45   Education: Cost or Investment

12:21  - Do we want a society free, creative individuals to gain from the past and to add to them OR do we want people to increase GDP

12:51 -  Bertrand Russell, John Dewey expressed the former

14:40  -  If there isn't a lively cultural and educational system which is geared toward
encouraging creative exploration, independence of thought, willingness to cross frontiers, challenge accepted beliefs - you're not going to get the technology that's going to produce economic gain, not that this is the prime purpose of education.

15:50  Assessment vs. Autonomy

Taking tests can be of some use - for students - "where I am, what I know, what I've achieved," or for teachers - "what should be changed or improved"

Beyond that, they never really tell you very much

17:00 -  A person can do magnificently on a test and understand very little

17:20   - We've all had the experience of "acing a test" and forgetting everything two weeks later

It can be a useful device; but it can be a diversion.

18:00   - Sixth grade teacher came up and told a story how one of her students asked if she could learn more about something about a particular topic and the teacher said she felt compelled to tell her that she shouldn't do that - that she instead should be studying for the upcoming national exam because it will determine the teacher's future and indirectly, the girl's future.  

19;00 -  The little girl may have been a lot better off if she explored what interested her and not the test.

Passing tests doesn't begin to compare with inquiring, searching, pursuing topics that engage us and excite us.

In fact, you will remember what you discover -  if you pursue this kind of learning.

20:00 -  World-famous physicist to answer a student question about what will be covered in a class:  "It doesn't matter what we cover, it matters what you discover."

"It doesn't matter what we cover,
it matters what you discover."

That's what teaching should be: inspiring students to discover on their own; to challenge if they don't agree; to look for alternatives if they think there are better ones; work through great achievements of the past, and try to master them on their own because they are interested in them.

Students will really gain from them but will remember them and use it as a basis for going on their own.

Education is really aimed at helping students get to the point where they can learn on their own because that is what you're going to do during your life, not just absorb materials given to you by the outside, and repeat it


above video h/t ElenisSchool tweet

Related: The Future of American Colleges, May Lie, Literally, in Students' Hands via The Chronicle of Higher Education

Related The Daily Riff:

What is Hacking Education?  Union Square Venture Education Summit with Sir Ken Robinson, Katie Salen, and other education-istas

Technology in the Classroom: Myths & Opportunities with Alan November
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