Thursday, 2 February 2012

Noam Chomsky on the purpose of #education via #LWF

Across time there have always been people who's voice was sounding louder than the voices of others. Simply because they have/had a solid opinion based on vision and strong arguments. And apart from the fact that you can always agree or disagree, listening and reflecting on ideas of outspoken, well-argumented people always brings you to the next level of understanding. One of these voices in the past 50 years has been Noam Chomsky. In this 21 minute video you can hear his opinion on education. The video was produced for the wonderful and energetic conference of 'Learning Without Frontiers'.

Noam's ideas on education in short (and paraphrased by me at times):

There is a constant struggle between two realities: the principles of the enlightment and indoctrination.
From the enlightement: the highest goal is the quest for knowledge. For this the learner is going to achieve that quest, it is her/his responsibility.
Indoctrination: young people are placed in a framework and they are molded to what is to be expected.
These two sides are always there. Do you learn for a test or are you learning for creative inquiry? There are always two different ways to look at things from kindergarden al the way through graduate and beyond...

Technology is a neutral instrument, education is a framework
Currently there is a substantial growth in technology, culture... but we should bare in mind that the technological changes that are happening are not that impressive as we think at times. The technology of the past century were impressive as they influenced life expectancy, health..., but the shift from a type writer to a computer, is in no way in comparison to the changes taking place a century ago.
Technology is a neutral instrument, also for education. So for any technology we should always look at the framework where in the instrument is used: what is significant, what is to be pursued... If you do not have a framework, the internet will not lead to significant enlightenment. So behind any significant use of technology, there needs to be a well constructed apparatus.

What does society want its citizens to be?
Do we want a society of free, critical thinking people? Education is a value on itself, because it can help to build better human beings.

Assessment versus autonomy
Increasing demand to take tests to follow personal evolution. But tests never tell you very much on the real insights, the real personal progress that is made. Sometimes tests are just a couple of hurdles, nothing essential. Teaching out to be inspiring, and motivating students to explore on their own (remark of myself: this is a close link to buddhist, ancient greec and jewish learning tradition). The questions and the discussions are important.

Personal thoughts after hearing the talk
But the thing I wonder about is, how can you build a critical thinking framework and ... even if such a framework is provided, who is to say how 'critical' is defined? Or is critical only defined as non-conform? No matter what we teach our children, I have the feeling that in the beginning, when they are young they want a better world for all of us, but as the realities of society is getting to them - to us - many of us turn bitter, or we turn away from the concept that human society can indeed become peaceful, compassionate and nurturing. I wish enlightenment was possible, but power and establishment seems to be getting in the way. Sometimes I even wonder whether research is not just another way to keep intellectuals outside of society, and give them a bone to chew on so they will not stir up things for the happy few. Why cannot science be the establishment? We know so much to bring about a cooperative world, yet violence is still all around us despite of different educational approaches and new technologies...