Summary of Noam Chomsky’s talk: “Education, for whom and for what?” by Roxanne Dupont


noamchomskyNoam Chomsky is a well-known educator and linguist for his great thinking. He gave a lecture in the University of Arizona called: “Education For Whom and For What?” He talked about the evolution of education and the different sides of education that evolved throughout the years. He also talked about the impact of the society on education as well as the impact of political movements on education.

He first contrasted the answers of the question “For whom is education?” According to him, a major part of the society thought that education was for the elite, “the intelligent minority”, and the “privileged.” The rest of the society (a majority of people,) would be in vocational schools. According to Chomsky, this was an attempt of the rich to “keep the middle men out and ignorant”. They had to make sure the public stayed marginalize to “get out of trouble.”

He talked about the “theory of democracy” and the contrasting points of view of James Madison and Aristotle. He explained that both reached the same conclusion, but they each had different recommendations to treat the problem. Their conclusion was that “the poor,” which represented a majority of the population “would take their voting power to divide the property of the riches”. Aristotle’s recommendation was to “reduce quality making everyone middle class.” Madison’s recommendation was to reduce the democracy “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” The power is in the hands of the responsible man; the elite.

Another stream of thought proposed that education was for everyone. In fact, he talked about the “passionate pursuit of knowledge by proletarian autodidacts” of the nineteenth century. It made me think about Good Will Hunting, pursuing knowledge and outsmarting the rich elite. Professor Chomsky talked about the factory girls who use to read literature, being forced to work in the factories, were taken away from their high culture.

By contrasting two streams of thought, he answered the question “What is it for?” The first one was that: education was like pouring water into an empty vessel. This vision made me think about Paulo Friere’s banking method of education and the Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Mr. Chomsky compared the empty vessel as a leaky vessel “because nobody learned anything that way.” The other stream of thought was that -teaching should be like “laying out a stream”. This idea was that a student should progress in its own way through discovery and explorations. He compared children learning science through memorization of the elements of the periodic tables and children discovering science by themselves. The first students could not enjoy learning science because it was very difficult to learn by heart at a very young age. He considered this way of teaching a waste of time as well as a waste of joy of discovery. He compared this way of teaching science to spoiling the beautiful story by teaching it at the wrong time. The other students were exposed to science in another way of teaching they were given three parts of the flower and had to guess which part were the seeds and they had to collaborate, investigate and question themselves to find to answer. These students were not alienated from learning science, they probably wanted to learn more after this project.

Professor Chomsky gave an interesting overview of the political and historical events that happened in the United States that changed education in critical ways. First, the industrialisation changed the whole view of education. It was motivated by the transition from an agricultural society into an industrial society. Professor Chomsky labelled this kind of education as “education that would keep the people from their throats.” Education that would prevent the workers from freedom, dignity, and culture.

He explained the impacts of the changes and the new values to inculcate that were called “the new spirit of the age.” Marketing, and production was now devoted to creating wants, and stimulating consumerism. Energy corporations, and automobiles, turned into a society that massively used fuels, leading to a demolition of the environment, “the commons.” The idealism of this spirit was the individuality, which led to only caring about itself. Education was affected by the individualism because the universities started the use of the cheap labour, using graduate students to teach to undergraduate students, bigger classrooms, etc. They found strategies that would look good on the budgets but deeply affected the quality of education and resulting a raise of the tuition fees historically linked to the thought of the failure to indoctrinate to young.

This briefly summarizes an amazing two hour long lecture by Professor Chomsky on education.