Learner choice, or indoctrination? A system where learners choose what they want to learn, or a system to induct you into society’s existing structures. What is the purpose of education?
Chomsky contrasted the ideals of creative enlightenment of ideas, and control of society as two possible answers to this question. There are powerful structures in society which would prefer people to conform and not try to shake systems of power and authority, he said we need to take a stand between these two.
The growth of new technologies has caused a major change in the nature of culture and society, but then it has done for centuries. The shift from telephone to email is significant, but it doesn’t begin to compare with the difference between a sailing vessell and a telegraph. What about the impact of widespread plumbing? Chomsky said we should recognise that more dramatci changes have occurred before.
‘Technology is basically neutral; it is kind of like a hammer, the hammer doesn’t care whether you use it to build a house or to cruch someone’s skull.”
On the impact of the internet, he said it was a valuable tool, but we need frameworks to be able to work with it effectively and be willing to adapt this framework as we go. He said you cannot follow a meainginful line of enquiry without some kind of framework within which to work, even if they are constantly adapting this framework. A person will not become a biologist simply from being given access to a library.Without such frameworks we are just picking out random facts that don’t mean anything.
Unless behind these technologies we have some ‘well constructed conceptual apparatus’, they are very unlikely to be helpful and are likely to be harmful. Chomsky called for us to cultivate the capacity to ask questions, and seek out what is new in a focused framework.
Posing the question of the purpose of education around human capital, he says, is a distorting way of looking at things. A nation of creative individuals or one who will simply increase GDP? Perhaps we need to start questioning the values we measure from education, and not simply in terms of economic value.
Progress works by testing things out, and then those things that work are more widely adopted. What we need to be focusing on, he said, is encouraging young people who are free thinkers, and are willing to do this trying out. We should cultivate the capacity to seek what is significant and always be willing to question.
“It doesn’t matter what we cover, it matters what you discover.”