Noam Chomsky on Education

My advisor Mitch Resnick sent out an email today, with a Youtube link to a recent talk on education by Noam Chomsky. I had noticed a Wired UK article on the talk earlier, and was happy to hear it in its entirety. When I read the Wired article, Chomsky’s distinction about education for helping “people to determine to learn on their own” vs. education for “indoctrination” reminded of Tagore’s শিক্ষা-সংস্কার (Sikkha Sangashkar, or Reform in Education):

নিজে চিন্তা করিবে, নিজে সন্ধান করিবে, নিজে কাজ করিবে, এমনতরো মানুষ তৈরি করবার প্রণালী এক, আর পরের হুকুম মানিয়া চলিবে, পরের মতের প্রতিবাদ করিবে না, ও পরের কাজে জোগানদার হইয়া থাকিবে মাত্র, এমন মানুষ তৈরির বিধান অন্যরূপ।”

Translated roughly into English, this would be, “the process for enabling a person for independent thought, independent inquiry and independent work is different from the rules for building someone who follows orders, does not protest someone else’s opinions and is only a contributor to someone else’s work.”

However, towards the end of the talk, Chomsky mentions an incident that reminded me of my own experiences growing up - he mentions a teacher who had to discourage a student from pursuing a specific sub-area that she was interested in, as that would potentially interfere with her preparations for the upcoming national exams. I went through a very similar experience in the final years of high-school. I had managed to find my own interest and passion in computers, and even a community that could support me (the Free/Open Source Software community), but I was faced with potentially disastrous results in my school leaving examinations. I chose to follow my interests, and as expected, my school leaving examination scores were terrible. I somehow managed to keep doing whatever I was interested in, and through various twists and turns, found myself in a place that celebrates the idea of following one’s own passions and interests. But I think I have been lucky - lucky to have people around me who did not freak out when my test results came in (though understandably, they were worried), lucky to have a supportive community, both local and global, who shared my interests, and lucky to have a few incredible mentors and supervisors along the way. I wonder how many people are that lucky.

Update: I had a short chat with Mitch about this, and I realized, that I was also lucky to have a passion that could be translated into employable skills. A lot of people are interested in things which do not bring in easy employment, and the situation is much more worse for them.

February 06, 2012