Passing tests doesn’t begin to compare with searching and enquiring and pursuing topics that engage us and excite us. Noam Chomsky

I was struck by the above quote by Noam Chomsky which I read in a tweet by Brian Bailey (@EdTechEmpowers). Inspired to investigate further, I found the video ‘The Purpose of Education’ in which Chomsky talks about various topics around education including the purposes of an educational system, the impact of technology and thoughts on assessment. (The video was presented at the Learning without Frontiers conference in January 2012.)

The Daily Riff has a good breakdown of various aspects of the talk and you can watch it there too (click this link to watch on YouTube), but the parts that stuck out for me were:

  1. That “passing tests doesn’t being to compare with searching and inquiring and pursuing topics that engage us and excite us. That’s far more significant than passing tests. If that’s the kind of educational career that you are given the opportunity to pursue you will remember what you have discovered.”
  2. That “teaching ought to inspire students to discover on their own, to challenge if they don’t agree, to look for alternatives if they think there are better ones, to work through the great achievements of the past and try to master them on their own because they are interested in them.”
  3. That “technology is basically neutral”. It is neutral because it is a tool that can be used in many ways. Behind any significant use of technology there needs to be a clear framework (pedagogy) otherwise it is very likely to be unhelpful. (Too many classrooms have technology thrown in, expecting that somehow it will make a difference by itself.)
  4. That “education is about cultivating the capacity to seek what it significant, and always being willing to question whether you are on the right track. Whether it’s using computers and the internet or pencil and paper and books.”

Throughout the talk Chomsky reminded me of another quote that hung on my classroom wall, in fact right beside my desk, which said:

A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary. Thomas Carruthers

It is clear that our job as educators is to help our students learn on their own – to learn how to learn – and to do so we must always strive to excite curiosity. If we can do this, then they can do anything.

One part of the video I had questions about was Chomsky’s aversion to ‘factoids’ (love Chomsky’s use of that word – I thought it was just Steve Wright that said that!). I like factoids, I think, although now I’m beginning to question it… Who is to say what is a fact? If we should always look for corroborating evidence then are we treating everything as factoids anyway? Evaluate, interpret, understand. At some point we have to believe or trust somebody’s version, unless you’re willing to go and find out for absolute certain yourself. Sometimes a random factoid can spark your curiosity, you want to find out more – whether the factoid is true or not! And so a random fact(oid) I came across about Chomsky whilst doing my research was that he starred in the MIT parody of Gangnam Style! Just to check, I watched the video (as usual, a bit late to the party on that one), and hey-ho, Chomsky himself popped up about half way through! Brilliant. I was chuckling the whole time. It looked like a fun place to go and study and it was great to see brilliant minds not taking themselves too seriously!


Chomsky Style
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