NOAM CHOMSKY (Part One)
Born in 1928, Chomsky has been a dominant voice for change in the way we teach for seventy years. He is recognized as one of the founders of Cognitive Science. Beginning in the 1950’s, his cognitive theory of learning was at odds – to say the least – with his contemporary theorist B.F. Skinner at Harvard, who championed Behaviorism and referenced Pavlov’s experiments with dogs as an inspiration. The opinion of historians of education is that Noam won this battle handily but lost the war.
By the mid twentieth century, it was Skinner who was embraced and championed by what Eisenhower called the Military-Civil Service-Industrial Complex that was emerging after WWII. Ike warned, “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence.”
Despite this history, Behaviorism has been the guiding principle of the U.S. Department of Education since. We are still clinging to Skinner’s understanding of human psychology and fighting the last war and wondering why we are losing on the educational front, despite taxpayers spending ≈ $15,000 each on 50m students annually.
The unintended consequence is that these policies have allowed illiberal forces to increase control of schools by restricting children’s education to what can be achieved through behavioral modification under the guise of adequate pedagogy. It is not. Children should be enlightened, not shaped by federal, congressional, or state mandates to suit the needs of government and industry.
Six decades ago, Eisenhower warned, “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” He was right. It is happening now on a vast scale, and since schools do not teach the appropriate skills, families are children’s only defenses. We need to help teachers and parents cope.
Chomsky’s rigorous, compelling, peer-reviewed research led to his cognitive theory of learning. He let the research – his and others – light the way. He followed evidence. His scholarly output is breathtaking. He has always applied rigorous, scientific, ethical methodology to his Epistemological research and solutions, which he reminds us, are grounded and informed by the giants on whose shoulders Chomsky stands to see a little further into the future.
Chomsky ‘s references are the enlightened ideas of those other Midwives of Learning, the Greeks, Descartes, Rousseau, Piaget, W. James, M. Adler, and Montessori. That is quite a peer group of thinkers, all imploring us to refocus our classroom best practices away from Behaviorism and towards Cognitive Learning. Surely we need to move away from our sole dependency on the conditioned reflex training Skinner called education. It is undignified to think of a child as only able to learn by a prod. Our job is to be better ancestors than that.
Chomsky’s summed up his view of learning and teaching this way, “Nobody is going to pour truth into your brain. It’s something you have to find out for yourself.” And definitely nobody pours truth into your children’s brains nowadays. They pour ‘facts’ in, but truth-seeking requires thinking too. This makes his ideas more cogent and urgent. The skill to distinguish fact from lie is the most precious one we have. Aristotle thought it was what makes us human.
The good news is that to be human is to be a truth seeker. We hunger for truth the way a wolf seeks prey. And from birth we have the know-how. The skill to find truth comes courtesy of being human. Just like nobody teaches us to use our optical system to see, or taste buds to discern, or lips to suck, nobody has to teach us how to deploy our complex array of hybrid, truth-seeking skills either. We just somehow know how. Plato believed the skills to be “engraved on our soul before birth.”
The art or practice or science of Learning is hardwired into our DNA. Like batteries, it is included. To misquote Arthur C. Clarke, this learning gift is indistinguishable from magic. We have the Hybrid Skills needed for discovering truth. We just need safety, and assistance in polishing those baked-in, cognitive tools. They got us to the pinnacle of evolution. And it’s self-evident we are beginning to wobble up there. Time to unleash these skills again. We humans have done this countless times over hundreds of millennia. We escaped a bleak landscape, adapted and evolved by thinking, collaborating, solving problems and communicating better than any other species. as we thought, collaborated, solve problems and communicated. by using our Hybrid Skills.
I humbly submit this learning method I designed to fit with the principles laid out in Cognitive Learning.
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See Tim Seldin, President of the Montessori Foundation, explain why Maria Montessori would approve of the Terego Ideation Method™.
Look for Chomsky Part Two next week.
Thanks for reading, and please share with other teacher and parent friends.