Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘education’

13 MARCH, 2012

Noam Chomsky on the Purpose of Education

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On the value of cultivating the capacity to seek the significant.

In this talk based on his presentation at the Learning Without Frontiers conference in January, philosopher, linguist, and cognitive scientist Noam Chomsky — easily one of our time’s sharpest thinkers — discusses the purpose of education.

Despite the slow pace and the cheesy AfterEffects animated typography, the video is a treasure trove of insight on everything from the role of technology to the pitfalls of policy.

On the industrialization of education, echoing Sir Ken Robinson’s admonition about its effects on creativity:

There have been many measures taken to try to turn the educational system towards more control, more indoctrination, more vocational training, imposing a debt, which traps students and young people into a life of conformity… That’s the exact opposite of [what] traditionally comes out of The Enlightenment. And there’s a constant struggle between those. In the colleges, in the schools, do you train for passing tests, or do you train for creative inquiry?”

On technology:

Technology is basically neutral. It’s kind of like a hammer. The hammer doesn’t care whether you use it to build a house, or whether a torturer uses it to crush somebody’s skull.”

On the importance of having a framework for what matters when engaging with the the information economy — or, one might say, the essence of what great curation should be:

You can’t pursue any kind of inquiry without a relatively clear framework that’s directing your search and helping you choose what’s significant and what isn’t… If you don’t have some sort of a framework for what matters — always, of course, with the provisor that you’re willing to question it if it seems to be going in the wrong direction — if you don’t have that, exploring the Internet is just picking out the random factoids that don’t mean anything… You have to know how to evaluate, interpret, and understand… The person who wins the Nobel Prize is not the person who read the most journal articles and took the most notes on them. It’s the person who knew what to look for. And cultivating that capacity to seek what’s significant, always willing to question whether you’re on the right track — that’s what education is going to be about, whether it’s using computers and the Internet, or pencil and paper, or books.”

On influence and creating the right micro-culture to foster creativity:

It’s the way cultural progress takes place generally. Classical artists, for example, came out of a tradition of craftsmanship that was developed over long periods, with master artisans and others, and sometimes, you can rise on their shoulders and create new marvelous things. But it doesn’t come from nowhere. If there isn’t a lively cultural and educational system, which is geared towards encouraging creative exploration, independence of thought, willingness to cross frontiers, to challenge accepted beliefs… if you don’t have that, you’re not going to get the technology that could lead to economic gains.”

On the whimsy of inquiry:

Passing tests doesn’t begin to compare with searching and inquiring and pursuing topics that engage us and excite us. That’s far more significant than passing tests and, in fact, if that’s the kind of educational career you’re given the opportunity to pursue, you will remember what you discovered.”

Many of these insights, and more, are explored in depth in these 7 essential books on education.

@openculture

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06 MARCH, 2012

Religion for Atheists: Alain de Botton on What Education and the Arts Can Learn from Faith

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How to glean secular models for engagement and inspiration from religious rituals.

The tension between secularity and religion has endured for centuries, infusing academia and science with a strong and permeating undercurrent of atheism. But if we can divorce the medium from the message, there might be some powerful communication lessons secular movements could learn from religious ones. That’s the premise behind Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion, a provocative and thoughtful new book by modern philosopher, prolific author, and School of Life founder Alain de Botton, who recently made a passionate case for redefining success.

One can be left cold by the doctrines of the Christian Trinity and the Buddhist Eightfold path and yet at the same time be interested in the ways in which religions deliver sermons, promote morality, engender a spirit of community, inspire travels, train minds and inspire gratitude at the beauty of spring. In a world beset by fundamentalists of both religious and secular varieties, it must be possible to balance a rejection of religious faith with a selective reverence for religious rituals and concepts.”

Particularly noteworthy are de Botton’s insights on what education and the arts can borrow from the formats and paradigms of religious delivery, from why the sermon is more effective than the lecture to how engineering visceral encounters can help draw power from art.

It is when we stop believing that religions have been handed down from above or else that they are entirely daft that matters become more interesting. We can then recognize that we invented religions to serve two central needs which continue to this day and which secular society has not been able to solve with any particular skill: firstly, the need to live together in communities in harmony, despite our deeply rooted selfish and violent impulses. And secondly, the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of loved ones and to our decay and demise.

[…]

The error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed.”

Sample the book with de Botton’s compelling talk from TED Global 2011:

A sermon wants to change your life, and a lecture wants to give you a bit of information. And I think we need to get back to that sermon tradition.”

Religion for Atheists is the latest in de Botton’s prolific portfolio of thought, including the excellent The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Essays in Love, and The Consolations of Philosophy.

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05 MARCH, 2012

At the End of the Rainbow: Vintage Film about Ultraviolet Light, 1946

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In the beginning, there was ultraviolet light.

In 1946, the Sun-Kraft Corporation commissioned the Handy (Jam) Organization — whom we’ve previously enjoyed in an homage to makers and hands-on creativity, an animated explanation of how radio broadcasting works, a visual tour of mid-century design, and the original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer animation — to produce a film promoting the history, physics, and health-giving properties of ultraviolet radiation. The result was At the End of the Rainbow — an odd blend of science education and corporate agenda that, nonetheless, far exceeds today’s questionable corporate tie-ins in both public service value and cultural merit.

Part Two explores how an American inventor set out to create an ultraviolet ray generator that would make the sun’s health-giving qualities available at low cost, and what happened next:

For more on the fascinating science of light, see Catching the Light: The Entwined History of Light and Mind.

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