Education for Whom and for What?

Enjoyed last night’s free lecture at the University of Education where Noam Chomsky, a world-renowned linguist, intellectual, and political activist, spoke on Education for Whom and for What?  Thousands of people lined up to hear him speak. We were unable to get into Centennial Hall and went to the Social Sciences building to see it broadcast live on a giant screen.  (Overflow from the Social Sciences building was directed to the Modern Languages building.)

Noam Chomsky is an Institute Professor and a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he worked for more than 50 years. Chomsky, who according to The New York Times is “arguably the most important intellectual alive.”  His fame has extended into popular culture, leading such fans as Bono of U2 to describe him as the “Elvis of academia.”

Over the years, Chomsky has been a profoundly influential voice, publishing numerous books and lecturing widely on U.S. foreign policy, Mideast politics, terrorism, democratic society and war. His media criticism has included the 1988 book “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.” In fact, he’s been ranked with Marx, Shakespeare and Aristotle as one of the ten most quoted sources in the humanities, and is the only writer among them still alive.  Now in his 80s, Chomsky has not slowed down, and still is traveling, lecturing, writing and grabbing headlines. He’s as famous – probably more so – for his political involvement as for his linguistic prowess.

Chomsky was introduced as the most cited living author and third most cited individual in the world, behind Plato and Sigmund Freud.  At the start of the lecture, he addressed the question, Who is education for?   “For a long time there was a thought that education is just for the upper elite, they are the ones who should make decisions,” Chomsky said.

He then talked about how higher education became available to more than the elite after WWII, with the GI Bill, and how Sputnik was exploited to add funding for K-12.  But how, “unfortunately”, with the 60’s, democracy became more important than free enterprise, so Lewis Powell (who was later appointed to the Supreme Court) wrote a confidential memorandum on August 23, 1971, Attack on American Free Enterprise System.  That memo (a section of which I’ve included at the bottom of this blog) in itself is fascinating, and as Chomsky noted, Powell considered Ralph Nader a criminal.

Chomsky said a lot of the same things that Journalist Bill Moyers said in his speech, People Are Occupying Wall Street Because Wall Street Has Occupied the Country, a portion of which I’ve included below this section on Chomsky.  But back to Chomsky:

What happens to the quality of education when public universities become more privatized? Are public universities in danger of being converted into facilities that produce graduates-as-commodities for the job market?  With unprecedented tuition increases and budget struggles occurring across American campuses, this is more relevant than ever.  [The universities in Arizona sustained a total of $458.5 million in cuts over the last four fiscal years.]

Chomsky also criticized instructional teaching, in which students simply memorize information. “The early joy of discovery is ruined by memorizing the facts,” Chomsky said. “I remember when I was a 16-year-old freshman at the University of Pennsylvania; I had to take a general chemistry class that was exceptionally boring. So I never went to class, just memorized the book,” Chomsky said he received an A in the class.  Chomsky recalled a time when a professor who he had worked with at Massachusetts Institute of Technology was once asked by his students on the first day of class what material was going to be covered. The professor said, “It doesn’t matter what we cover, it matters what we discover. If you discover that everything that I’m teaching is wrong, that would be good.”

This was also in the talk, but I got it off the Web from a different site:

Daily Wildcat: How should students approach the issue of bills like House Bill 2675, that mandate minimum out-of-pocket tuition payments?

Noam Chomsky: My feeling is that student fees are instituted, basically as a technique of indoctrination and control. I don’t think there’s an economic basis for them. And it’s interesting that, you look at the timing — like when I went to college, I went to an Ivy League university, The University of Pennsylvania. Tuition was only $100 and you could easily get a scholarship.

Students today are over $1 trillion in debt. That’s more than credit card debt. A trillion dollars of debt? That’s a burden on people coming out of college. It’s got them trapped. It (tuition) is a technique of control, and it surely isn’t an economic necessity in the richest country in the world. All sorts of things started happening — the university architecture changed. Universities that were built, worldwide, in the post-’70s and on, are usually designed so that they don’t have meeting places, designed just to keep students separated and under control. Look at the ratio of administrators to faculty: it’s gone way up the last couple of decades … not for educational purposes, but for more techniques of control.

What you’re talking about, I think it should be opposed, because it’s a general form of indoctrination and control, which goes down to kindergarten. I mean, that’s what No Child Left Behind is about. It’s training for the Marine Corps. It’s a way to make sure that children aren’t free, independent or inquisitive, exploring.

Now, I know what a failure No Child Left Behind is, but it got me thinking how the math program I’m promulgating comes into the indoctrination and control v. discovery category of education.  We’re not making math fun; we’re pounding the rules into their heads.

In my goggling of Chomsky I found this controversy – the University of Arizona’s chapter of No More Deaths asking UA to dissociate from Caterpillar and Motorola:

In a bold – and likely controversial – move by the UA’s special guest this week, world-renowned and New York Times-acclaimed author, Professor Noam Chomsky, will speak about possible criminal liability impending over the University for its corporate partnerships with known human rights violators, Caterpillar (CAT) and Motorola.

UANMD’s testimony event opens a new chapter to their dynamic 3-year struggle urging UA divestment from Caterpillar and Motorola due to their role in human rights abuses along the US/Mexico border and in Israeli-occupied Palestine.

Amnesty International and the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church Divestment Task Force are just two of the many conscientious voices that have provided documentation to UA officials of CAT and Motorola’s equipment used, with company knowledge, in human rights violations. To date, UA officials have more than once acknowledged the “compelling international evidence” of CAT and Motorola’s “wrongdoing”, and in the case of CAT, even expressed regret over the business contract in light of documentation provided to them by religious and human rights groups.

Here’s part of Bill Moyer’s speech which refers to the infamous Powell memo.  Click on the link to read his whole speech; it’s great!

People Are Occupying Wall Street Because Wall Street Has Occupied the Country by Journalist Bill Moyers Nov 2, 2011

…on August 23, 1971, a corporate lawyer named Lewis Powell – a board member of the death-dealing tobacco giant Philip Morris and a future Justice of the United States Supreme Court – sent a confidential memorandum to his friends at the U. S. Chamber of Commerce. We look back on it now as a call to arms for class war waged from the top down.

Let’s recall the context: Big Business was being forced to clean up its act. It was bad enough to corporate interests that Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal had sustained its momentum through Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson. Suddenly this young lawyer named Ralph Nader arrived on the scene, arousing consumers with articles, speeches, and above all, an expose of the automobile industry, Unsafe at Any Speed. Young activists flocked to work with him on health, environmental, and economic concerns. Congress was moved to act. Even Republicans signed on. In l970 President Richard Nixon put his signature on the National Environmental Policy Act and named a White House Council to promote environmental quality. A few months later millions of Americans turned out for Earth Day. Nixon then agreed to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Congress acted swiftly to pass tough new amendments to the Clean Air Act and the EPA announced the first air pollution standards. There were new regulations directed at lead paint and pesticides. Corporations were no longer getting away with murder.

And Lewis Powell was shocked – shocked! – at what he called “an attack on the American free enterprise system.” Not just from a few “extremists of the left,” he said, but also from “perfectly respectable elements of society,” including the media, politicians, and leading intellectuals. Fight back, and fight back hard, he urged his compatriots. Build a movement. Set speakers loose across the country. Take on prominent institutions of public opinion – especially the universities, the media, and the courts. Keep television programs under “constant surveillance.” And above all, recognize that political power must be “assiduously (sic) cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination” and “without embarrassment.”

Powell imagined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a council of war. Since business executives had “little stomach for hard-nose contest with their critics” and “little skill in effective intellectual and philosophical debate,” they should create new think tanks, legal foundations, and front groups of every stripe. It would take years, but these groups could, he said, be aligned into a united front (that) would only come about through “careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and united organizations.”

You have to admit it was a brilliant strategy. Although Powell may not have seen it at the time, he was pointing America toward plutocracy, where political power is derived from the wealthy and controlled by the wealthy to protect their wealth. As the only countervailing power to private greed and power, democracy could no longer be tolerated.

While Nader’s recruitment of citizens to champion democracy was open for all to see – depended, in fact, on public participation – Powell’s memo was for certain eyes only, those with the means and will to answer his call to arms. The public wouldn’t learn of the memo until after Nixon appointed Powell to the Supreme Court and the enterprising reporter Jack Anderson obtained a copy, writing that it may have been the reason for Powell’s appointment.

And here is a section of Powell’s memo.  Click on the link and read the whole thing; it’s fascinating!


…the American economic system is under broad attack… But what now concerns us is quite new in the history of America. We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts… The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking…

Perhaps the single most effective antagonist of American business is Ralph Nader who — thanks largely to the media — has become a legend in his own time and an idol of millions of Americans. A recent article in Fortune speaks of Nader as follows:

The passion that rules in him — and he is a passionate man — is aimed at smashing utterly the target of his hatred, which is corporate power. He thinks, and says quite bluntly, that a great many corporate executives belong in prison — for defrauding the consumer with shoddy merchandise, poisoning the food supply with chemical additives, and willfully manufacturing unsafe products that will maim or kill the buyer. He emphasizes that he is not talking just about ‘fly-by-night hucksters’ but the top management of blue chip business.

(The continued attack on the 99% by the 1% continues with Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich calling child labor laws “stupid”.  Sounds like he also wants to do away with Food Stamps.  Let them eat cake!)

$65 Million

Speaking of the 1%, China has its too.  A work by Chinese artist Qi Baishi was sold at auction in Beijing at the weekend for $65.5 million.  The 1946 painting of an eagle perched on the branch of a pine tree, surrounded by two calligraphy scrolls, measures 3 by 8.5 feet.

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One Response to “Education for Whom and for What?”

  1. Hal Says:

    I liked this post. It reminds me that there are still people out there with original ideas. I need to read more Chomsky. Thanks.

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