I always find it a pleasure to listen to some of the smartest people I know in their wisdom years, to find what they have learned over the course of a life well lived. As a former educator, I was especially interested to hear the thoughts of Noam Chomsky.
A true education, Chomsky suggests, opens a door to human intellectual freedom and creative autonomy.
“… Chomsky defines his view of education in an Enlightenment sense, in which the “highest goal in life is to inquire and create. The purpose of education from that point of view is just to help people to learn on their own. It’s you the learner who is going to achieve in the course of education and it’s really up to you to determine how you’re going to master and use it.”
“An essential part of this kind of education is fostering the impulse to challenge authority, think critically, and create alternatives to well-worn models. This is the pedagogy I ended up adopting, and as a college instructor in the humanities, it’s one I rarely have to justify.”
Ah…the road less traveled can be a weary road indeed. I have been on that road. Since ordinary life is not part of a socratic dialogue, this thinking critically, this challenging authority is not without its price. Take Edward Snowden, for example. Or Galileo. No one said it would be easy. Or it would be pleasant. It would just be smart, in the truest sense of the word. It would just be true. Whether in the classroom or in the workplace, the world is not made to welcome divergent thinkers — that is, people who use their own minds to draw their own conclusions or create new ways of doing. Most who live this way should prepare for rejection in one sense or another. Often, being a critical thinker IS NOT SAFE. It doesn’t make you a yes man or woman. You do not live life pandering to mediocrity. Finding your tribe is not easy. Most tribes contain members who put their tails down between their legs and blindly follow the leader. Smart, well educated people find it difficult belonging to these tribes. They often need to make a choice between bringing home a paycheck and staying true to themselves. Usually the paycheck wins. Perhaps this is why we have so many angry people in our world today. College professors have taught us to think critically, but they haven’t taught us how to live in a world that will reject us for doing so. Because they don’t know the answer. It’s their little secret until we enter the workplace and hit that wall that is everyone’s destiny.
Perhaps what Noam is tying to tell us is that we should lead dual track lives. While we are doing the the safe thing and bringing home a paycheck, we should carry on our life of the mind by continuing with independent inquiry, learning and creation. Largely, we are creating our new selves and the new value we bring to the world we live in. Thanks, Noam.