[Marxism] Noam Chomsky on education
mdriscollrj at charter.net
Mon Jul 18 11:05:40 MDT 2011
Louis Proyect wrote
One thing that's interesting, and frustrating, about Chomsky's critique
is that he shows only how far one can go without a Marxist analysis.
Class and capitalism are not part of his critique, except to acknowledge
occasionally and peremptorily that the problem occurs within the
confines of"state capitalist democracies".
For example, in his reply to these questions:
"As a student especially, you hear a lot of complaints from students
that the system doesn't work for them. What's the fix? How does a
student direct their own academic career?
There's no single magic answer for that. There can be a lot of
problems. I got into college at age 16. By age 17 I was ready to
drop out because it was so boring. Then I sort of found my own way.
But there's no single answer to what is the failure of the
university system to address your own needs, concerns and wishes.
What do you see as some of those major issues that stand out to you
in the American system?
The major issue, which varies from place to place of course, is the
tendency to move towards a model of teaching, which sort of back a
couple centuries ago, used to be called filling a vessel with water
instead of encouraging students to be creative and independent and
develop their own interests and concerns. Now that's not everywhere.
For example, my own university, which is a science-oriented
university, is quite different. Students aren't expected to
regurgitate what they heard in a lecture. They're expected to
challenge, to innovate, to question and so on. Science couldn't
survive without that. But that's unfortunately not the general pattern."
There's much about how as an individual student one might find one's way
to a more "fulfilling" education, but there's no injunction to
solidarity and to class action as the solution to a systemic problem.
There's no delving more deeply into the nature of that systemic problem.
Only the offhand, drab assertion that "There should, in my opinion, be
student participation" [in the way universities are run at the
administrative level or governing level.]
There's no treatment in any meaningful sense of the content of
curriculum, how, even in the orientation of basic science, it follows
the imperatives of capital accumulation, in the sciences, in the "social
studies" departments, as well as in the arts, rather than facilitating
at every turn the essential critique of capital, what an education could
look like if it were to be shaped toward human fulfillment rather than
fulfillment of the requirements for return on capital investment, and
how we can begin our own history in making the transition to a system
truly serving our collective needs. And that includes the elite schools
like MIT, where the difference is that, unlike the lower-order
educational institutions which turn out the mid-level "proles" for the
economy, these schools are set up to turn out the higher-order
managerial cadre, the social interpretive and manipulative masters of
apologia, and the technologically proficient cogs in the capitalist
We on this list for the most part know all this, but here the context is
Chomsky's analysis, where you won't find what we find in common here
discussed in any penetrating manner by Chomsky. In this regard his
dismissal of Marxian analysis is his most egregious failing, derived
surely from an indifferent reading of what Marx actually wrote and from
the failed experience of attempts at transition in the name of Marx in
the last century.
That pretty much defines for me the difference between an informed
anarchist and an informed Marxian socialist. Not only in the sense that
the disparate adherents who identify themselves as anarchist and who
derive their critique mainly from Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin,
Malatesta, Goldman and Bookchin have no collective program of any kind,
but most importantly that the various anarchist analyses, which most
commonly hinge on abolishing authority tout court, generally lack a
transition program based on a scientific analysis of capitalism that
enables an informed, measurable and deliberate transcendence of capital
toward a system in the complete control of what Marx termed the
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