What does it mean to be truly educated? A perspective by Noam Chomsky

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I think I’ll return again and again to the following short video by Noam Chomsky, whenever I think about the education of my children in particular, and younger generations in general:

“My name is Noam Chomsky, I’m a retired professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I’ve been for 65 years.

I think I can do no better about answering the question of what it means to be truly educated than to go back to some of the classic views on the subject. For example the views expressed by the founder of the modern higher education system, Wilhelm von Humboldt, leading humanist, a figure of the enlightenment who wrote extensively on education and human development and argued, I think, kind of very plausibly, that the core principle and requirement of a fulfilled human being is the ability to inquire and create constructively independently without external controls.

To move to a modern counterpart, a leading physicist who talked right here (at MIT), used to tell his classes it’s not important what we cover in the class, it’s important what you discover.

To be truly educated from this point of view means to be in a position to inquire and to create on the basis of the resources available to you which you’ve come to appreciate and comprehend. To know where to look, to know how to formulate serious questions, to question a standard doctrine if that’s appropriate, to find your own way, to shape the questions that are worth pursuing, and to develop the path to pursue them. That means knowing, understanding many things but also, much more important than what you have stored in your mind, to know where to look, how to look, how to question, how to challenge, how to proceed independently, to deal with the challenges that the world presents to you and that you develop in the course of your self education and inquiry and investigations, in cooperation and solidarity with others.

That’s what an educational system should cultivate from kindergarten to graduate school, and in the best cases sometimes does, and that leads to people who are, at least by my standards, well educated.”

A kid has to start programming

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Our older son is now 7.5 years old, and he expressed his interest in learning how to program. We had a Dutch translation of Scratch programming book for children, but before starting with the book, I made him program me. That is, I told him that “now I’m the robot, and I can only follow the instructions that you’ll issue, and I can do them exactly as you say, in the order you say, and nothing else. Now make this robot pick that toy from your brothers bed’s corner.” For both of us, it turned out to be a funny, as well as challenging exercise. In only a few minutes, he quickly realized how many things he takes for granted, and how even a seemingly super simple and straightforward task is composed of many intricate details. He also saw how things can go wrong, because he had to “debug” his robot-dad. He became also a little frustrated when I insisted doing exactly as he said without any interpretation. “Welcome to my world son!” was a natural reaction from me.

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A kid has to know his Euro Space Center

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For a long time, I wanted to take my older son to the Euro Space Center in Transinne, Belgium. Finally, last Sunday we had a small window of opportunity for a few hours and we went there. Both of us enjoyed the event, even though we didn’t have time left for some of the attractions such as Moon and Marswalking experience. I can recommend Euro Space Center to all space and science enthusiasts, especially to the kids. But be aware that you’ll be bombarded with information, exhilarating demonstrations, and a lot of surprises in an intensive atmosphere. I’m already getting impatient for my younger toddler to grow up a little more, so that I’ll have another excuse to revisit the center. 😉

 

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A kid has to start with some electronic circuits

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I was curious about how my 6-year-old would react when he saw the gift package of Snap Circuits. I told him that his uncle sent this box full of electronic projects, so that we could spend time together building interesting things. Lucky for me, he was thrilled at the sight of it. This evening we decided it was time to build some circuits, and finished the first three projects.

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We had great time together, and I tried to explain each circuit. I had some difficulties in explaining the concept of electricity, the flow of electrons, and atoms (“no dear, atoms are everywhere, not only in atomic bombs… yes, they also exist in atomic bombs… no, we’re not building anything dangerous, yes, please be careful with that spinning fan!”). Overall it was a great experience, and we’ll continue to build the remaining 97 projects, as well as try to come up with our designs.

A kid has to start the 1st grade

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I still remember the first days of excitement and challenges when he started preschool 3.5 years ago, just when he was about 2.5 years old. It was not easy at all, both for him and us. The time flied, he became six years old a few months ago, and he started the first grade on 1st of September, 2017.

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It is impossible to miss the behavioral changes after his experience with his new teacher and classroom (and luckily same old and good friends from his preschool days). He seems more exhausted in the evenings, talks much more about what they did during the school day, and more relaxed in a sense. He also started to speak a lot of Turkish, his weaker second language, and I appreciate all of his efforts. I can still hear the stress patterns as well as grammatical inheritance of Dutch in his Turkish, but compared to six months ago, his performance improved a lot and everyone else started to notice (check out “Multilingual children: when worlds and words collide” if you want to read about some entertaining examples). Another change, maybe more subtle started to become visible in his drawings: his focus is still on violent and very big dinosaurs and all sorts of Godzilla figures, but he started to draw other animals (still violently killing each other) but in more detail and with more complex compositions and patterns. One such pattern is, almost recursive and space-filling, if I may say so: almost the same dinosaur, repeated in smaller sizes and placed in the remaining empty spaces on the paper, filling it in intricate patterns. (I can remember what I drew when I was six: crude stick figures, the simplest house, a few clouds, and the simplest sun; he certainly didn’t get his drawing skills from me 🙂

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A kid has to know his musical clocks and automata: Museum Speelklok in Utrecht

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A few years ago, I was in Utrecht for a project meeting, and I’ve seen signs of a “Museum Speelklok” (see its official web site in English). Even though I was curious about it, I didn’t have much time and had to head back to Belgium. Fast forward a few years: few weeks ago, April, 2016, we planned a short trip to the Netherlands, and Utrecht was part of the plan. So I said to my 4-year-old: Time to explore kiddo! More

How to describe the concept of zero to a 4-year-old?

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Two days ago, I and my 4-year-old son were having a great time together when he suddenly asked: “Daddy, what is zero?” Right in the middle of heavy physical play activity, I took a deep breath, and started to think about how I can describe the number zero to my son. The conversation went like the following: More

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