Noam Chomsky on being truly educated

“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.”