Chomsky on the Responsibilities of Teachers

The willingness to rely on “experts” is a frightening aspect of contemporary political and social life. Teachers, in particular, have a responsibility to make sure that ideas and proposals are evaluated on their merits, and not passively accepted on grounds of authority, real or presumed.

Chomsky, Noam. “Linguistic theory.” Language teaching: Broader contexts, Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. New York: MLA Materials Center. 1966.

Too often, those of us who teach are tempted to take some sort of “proven method” and spoon it out to our students as-is. Time is limited, teaching is complicated, and a good, solid lesson plan can take forever to formulate. We do have a responsibility, though, to question the ideas we’re presenting and incorporating into our lessons. A teacher is not just a source of knowledge, but also a role-model of scholarship. If we want students to question, probe, and contemplate, then we have to be ready to do the same.

Sure, I could stand in front of a room full of people and explain affix-hopping, drop Chomsky’s name in there, and have everyone buy into it. Chomsky said it, therefore it is incontrovertibly true, right? And it explains a lot of interesting features of English syntax. Wouldn’t it be more valuable, though, for those people to look at the idea critically, to ask whether affix-hopping is the only way to explain those phenomena (it isn’t), or to question the need for such an explanation in the first place?

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English teacher, student of Japanese, and aspiring linguist.

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Posted in Teaching Tips

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