ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Education for the Species

Respectable scientific opinion holds that the human species is on the verge of untimely extinction. According to Noam Chomsky, the so-called "least advanced" people are the ones taking the lead in trying to protect all of us from extinction. Informed by their ancient knowledge systems, indigenous populations across the world are resisting the plunder of the planet. However, indigenous knowledge systems are in radical conflict not only with global capitalism but with modern education itself, thus raising the issue of radical choice. The issue goes much beyond the classical domain of the pedagogy of the oppressed.

This is an expanded version of the keynote address to the Philosophy of Education Conference at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru in January 2015. I learned much from a very lively discussion by a distinguished audience. I have incorporated some of the points raised during the discussion. The original lecture can be viewed at

Noam Chomsky’s grimly titled book Hegemony or Survival (2003) opens with some observations of contemporary biologist Ernst Mayr, who is sometimes referred to as “the biological giant of the 20th century” (Foreman 2004: 24). After proposing a very reasonable notion of a species (de Queiroz 2005), Mayr (2001) held that about 50 billion species have appeared on this planet since the origin of life. He estimated that “the average life expectancy of a species is about 1,00,000 years” (Chomsky 2003: 1). Exactly one of these 50 billion species “achieved the kind of intelligence needed to establish a civilisation,” Mayr notes (Chomksy 2003: 1). The civilisation-forming intelligence of this species is the topic for this essay.

From studies on sudden expansion of brain size (Striedter 2004), restructuring of the brain for emergence of language (Crow 2010), and proliferation of tools and other signs of culture, it is now estimated that the modern human species emerged roughly about 1,00,000 years ago (Tattersall 2012). Following Mayr’s statistical rule, then, the species is possibly nearing its end.

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