Having jurisdiction over one’s political inclinations defines the bedrock of American political activism, of a culture that identifies individuality with respect to degrees of conformity. Cultural acclimatization in the western world no longer regards morality and religion so much as it concerns an intelligence that does not compromise the educational tenor of a classroom. More than a person, Noam Chomsky personifies a warning for Americans, young and old.
During his time as Roman Emperor of the Flavian Dynasty, Vespasian listened to a blind man plead to defy common belief by asking the emperor to spit in – and conceivably heal – his eye. The relationship between an elite existence and notable civilian marked a foundation of vital conversation, of one understanding their tangible needs by recognizing subjective realities. Similarly, on June 2, 2017, students at Central High School realized the importance of their inquiry when speaking to Noam Chomsky, an emeritus professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Political activist, historian, the father of modern linguistics, and the world’s most important living intellectual: the impressive set of superlatives describing Chomsky attest to the highest attributes of his profession. Of his many titles, first and foremost stands the unanimous agreement that Professor Chomsky is a public intellectual in every sense of the term: knowledgeable on topics prolific in both breadth and depth, his intellectual analyses of propaganda models, universal grammar, and U.S. foreign policy have been made contemporary to the public on a host of virtual platforms. “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” one of Professor Chomsky’s most notable essays, addresses the intellectual culture of the United States and its relationship with the American government during the Vietnam War. By many standards, the piece resonates with students today who grapple with their own epistemic responsibilities. Entirely conceivable is the notion that Chomsky’s identity is evident when compared to the rapidly developing ideals of the roughly thirty high-school students gathered around a small cell phone enthroned on an equally small (and, may it be noted, portable) table. Interestingly enough, however, is the notion that Professor Chomsky’s laudable accomplishments are notably absent from the auspices of Central High School’s past.
A graduate of the 184th class, Noam Chomsky knew Central roughly four decades before the notion of mandatory co-education was approachable in conversation, a time when the barbed wire of German POW camps left a shadow of black-railed isolation across the red bricks of progressive education. Though academic rigor and the pursuit of excellence often define the crux of Central’s becomings, intelligence demands a foundation for the expression of one’s moral beliefs, for erudition exercised in creativity. In searching for a trace of Central’s past in Professor Chomsky’s future, one may choose to wonder what it means – and even moreso, what it meant – to sing the praises of the crimson and the gold.
Exercising agency in this day and age, a world in flux from the frayed edges of political history to the industrialized beat of a virtual heart, largely concerns independence of thought and mind – if one would consider them mutually exclusive, of course. Thus, it’s important to note that an interview with Professor Chomsky planned and organized by Dr. Drago, a teacher passionate in his instruction of both history and philosophy, does not reside in the doldrums of direct indoctrination’s embodied (and now audible from all four corners of a classroom) form. Dr. Drago first came into contact with Chomsky through an old grad-school email session, and now remarks that, “Noam Chomsky represents the qualities I hope to imbue in my students at Central: passion and advocacy for positive change in the world, critical thought from the mind of one who never hesitates to ask ‘why,’ and a lifelong love of learning.” Understanding the culture of discussion and the growth of intellect that comes at its fruition, students had a conversation with Noam Chomsky that was only tangentially political in its nature. In all its guises our discussion was, at a rudimentary level, a dialogue that addressed impoverished intellect more than it ever did the perils of the material world. For example, upon answering a question regarding President Trump’s recent social media excursions, Professor Chomsky emphasized the depravity of reactionary politics, of noticing surface level tweets instead of questioning the elementary structures of American government that are being corrupted in the nation. An ode to climate change informed students of the 2016 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Morocco and of the role that individual voices play in creating an election that defies many others. Asa Cadwallader (276), a senior who got the opportunity to ask Professor Chomsky a question of his own, explained that, “speaking with Mr. Chomsky was a truly unforgettable experience. It’s not often that high school students are able to talk, let alone get an audience with, such a notable academic as Chomsky. The interview reminds us of our extensive network of eminent Central alumni, and speaks to the dedication our teachers, in this case Dr. Drago, show in making meaningful and engaging experiences for their students.”
Conversation lit only by the dim radiance of scattered stars above, ancient storytelling around the warmth of a campfire defined human history as humanity’s most ancient religion. Body language revealed shoulders slumped to feel the touch of a fire and eyes closed to immerse minds in low-toned voices telling tales of a day once new. On June 2nd, students and staff at Central were given the opportunity to gather under modern-day stars (custom light fixtures under textured ceilings) and understand the scope of their own privilege in listening to a man speak through a phone mounted in a room with a floor and a roof and a window to open for sun and close for snow. Body language revealed, yet again, shoulders tilted to the warmth of knowledge and conversation, eyes closed, minds lost in understanding the future of days to come. Humans foraging for security accentuated in an intellectual conversation, a discussion that, too, redefined human intellect in its most primitive religion.
The full interview with Professor Chomsky can be found on the pdf attached below:
Darya Bershadskaya (277)