Chomsky Gives Students Lesson in Free Thinking
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Linguist gives students lesson in free thinking
Dundee-Crown talks politics with MIT professor
By Emily Krone
Daily Herald Staff
5/17/2008 12:16 AM
In a second-floor classroom at a Carpentersville high school, one of
America's most renowned free-thinkers warned about 40 assembled students
that the American public school system conspires to blunt their
creativity and engender their obedience.
Via speakerphone from his office at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, linguistics professor Noam Chomsky told Dundee-Crown High
School students that a two-tiered educational system exists: While the
elite attend schools that promote critical, independent thought, the
masses attend schools that train students to pass tests and follow orders.
The system evolved after the Industrial Revolution, Chomsky said, when
the ruling elite recognized the need to transform independent artisans
and farmers into pliant factory workers.
Today as then, Chomsky said, the imperative is the production of a
docile work force that will perpetuate the status quo.
Many public schools teach students that "the highest aspiration is to be
a nurse or a policeman," Chomsky said. "It's indoctrination: That's my
place in life. That's the way the school system works."
But Chomsky's claim that schools don't promote critical thought was
undermined by the willingness of Community Unit District 300 officials
to facilitate a dialogue with the radical provocateur for the second
time this school year.
Chomsky agreed to chat regularly with Dundee-Crown students after Bruce
Taylor, a social science teacher at the high school, last year crashed
his Boston office and engaged him in a conversation.
"I guess it left an impression," Taylor said.
Chomsky's first phone discussion with Dundee-Crown students earlier this
year drew about 260 students, teachers and community members, Taylor said.
The students who assembled after school Friday came of their own
volition, Taylor stressed. They approached the speakerphone to pose
questions they had prepared, or thought up on the spot.
"It was fantastic," said junior Ryan Nanni, who asked the question that
touched off the discussion about the American public school system.
"He has a whole outside perspective that's so different than everything
that students usually hear," Nanni said.
During the one-hour discussion, Chomsky expounded on a range of topics,
including the danger of unbridled consumerism, the Pentagon Papers, the
proposed "gas-tax holiday," illegal enemy combatants and '60s radicalism.
He asked students whether they would characterize, as the U.S.
government does, a 15-year-old who throws a grenade at an invading
American army as an illegal enemy combatant.
And he suggested that the working definition of terrorism, as defined by
the U.S. government, would make America the world's leading terrorist state.
The goal of the these informal discussions, Taylor said, is to spark
debate -- and thought -- rather than to espouse a particular political view.
"The root of education is the need to be challenged," Taylor said. "The
open forum of ideas is what we're trying to stress."
My collected fiction: _The Unspeakable and Others_
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News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
Skipper: Professor, will you tell these people who is
in charge on this island?
Professor: Why, no one.
Skipper: No one?
Thurston Howell III: No one? Good heavens, this is anarchy!
-- _Gilligan's Island_, episode #6, "President Gilligan"