Noam Chomsky – linguistic, anarchist, and Professor Emeritus at MIT – was never much of a student.
Chomsky is the subject of Michel Gondry’s new documentary “Is The Man Who is Tall Happy?” The film animates Chomsky’s life and work. In a post-premiere discussion of the film, Chomsky recounts his constant absenteeism in college and his disdain for high school.
“I don’t want to be corrupting the youth,” Chomsky begins before elaborating why he feels his success was a “series of accidents.”
“The truth is I have absolutely no professional credentials, literally, which is why I’m teaching at MIT,” Chomsky notes to laughter. “It’s a science-based university, they didn’t care if you have a guild card and something or other”
But Chomsky eagerly awaited college, browsing the University of Pennsylvania’s class catalogs. But it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.
After my first year of college, each course I took in every field was so boring that I didn’t even go to the classes. I was quite interested in chemistry, but the way I passed the chemistry course was because I had a friend, a young woman about my age, who took extremely meticulous notes…she lent me her notes so I didn’t have to go to class and I could pass the exams.”
As a result, Chomsky declares that he “never really had an undergraduate degree.”
So how does a slacker become a Professor Emeritus at MIT?
I started taking mainly a scattering of graduate courses without much background, I then was lucky enough to get a 4-year graduate fellowship…did my own work, essentially I never had much of a formal education.
…And then I was very lucky, to get to M.I.T., which was a research institution, they didn’t care about credentials. You could work on what you wanted to, and it turned out very well. It’s just a series of accidents I think. Very few people are lucky enough to have an experience like that.