Monday, February 04, 2013

Sundays? Then Indulge in Brain Pickings

Every Sunday I receive an email from Brain Pickings, which is described thus

Brain Pickings is a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why, bringing you things you didn’t know you were interested in — until you are.
It is, of course, the brainchild of Maria Popova. She describes herself as the curator of the site and I like that way of describing herself because given the range of different topics she puts together no other term would do.

This week, for example, she delves into Susan Sontag's radical ideas on education. Sontag thought sending 12 to 16 year olds to school a waste of time. They're not interested and she says it's too psychologically a turbulent time for them. Let them work, be physically active or whatever. But, and here's the interesting bit, at the age of 50 to 54 you return to school to make up for those missing years, maybe to learn a new profession or engage with the liberal arts.

I find this idea so attractive that I wish it had happened to me. Although I slightly subverted it for my own ends. In becoming an academic I ensured that I would never stop learning (although plenty of academics do stop) and entertaining new ideas and experiences. I confess this is my interpretation of being an academic, but why not?

Maria and her Brain Pickings remind me of my quest--never to be dull, never to be bored, and to enjoy life.

Do sign up for her weekly newsletter. It's well worth it. Anne-Marie Slaughter is one of her biggest fans. I consider that a pretty big endorsement.

Catch up......

Since the way Brain Pickings works is for the reader to follow trails, you can't help but wander. In the light of the reaction to my report on the cab rank rule (sorry, it's back again...) I found Russell's Decalogue on the Liberal outlook. It hits the target:
Perhaps the essence of the Liberal outlook could be summed up in a new decalogue, not intended to replace the old one but only to supplement it. The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:
  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
  4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
  9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.



PeterD said...

Thanks for the sign-up suggestion -- I'd read a couple of her posts, but this time you moved me to subscribe.

As for Susan Sontag's suggestion for reforming the education of the 12 to 16 cohort, my reaction -- as to much of her writing -- is "yes, but..." Sure, there were school days at these ages when I desperately wanted to be elsewhere. But these were also the years where I found beauty in maths, and formed deep attachment to the sciences and literature. So I am unconvinced.

John Flood said...

I think it's rebelling against the orthodoxy that education must be seen as a continuous stretch that is complete within a finite time frame, whereas it could be sporadic and episodic if that suits. It fits with an idea of my PhD supervisor which was that on entering university a student would immediately be awarded a degree. The next 3 or 4 years could be spent learning or not: it would be up to the student to decide how to value the experience.