An Epidemic of Listicles

I like this excerpt from Krista Tippett’s interview with Maria Popova, curator of the wonderful Brain Pickings [Thanks to the Centre for Teaching]

Culture needs stewardship, not disruption.

We seem somehow bored with thinking. We want to instantly know. And there’s this epidemic of listicles. Why think about what constitutes a great work of art when you can skim the “20 Most Expensive Paintings in History?”  … there’s a really beautiful commencement address that Adrienne Rich gave in 1977 in which she said that an education is not something that you get but something that you claim.

And I think that’s very much true of knowledge itself. The reason we’re so increasingly intolerant of long articles and why we skim them, why we skip forward even in a short video that reduces a 300-page book into a three-minute animation — even in that we skip forward — is that we’ve been infected with this kind of pathological impatience that makes us want to have the knowledge but not do the work of claiming it. I mean, the true material of knowledge is meaning. And the meaningful is the opposite of the trivial. And the only thing that we should have gleaned by skimming and skipping forward is really trivia. And the only way to glean knowledge is contemplation. And the road to that is time. There’s nothing else. It’s just time. There is no shortcut for the conquest of meaning. And ultimately, it is meaning that we seek to give to our lives. 


Bonnie explains that there are two basic ways of taming a wild horse. One is to tie it up and freak it out. Shake paper bags, rattle cans, drive it crazy until it submits to any noise. Make it endure the humiliation of being controlled by a rope and pole. Once it is partially submissive, you tack the horse, get on top, spur it, show it who’s boss—the horse fights, bucks, twists, turns, runs, but there is no escape. Finally the beast drops to its knees and submits to being domesticated. The horse goes through pain, rage, frustration, exhaustion, to near death . . . then it finally yields. This is the method some like to call shock and awe.

Then there is the way of the horse whisperers. My mother explains, “When the horse is very young, a foal, we gentle it. The horse is always handled. You pet it, feed it, groom it, stroke it, it gets used to you, likes you. You get on it and there is no fight, nothing to fight.” So you guide the horse toward doing what you want to do because he wants to do it. You synchronize desires, speak the same language. You don’t break the horse’s spirit.

My mom goes on: “If you walk straight toward a horse, it will look at you and probably run away. You don’t have to oppose the horse in that way. Approach indirectly, without confrontation. Even an adult horse can be gentled. Handle him nicely, make your intention the horse’s intention. “Then, when riding, both you and the horse want to maintain the harmony you have established. If you want to move to the right, you move to the right and so the horse naturally moves right to balance your weight.” Rider and animal feel like one. They have established a bond that neither wants to disrupt. And most critically, in this relationship between man and beast, the horse has not been whitewashed. When trained, he will bring his unique character to the table. The gorgeous, vibrant spirit is still flowing in an animal that used to run the plains.

Source: The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence by Josh Waitzkin

Early Steps in Blended Learning

I think a penny has finally dropped. I’ve been mulling over blended learning for a while but have never quite summoned up the energy. I’ve also been thinking about ways I can apply the DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) principle to my teaching, so I can spend more time doing the fun parts of teaching.

Slower than most, I suspect, but I have had my mini-Damascus moment. One of the more repetitive parts of my work is explaining worked problems from the necessary evil that is practice papers. By recording myself working through these I could, in theory, only have to explain a working out once and point students to the video.

One of my classes is a scholarship maths set so I’m trialling the process with them. My first bash is this: answers to the Mathematics Paper B from the Eton King’s Scholarship 2014.

In terms of the mechanics, I’ve bought an IPEVO Point 2 View Camera so I could scribble down my workings out. It’s a little fiddly but seemed to be the cheapest option short of buying a tablet.
In terms of sound, that’s recorded directly to my Macbook and the video files are unedited from the IPEVO bundled software. Levels are a little low, but that may just be me mumbling self-consciously.

Do let me know if you see mistakes, better solutions or have questions about the explanations. Equally, any tips as to how to improve the actual video gratefully received!

The Master and His Emissary

I keep on thinking about the below.

There was once a wise spiritual master, who was the ruler of a small but prosperous domain, and who was known for his selfless devotion to his people. As his people flourished and grew in number, the bounds of this small domain spread; and with it the need to trust implicitly the emissaries he sent to ensure the safety of its ever more distant parts. It was not just that it was impossible for him personally to order all that needed to be dealt with: as he wisely saw, he needed to keep his distance from, and remain ignorant of, such concerns. And so he nurtured and trained carefully his emissaries, in order that they could be trusted. Eventually, however, his cleverest and most ambitious vizier, the one he most trusted to do his work, began to see himself as the master, and used his position to advance his own wealth and influence. He saw his master’s temperance and forbearance as weakness, not wisdom, and on his missions on the master’s behalf, adopted his mantle as his own – the emissary became contemptuous of his master. And so it came about that the master was usurped, the people were duped, the domain became a tyranny; and eventually it collapsed in ruins.

This version is quoted from Iain McGilchrist. While he uses the story to highlight some relationships in the brain, I’m trying to work out whether the story holds true if the master is liberalism.

Gramsci’s “Optimism of the Will”


Isn’t it pointless to fight back? Antonio Gramsci, the Italian political writer jailed by Mussolini’s Fascist regime, believed in “pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.” In other words, you can know your clapboard house is on fire, and you’re a long way from civilization. But you have to call 911, get out your garden hose and bucket, and keep acting as if the firetrucks are on the way.

Washington Post