Brain Pickings

The School of Life

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The classes you actually wanted to take in college, or how to master coolness while munching on a caramel bar.

We’re always thrilled to discover creative ways of organizing information in a novel educational experience and never omit to rave about it. Today, we’re particularly excited to uncover an educational social enterprise that aims to address the fundamental needs of the modern self.

In London’s Bloomsberry, between hairdressing saloons and restaurants — the location is an accidental metaphor for where true wisdom is found — sprouts a small, old-fashioned shop with a sign that humbly reads “The School Of Life.” Founded in September 2008 by an eclectic group of London writers, artists and friends, amongst whom the philosopher Alain de Botton, it offers night classes on a variety of topics with the unifying goal to satisfy its students’ hunger for a more meaningful life. For £30.00 and three hours of your evening, you could contemplate whether being single really is the end of the world in How Necessary Is A Relationship, find out what the mysterious virtues of coolness are in How To Be Cool, or learn to reduce the superficial chit chat of your life in How To Have Better Conversations.

The classes are centered around traditional lectures using various tools and resources, from movies to books and art to active discussions to humor. The school also offers additional weekend activities, daily curated bookshelves (selections vary from How To Enjoy Your Own Company to For Those Feeling the Credit Crunch), conversational menus (prompting you to ponder why you haven’t achieved your goals), and Sunday secular sermons, from Alain de Botton on pessimism to Barbara Ehrenreich on optimism to Ruby Wax’s brilliant, hilarious and insightful On Loving Your Ego. Oh, and Milk-Chocolate Coated Caramel bars, of course.

Most importantly, unlike the competitive and often cold atmosphere of traditional university education, The School Of Life offers the comforting environment of a community of people gathered not to memorize facts, evaluate each other or impose dogmas, but to help understand, explore and improve each other’s lives. Because, as Alain de Botton puts it:

The point of learning is not snobbery, not sounding clever, not passing an exam — it’s to help you live.”

Teddy Zareva is a young filmmaker and photographer currently located in Sofia, Bulgaria. She is prone to excessive dancing and impulsive traveling. Her favorite activities are eating chocolate, hunting for music, and shooting humans.

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