Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘education’

02 JANUARY, 2012

Advice to Sink in Slowly: Designers Share Wisdom with First-Year Students in Poster Series

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Unpacking the secrets of happiness and creativity one poster at a time.

What better way to kick off the new year than with words of wisdom from those who have threaded before us? That’s precisely the premise of advice to sink in slowly, a wonderful project enlisting design graduates in passing on advice and inspiration to first-year students through an ongoing series of posters — part Live Now, part Everything Is Going To Be OK, part Wisdom, part something completely refreshing, based on the idea that we all have subjective wisdom we wish we’d known earlier, but often don’t get a chance to pass it on to those who can benefit from it in a way that makes them pay heed.

Advice is subjective. But, by passing on advice in a creative way, it is possible to create something that lasts, that people will want to live with and which can let the advice sink in slowly and help out later on.”

'to create ideas is a gift, but to choose wisely is a skill' by Ryan Morgan

'Do what you love' by Andy J. Miller

'Take Time' by Temujin Doran

'Use your library…you'll miss it when you leave' by Rebecca Cobb

'Finish what you start* *it may seem insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.' by Irina Troitskaya

'Ignore both of them' by Eleni Kalorkoti

'Go and look outside' by Robert Evans

'You have to leave your room to get there' by Ben Javens

'if in doubt, make tea' by Owen Davey

'trust your gut instincts' by Carys Williams

'Don't be afraid, everything will be alright' by Ben Javens

'collaborate' by Simon Vince

'Believe in the marks that you will make' by Stephie Ginger

'how to make friends in your first term' by Temujin Doran

'eat breakfast' by Always With Honor

'Be free!' by Anna-Kaisa

'don't keep your worries to yourself' Rebecca Cobb

'Find some place to stop & be quiet' by Lizzy Stewart

'everything is possible' by Lee Basford

Free posters are available to first-year students across the U.K. upon request. Four of the posters are available for purchase in a fundraising effort, with 100% of the proceeds feeding back to support this wonderful project — so go ahead and grab one, then let its wisdom sink in slowly.

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12 DECEMBER, 2011

From Jack Kerouac to Ayn Rand: Iconic Writers on Symbolism, 1963

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A Rorschach Test with a spine, or what the art of fluid writing has to do with salt.

In 1963 — long before Twitter, email, and even the Internet itself as we know it — a 16-year-old high school student by the name of Bruce McAllister set out to settle a dispute with his English teacher over whether symbolism existed as a conscious device authors employed in writing. So he devised a four-question mimeographed survey to probe the issue and mailed it to 150 of the era’s most notable writers, much like librarian Marguerite Hart did in the lovely Letters to the Children of Troy project. To McAllister’s surprise, he got 75 responses, ranging from the passionate to the reprimanding to the deeply philosophical. Here are some of the best. (And if the cultural demise of handwriting has rendered you incapable of reading cursive, enjoy the transcriptions in good ‘ol type.)

Symbolism arises out of action and functions best in fiction when it does so. Once a writer is conscious of the implicit symbolisms which arise in the course of a narrative, he may take advantage of them and manipulate them consciously as a further resource for his art. Symbols which are imposed upon fiction from the outside tend to leave the reader dissatisfied by making him aware that something extraneous is being added.” ~ Ralph Ellison

I never consciously place symbolism in my writing. That would be a self-conscious exercise and self-consciousness is defeating to any creative act. Better to get the subconscious to do the work for you, and get out of the way. The best symbolism is always unsuspected and natural. During a lifetime, one saves up information which collects itself around centers in the mind; these automatically become symbols on a subliminal level and need only be summoned in the heat of writing.” ~ Ray Bradbury

After all, each story is a Rorschach Test, isn’t it? and if people find beasties and bedbugs in my ink-splotches, I cannot prevent it, can I? They will insist on seeing them, anyway, and this is their privilege. Still, I wish people, quasi-intellectuals, did not try so hard to find the man under the old maid’s bed. More often than not, as we know, he simply isn’t there.” ~ Ray Bradbury

Playing around with symbols, even as a critic, can be a kind of kiddish parlor game. A little of it goes a long way. There are other things of greater value in any novel or story…humanity, character analysis, truth on other levels, etc., etc. Good symbolism should be as natural as breathing…and as unobtrusive.” ~ Ray Bradbury

This is not a ‘definition,’ it is not true — and, therefore, your questions do not make sense.” ~ Ayn Rand

Symbolism is alright in ‘Fiction’ but I tell true stories simply about what happened to people I know.” ~ Jack Kerouac

It would be better for you to do your own thinking on this sort of thing.” ~ John Updike

(Cue in Marian Bantjes’s brilliant recent advice to design students.)

Let me refer you to an article in the NYTimes book review called ‘Deep Readers of the World, Beware!’” ~ Saul Bellow

A pattern of shared sentiments begins to emerge — at its best, symbolism, like salt, is invisible and seamless; it’s organic rather than engineered; and it is, above all, the product of your own mind rather than a prescriptive recipe.

Sarah Funke Butler over at The Paris Review, who uncovered the letters, spoke with McAllister over the phone, some 48 years later — it’s worth a read.

But perhaps what this experiment bespeaks, most of all, is the timeless ambiguity of both the writer’s ego and altruism itself, a kind of binary bet — did these writers respond because they selflessly wanted to help an earnest student, or because they loved hearing themselves speak with authority about their craft, or a combination of the two? And what does our wager say about our own character’s place on the spectrum between cynicism and idealism?

via The Paris Review

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09 DECEMBER, 2011

From Beer to Life on Mars: The Seven Wonders of Microbes

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What genetic engineering has to do with the English Reformation, leftovers, and the invention of Penicillin.

Microbes are the oldest form of life on Earth and they outnumber all other species. From the fine folks at Open University — who previously brought us this brilliant series of six famous philosophy thought experiments, animated — comes Seven Wonders of the Microbe World, a fascinating short documentary about what microbes have done for humanity (which, by the way, they still refer to as “mankind” — and we’ve just observed the problem with that). From microbes’ role in producing some of our favorite foods, including bread, cheese, yogurt, and beer, to nitrogen fixation as the cornerstone of modern organic farming to how the Black Death enabled a new class of entrepreneurs, the seven “wonders” covered include the history of beer, The Black Death, food preservation, nitrogen fixation, antibiotics, genetic engineering, and life on Mars.

One of the interesting social implications of The Black Death is that church leaders were not able to provide any explanation of how this disease was caused and, as a result, the authority of church leaders began to be eroded and people began to question whether they should listen to religious leaders at all. Some people have even said that the English Reformation was caused by the Black Death.”

For more on the fascinating world of microbes, you won’t go wrong with March of the Microbes: Sighting the Unseen. And for something a little fuzzier, there’s always Giant Microbes’ series of stuffed microbes — who can resist a huggable E. coli?

via Open Culture

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16 NOVEMBER, 2011

Superwoman Was Already Here: Montessori’s Philosophy, Animated

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A visual manifesto for keeping the fire in kids’ eyes burning.

Superwoman Was Already Here! is an animated adaptation of the Montessori philosophy of education by Maria Montessori superfan Daniel C. Petter-Lipstein (who lists Harvard College and Columbia Law School as his alma maters). Though I wish he hadn’t used a company called 321 Fast Draw, who use all-caps, exclamation points, and the word “ZING” in their sales pitch and who effectively ripped off Andrew Park’s brilliant and memorable style of RSA animation — and poorly, at that — I’m still intrigued by a sketchnote-animated synthesis of the Montessori philosophy. (Though it certainly doesn’t help that the most famous RSA animation is actually the adaptation of Sir Ken Robinson’s now-legendary TED talk on changing educational paradigms, adding to the similarity of style a similarity of message.) Be your own judge:

Kids don’t stop asking questions because they lose interest. It’s the other way around — they lose interest because they stop asking questions.”

This, in turn, inspired another animation, alas also from 321 Fast Draw, by Petter-Lipstein’s “fellow Montessori caped crusader” Trevor Eissler, based on Eissler’s popular book Montessori Madness! A Parent to Parent Argument for Montessori Education:

For more on the Montessori school of thought, see Maria Montessori’s own recently digitized handbook and her seminal 1949 book The Absorbent Mind. For a broader look at the past and future of learning, don’t miss these 7 must-read books on education.

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