The Coddling of the American Mind: Malcolm Gladwell Leads a Conversation with Jonathan Haidt, Greg Lukianoff & Lenore Skenazy

From the 92nd Street Y in New York City comes a wide-ranging conversation featuring Malcolm Gladwell, Jonathan Haidt (NYU), Greg Lukianoff (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), and Lenore Skenazy (founder of the Free-Range Kids movement). Here's a quick summary of the ground they cover:

Civil discourse is in decline, with potentially dire results for American democracy.

On college campuses across America, visiting speakers are disinvited, or even shouted down, while professors, students, and administrators are afraid to talk openly, for fear that someone will take offense. Political discussion on social media and television has devolved into a wave of hyper-partisan noise. A generation of overprotective parents are reluctant to let their children play outside without supervision. How did we get here? And how can we change the way that we engage with one another?

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s The Coddling of the American Mind sounds the depths of this generational crisis. Join us for a lively discussion with the authors, president of the non-profit Let Grow and founder of the Free-Range Kids movement Lenore Skenazy, and #1 New York Times bestseller Malcolm Gladwell on how we as citizens can engage with one another across the political spectrum.

If it's not already clear, the conversation is based on Lukianoff and Haidt’s book The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. Skenazy is the author of Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry). If you sign up for a free trial with Audible, you can download copies of both books.

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Why Learn Latin?: 5 Videos Make a Compelling Case That the “Dead Language” Is an “Eternal Language”

"I tried to get Latin canceled for five years," says an exasperated Max Fischer, protagonist of Wes Anderson's Rushmore, when he hears of his school's decision to scrap Latin classes. "'It's a dead language,' I'd always say." Many have made a similarly blunt case against the study of Latin. But as we all remember, Max's educational philosophy overturns just as soon as he meets Miss Cross and brings up the cancellation to make conversation. "That's a shame because all the Romance languages were based on Latin," she says, articulating a standard defense. "Nihilo sanctum estne?" Max's reply, after Miss Cross clarifies that what she said is Latin for "Is nothing sacred?": "Sic transit gloria."

From ad hoc and bona fide to status quo and vice versa, all of us know a little bit of Latin, even the "dead language's" most outspoken opponents. But do any of us have a reason to build deliberately on that inherited knowledge? The video at the top of the post offers not just one but "Three Reasons to Study Latin (for Normal People, Not Language Geeks)."




As its host admits, "I could tell you that studying Latin will set you up to learn the Romance languages or give you a base of knowledge for fine arts and literature. I can tell you that you'll be able to read Latin on old buildings, hymns, state mottoes, or that reading Cicero and Virgil in the original is divinely beautiful." But the number one reason to study Latin, he says, is that it will improve your language acquisition skills.

And language acquisition isn't just the skill of learning languages, but "the skill of learning other skills." It teaches us that "thoughts themselves are formed differently in different languages," and learning even a single foreign word "is the act of learning to think in a new way." Study a foreign language and you enter a community, just as you do "every time you learn a new profession, learn a new hobby," or when you "interact with historians or philosophers, interact with the writers of cookbooks, or gardening books, or even writers of software." Latin in particular will also make you better at speaking English, especially if you already speak it natively. Not only are you "unavoidably blind to the weaknesses and strengths of your native meaning carrying system — your language — until you test drive a new one," the more complex, abstract half of the English vocabulary comes from Latin in the first place.

Above all, Latin promises wisdom. Not only can it "train you to conceptualize one thing in the context of many things and to see the connections between all of them," it can, by the time you're understanding meaning as well as form, "grow you in big-picture and small-picture thinking and give you the dexterity to move back and forth between both." Just as you are what you eat, "your mind becomes like what you spend your time thinking about," and the rigorously structured Latin language can imbue it with "logic, order, discipline, structure, precision." In the TED Talk above, Latin teacher Ryan Sellers builds on this idea, calling the study of Latin "one of the most effective ways of building strong fundamentals in students and preparing them for the future." Among the timeless benefits of the "eternal language" Sellers includes its ability to increase English "word power," its "mathematical" nature, and the connections it makes between the ancient world and the modern one.

Latin used to be more a part of the average school curriculum than it is now, but the debates about its usefulness have been going on for generations. Why Study Latin?, the 1951 classroom film above, covers a wide swath of them in ten minutes, from reading classics in the original to understanding scientific and medical terminology to becoming a sharper writer in English to tracing modern Western governmental and societal principles back to their Roman roots. And as the School of Life video below tells us, some things are still best expressed in Latin, an economical language that can pack a great deal of meaning into relatively few words: Veni, vidi, vici. Carpe diem. Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto. And of course, Latin makes every expression sound weightier — it gives a certain gravitas, we might say.

If all these arguments have sold you on the benefits of Latin, or at least got you intrigued enough to learn more, watch "How Latin Works" for a brief overview of the history and mechanics of the language, as well as an explanation of what it has given to and how it differs from English and the other European languages we use today. You might then proceed to the free Latin lessons available at the the University of Texas’ Linguistics Research Center, previously featured here on Open Culture. The more Latin you acquire, the more you'll see and hear it everywhere. You might even ask the same question Max Fischer poses to the assembled administrators of Rushmore Academy: "Is Latin dead?" His motivations have more to do with romance than Romance, but there are no bad reasons to learn a language, living or otherwise.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A New Interactive Visualization of the 165,000 Most-Frequently Assigned Texts in College Courses

For some of us, it’s been a little while since college days. For others of us, it’s been a little while longer. We might find ourselves asking, if we hear news of on-campus activism and unrest (surely unheard of in our day)—

“Do they still read the classics down at old Alma Mater U.?”

Maybe that’s the problem, eh? Too much Marxist theory, not enough Plato? Well, you may be pleased, or not, to learn that classics still regularly—routinely, even—appear on college syllabi, including both The Republic and the Communist Manifesto, in courses taught all over the world, from San Antonio to Tokyo to Karlskrona, Sweden.




As we informed Open Culture readers in 2016, Columbia University’s Open Syllabus Project culled data from over 1,000,000 syllabi from university websites worldwide, to find out which books have been most frequently taught over the past decade or so. Since then, that number has risen to 6,000,000 syllabi. Still, the most-taught books at the top of the list remain largely unchanged.

As two of the project’s directors pointed out soon after the site’s launch, “traditional Western canon dominates the top 100, with Plato’s Republic at No. 2, The Communist Manifesto at No. 3, and Frankenstein at No. 5, followed by Aristotle’s Ethics, Hobbes’s Leviathan, Machiavelli’s The Prince, [Sophocles’] Oedipus and [Shakespeare’s] Hamlet.” These numbers have moved a little, edged downward by writing and research guides, but not by very much.

William Strunk's classic writing guide Elements of Style sits at number one. Other top titles include calculus and anatomy textbooks, other works of Enlightenment philosophy, and texts now central to the Western critical tradition like Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, and Edward Said’s Orientalism.

The top 50 is almost totally dominated by male writers, though some of the most frequently-taught novelists include Jane Austen, Toni Morrison, Anne Moody, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Alice Walker. The most-taught books tend to fall into either philosophy, literature, textbook, or guidebook, but the overall range in this list of 165,000 texts encompasses the entire scope of academia around the globe, with more contemporary study areas like gender studies, media studies, digital culture, and environmental studies prominent alongside traditional departments like physics and psychology.

A new interactive visualization from Open Syllabus turns this trove of data into a color-coded stippling of different-sized dots, each one representing a particular text. Float over each dot and a box appears in the corner of the screen, showing the number of syllabi that have assigned the text, and a link to a profile page with more detailed analysis. Called the “Co-Assignment Galaxy,” the infographic does what a list cannot: draws connections between all these works and their respective fields of study.

The Open Syllabus Project was already an impressive achievement, a huge aggregation of freely accessible data for scholars and curious laypeople alike. The addition of this user-friendly cluster map makes the site an even more indispensable resource for the study of how higher education has changed over the past decade or so, and how it has, in some respects, remained the same. Enter the Open Syllabus Project's Co-Assignment Galaxy map here.

via John Overholt

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Richard Feynman’s Technique for Learning Something New: An Animated Introduction

I sometimes wonder: why do people post amateur repair videos, made with smartphones in kitchens and garages, with no obvious commercial value and, often, a level of expertise just minimally above that of their viewers? Then I remember Richard Feynman’s practical advice for how to learn something new—prepare to teach it to somebody else.

The extra accountability of making a public record might provide added motivation, though not nearly to the degree of making teaching one's profession. Nobel-winning physicist Feynman spent the first half of his academic career working on the Manhattan Project, dodging J. Edgar Hoover's FBI at the beginning of the Cold War, and making major breakthroughs in quantum mechanics.




But he has become as well-known for his teaching as for his historic scientific role, thanks to the enormously popular series of physics lectures he developed at Caltech; his funny, accessible, best-selling books of essays and memoirs; and his willingness to be an avuncular public face for science, with a knack for explaining things in terms anyone can grasp.

Feynman revealed that he himself learned through what he called a "notebook technique," an exercise conducted primarily on paper. Yet the method came out of his pedagogy, essentially a means of preparing lecture notes for an audience who know about as much about the subject as you did when you started studying it. In order to explain it to another, you must both understand the subject yourself, and understand what it's like not to understand it.

Learn Feynman’s method for learning in the short animated video above. You do not actually need to teach, only pretend as if you're going to—though preparing for an actual audience will keep you on your toes. In brief, the video summarizes Feynman’s method in a three-step process:

  1. Choose a topic you want to understand and start studying it.
  2. Pretend you’re teaching the idea to someone else. Write out an explanation on the paper…. Whenever you get stuck, go back and study.
  3. Finally do it again, but now simplify your language or use an analogy to make the point.

Get ready to start your YouTube channel with homemade language lessons, restoration projects, and/or cooking videos. You may not—nor should you, perhaps—become an online authority, but according to Feyman, who learned more in his lifetime than most of us could in two, you’ll come away greatly enriched in other ways.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Art & Cooking of Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dali, Georgia O’Keeffe, Vincent Van Gogh & More

Mexican cuisine is as time-consuming as it is delicious.

Frida Kahlo fans attracted to the idea of duplicating some dishes from the banquet served at her wedding to fellow artist Diego Rivera should set aside ample time, so as to truly enjoy the experience of making chiles rellenos and nopales salad from scratch.

Sarah Urist Green’s Kahlo-themed cooking lesson, above, adapted from Marie-Pierre Colle and Frida’s stepdaughter Guadalupe Rivera’s 1994 cookbook Frida’s Fiestas: Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo, is refreshingly frank about the challenges of tackling these types of dishes, especially for those of us whose grandmas ran more toward Jell-O salad.

Her self-deprecation should go a long way toward reassuring less-skilled cooks that perfection is not the goal.

As she told Nuvo’s Dan Grossman:

The art cooking videos are immensely fun to make… And what I’m trying to do is reach people who aren’t necessarily outwardly into art or don’t know whether they’re into art so they’re not going to click on a video that’s strictly about art. But if you can present art ideas through a cooking tutorial perhaps they’ll be more open to it. I love to cook. And I love to think about that side of art history.

To that end, she takes a couple of bite-sized art breaks, to introduce viewers to Frida’s life and work, while the tomatoes are roasting.

As tempting as it is for old Frida hands to skip this well-charted terrain, doing so will not make dinner ready any faster. Why not enjoy the non-cooking related sections with the easiest item on the menu—a tequila shot?

Don't trick yourself into thinking there's nothing more to learn.

For instance, I did not know the Spanish for “I can’t get over this hangover,” but Frida’s pet parrot did. (Didn’t know that either.)

Green also offers some quick how-tos that could come in handy for other, less time-consuming dishes, like a sandwich or a plate of homemade pasta—everything from how to make homemade tomato sauce  to denuding prickly pear cactus pads of their non-edible spines.

If you’re undaunted by the Frida recipes, perhaps you should proceed to Salvador Dali’s towering Bush of Crayfish in Viking herbs, or the Futurists’ highly suggestive Meat Sculpture. Other recipes come from Vincent Van Gogh and Georgia O'Keeffe. See above.

Books referenced in the videos include: Dinner with Georgia O'Keeffe; A Painter's Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O'Keeffe; Dali's Les Diners de GalaVan Gogh's Table at the Auberge Ravoux: Recipes From the Artist's Last Home and Paintings of Cafe Life; and again Frida’s Fiestas: Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo.

View the full playlist of The Art Assignment’s Art Cooking episodes here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this June for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Todd Rundgren’s Advice to Young Artists: Be Free and Fearless, Make Art That Expresses Your True Self, and Never Mind the Critics

The Internet has redeemed graduation season for those of us whose commencement speakers failed to inspire.

One of the chief digital pleasures of the season is truffling up words of wisdom that seem ever so much wiser than the ones that were poured past the mortarboard into our own tender ears.

Our most-recently found pearls come from the mouth of one of our favorite dark horses, musician, producer, and multimedia pioneer Todd Rundgren, one of Berklee College of Music’s 2017 commencement speakers.




Rundgren claims he never would have passed the prestigious institution’s audition. He barely managed to graduate from high school. But he struck a blow for lifelong learners whose pursuit of knowledge takes place outside the formal setting by earning honorary degrees from both Berklee, and DePauw University, where the newly anointed Doctor of Performing Arts can be seen below, studying his honoris causa as the school band serenades him with a student-arranged version of his song, All the Children Sing.

Rundgren’s outsider status played well with Berklee’s Class of 2017, as he immediately ditched his ceremonial headdress and conferred some cool on the sunglasses dictated by his failing vision.

But it wasn’t all opening snark, as he praised the students’ previous night’s musical performance, telling them that they were a credit to their school, their families and themselves.

His was a different path.

Rundgren, an experienced public speaker, claims he was stumped as to how one would go about crafting commencement speeches. Rejecting an avalanche of advice, whose urgency suggested his speech could only result in “universal jubilation or mass suicide if (he) didn’t get it right,” he chose instead to spend his first 10 minutes at the podium recounting his personal history.

It’s interesting stuff for any student of rock n roll, with added cool points owing to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame’s failure to acknowledge this musical innovator.

Whether or not the Class of 17 were familiar with their speaker prior to that day, it’s probable most of them were able to do the math and realize that the self-educated Rundgren would have been their age in 1970, when his debut album, Runt, was released, and only a couple of years older when his third album, 1972’s two disc, Ritalin-fueled Something/Anything shot him to fame.

After which, this proud iconoclast promptly thumbed his nose at commercial success, detouring into the sonic experiments of A Wizard, a True Star, whose disastrous critical reception belies the masterpiece reputation it now enjoys.

Rolling Stone called it a case of an artist “run amok.”

Patti Smith, whose absolutely mandatory Creem review reads like beat poetry, was a rare admirer.

Did a shiver of fear run through the parents in the audience, as Rundgren regaled their children with tales of how this deliberate trip into the unknown cost him half his fanbase?

How much is Berklee's tuition these days, anyway?

Autobiographical urges from the commencement podium run the risk of coming off as inappropriate indulgence, but Rundgren’s personal story is supporting evidence of his very worthy message to his younger fellow artists :

  • Don’t self-edit in an attempt to fit someone else’s image of who you should be as an artist. See yourself.
  • Use your art as a tool for vigorous self-exploration.
  • Commit to remaining free and fearless, in the service of your defining moment, whose arrival time is rarely published in advance.
  • Don’t view graduation as the end of your education. Think of it as the beginning. Learn about the things you love.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this June for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Strikingly Beautiful Maps & Charts That Fired the Imagination of Students in the 1880s

We all remember the world maps that hung on the walls of our classrooms, the ones at which we spent countless hours staring when we couldn't focus on the lesson at hand. Did we look at them and imagine fleeing school for one of the far-off lands they pictured — or indeed finding a way to escape planet Earth itself? Such time-passing fantasies unite schoolchildren of all eras, though some eras have provided their schoolchildren richer material to fire up their imaginations than others.

Take, for instance, the rich, vivid maps of Yaggy's Geographical Study, which depict not just the world but the cosmos, and which were first produced for classrooms in 1887. The eponymous Levi Walter Yaggy, says Boston Rare Maps, "seems to have viewed himself as an innovator and entrepreneur tapping into a transformational moment in American education."

An advertisement for Yaggy's Chicago-based Western Publishing House lays out the company's mission: "Instead of offering the public old things ‘made over,’ it has come to the help of teachers and schools with a series of appliances which in design, mechanism and manner of illustration, are new, elegant and practical."

It also points to “the enthusiasm which has been aroused in educational circles by this new departure" as "proof of the fact that teachers are tired of stereotyped and worn-out means of school-room illustration."

One can well imagine the enthusiasm aroused among schoolchildren of the late 19th century when the teacher brought out Yaggy's Geographical Study, a plywood box filled with colorful, large-format maps measuring roughly two by three feet that revealed a wealth of knowledge about the Earth and outer space.

The David Rumsey Map Collection has digitized and made available to download everything that came inside, including the cross-section of the geological strata of "pre-Adamite Earth"; the illustration of the civilizations of five climatic zones "Showing in a Graphic Manner the Climates, Peoples, Industries & Productions of The Earth"; the 3D relief map of the United States built into the back of the box; and the jewel in the crown of Yaggy's Geographical Study, the star chart.

The star chart, as National Geographic's Greg Miller describes it, "has five panels held in place by tiny metal latches. Each panel can be opened to reveal a more detailed diagram. One shows the phases of the moon, for example, while another includes a slider to illustrate how the position of the sun changes relative to Earth with the seasons," the whole thing "designed to highlight certain features when a bright light is placed behind it."

Despite displaying here and there what we now regard as scientific inaccuracies (Miller points to how the elliptical orbit of planets are shown as circles) and unfashionable social attitudes, Yaggy's Geographical Study also embodies the spirit of its time in a way that still fires up the imagination. The golden age of exploration had already entered its final chapter and space travel remained the stuff of science fiction (a genre that had only recently taken the form in which we know it today), but with maps like these on the wall, no daydreaming student of the 1880s could doubt that reality still offered much to discover.

via Flashbak

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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