Discover the World’s Oldest University, Which Opened in 427 CE, Housed 9 Million Manuscripts, and Then Educated Students for 800 Years

In the Bud­dhist Asia of a dozen cen­turies ago, the equiv­a­lent of going off to study at an Ivy League school was going off to study at Nalan­da. It was found­ed in the year 427 in what’s now the Indi­an state of Bihar, mak­ing it “the world’s first res­i­den­tial uni­ver­si­ty,” as Sug­a­to Mukher­jee writes at BBC trav­el. As it devel­oped, Nalan­da became a “home to nine mil­lion books that attract­ed 10,000 stu­dents from across East­ern and Cen­tral Asia. They gath­ered here to learn med­i­cine, log­ic, math­e­mat­ics and – above all – Bud­dhist prin­ci­ples from some of the era’s most revered schol­ars.”

Alas, despite being much old­er than the famous­ly ven­er­a­ble uni­ver­si­ties of Bologna, Oxford, or Cam­bridge, Nalan­da can’t claim to have been in con­tin­u­ous oper­a­tion since the fifth cen­tu­ry. Destroyed by maraud­ers dur­ing Turko-Afghan gen­er­al Bakhti­yar Khilji’s con­quest of north­ern and east­ern India in the 1190s, its vast cam­pus lay in obscure ruins until Scot­tish sur­vey­or Fran­cis Buchanan-Hamil­ton and British Army engi­neer Sir Alexan­der Cun­ning­ham redis­cov­ered and iden­ti­fied it, respec­tive­ly, in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry.

In its near­ly eight cen­turies of ini­tial activ­i­ty, writes Mukher­jee, Nalan­da attract­ed pro­to-inter­na­tion­al stu­dents from all over Asia, and “reg­u­lar­ly sent some of its best schol­ars and pro­fes­sors to places like Chi­na, Korea, Japan, Indone­sia and Sri Lan­ka to prop­a­gate Bud­dhist teach­ings and phi­los­o­phy.” Its notable fac­ul­ty mem­bers includ­ed Aryab­ha­ta, “the father of Indi­an math­e­mat­ics,” who may have been its head in the sixth cen­tu­ry, and Chi­nese Bud­dhist monk Xuan­zang, who returned to his home­land in 645 with “a wag­onload of 657 Bud­dhist scrip­tures from Nalan­da.” Lat­er “he would trans­late a por­tion of these vol­umes into Chi­nese to cre­ate his life’s trea­tise.”

Image by Sum­it­surai, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Of the nine mil­lion hand­writ­ten Bud­dhist man­u­scripts in Nalan­da’s library at the time of its destruc­tion, “only a hand­ful” sur­vived. Some of them even­tu­al­ly made their way to the Los Ange­les Coun­ty Muse­um of Art, a fit­ting enough trib­ute to the world-span­ning out­look of the insti­tu­tion. Not far from its orig­i­nal loca­tion, now a UNESCO World Her­itage site, Nalan­da is mak­ing a come­back as an inter­na­tion­al place of learn­ing for the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry. You can get a sense of how that project is shap­ing up from the BBC Reel video above. “I think we are already a uni­ver­si­ty of the future,” says its Vice Chan­cel­lor Sunaina Singh, and indeed, a promis­ing vision of the future needs noth­ing quite so much as a suf­fi­cient­ly deep past.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Intro­duc­tion to Indi­an Phi­los­o­phy: A Free Online Course

The Most Dis­tant Places Vis­it­ed by the Romans: Africa, Scan­di­navia, Chi­na, India, Ara­bia & Oth­er Far-Flung Lands

Learn the His­to­ry of Indi­an Phi­los­o­phy in a 62 Episode Series from The His­to­ry of Phi­los­o­phy With­out Any Gaps: The Bud­dha, Bha­gavad-Gita, Non Vio­lence & More

One of the Old­est Bud­dhist Man­u­scripts Has Been Dig­i­tized & Put Online: Explore the Gand­hara Scroll

How 99% of Ancient Lit­er­a­ture Was Lost

The Largest Free Kitchen in the World: Dis­cov­er India’s Gold­en Tem­ple Which Serves 100,000 Free Meals Per Day

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

Meet Jason Arday, the Cambridge Professor Who Didn’t Learn to Talk Until Age 11, or to Read Until Age 18

When Jason Arday became a pro­fes­sor at Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge at the age of 37, he also became the youngest black per­son ever appoint­ed to a pro­fes­sor­ship there. That’s impres­sive, but it becomes much more so when you con­sid­er that he did­n’t learn to speak until he was eleven years old and read until he was eigh­teen. Diag­nosed with Autism Spec­trum Dis­or­der at the age of three, he had to find dif­fer­ent ways to devel­op him­self and his life than most of us, and also to take advan­tage of help from the right col­lab­o­ra­tors: his moth­er, for instance, who learned the val­ue of rep­e­ti­tion to the autis­tic mind, and intro­duced her son to the high­ly repet­i­tive game of snook­er to get him used to mas­ter­ing tasks.

“It’s hard to say if it worked or not,” Arday says in the Great Big Sto­ry video above. “Well, in terms of snook­er, it did, because I became a real­ly good snook­er play­er.” An inter­est­ed high school teacher, Chris Trace, and lat­er a col­lege tutor named San­dro San­dri, encour­aged Arday to use his strong focus to not just catch up with but far sur­pass the aver­age stu­dent.

“I don’t con­sid­er myself to be intel­li­gent,” Arday says in the Black in Acad­e­mia video below, “but I would bet that I’m one of the hard­est-work­ing peo­ple in the world.” In the Soci­ol­o­gy of Edu­ca­tion depart­ment, he’s direct­ed his own work toward improv­ing the sit­u­a­tion of stu­dents pos­sessed of sim­i­lar dri­ve in sim­i­lar­ly dif­fi­cult start­ing con­di­tions.

Among Arday’s projects, accord­ing to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge’s web site, “a book with Dr. Chantelle Lewis (Uni­ver­si­ty of Oxford) about the chal­lenges and dis­crim­i­na­tion faced by neu­ro­di­verse pop­u­la­tions and stu­dents of col­or,” a pro­gram “to sup­port the men­tal health of young peo­ple from eth­nic minor­i­ty back­grounds,” research into “the role of the arts and cul­tur­al lit­er­a­cy in effec­tive men­tal health inter­ven­tions,” and “a book about Paul Simon’s 1986 album, Grace­land, focus­ing on the eth­i­cal dilem­mas the singer-song­writer con­front­ed by break­ing cul­tur­al apartheid in South Africa to involve mar­gin­al­ized black com­mu­ni­ties in its pro­duc­tion.”

Here on Open Cul­ture, we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured work on how music has helped autis­tic young peo­ple. It’s cer­tain­ly helped Arday, who cred­its cer­tain songs with help­ing him along in his quest for knowl­edge and aca­d­e­m­ic cre­den­tials. He makes ref­er­ence to David Bowie’s song “Gold­en Years,” because “there was a peri­od of five years where it felt like every­thing I touched turned to gold — and I had anoth­er peri­od of five years where it was just real­ly, real­ly dif­fi­cult.” Over­com­ing dis­ad­van­tages seems to have con­sti­tut­ed half of Arday’s bat­tle, but no less impor­tant, in his telling, has been his sub­se­quent deci­sion to focus on his dis­tinc­tive set of strengths. Despite the young age at which he made pro­fes­sor, none of this came quick­ly — but then, he’d been psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly pre­pared for that by anoth­er of his major musi­cal touch­stones: AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wan­na Rock ‘N’ Roll).”

Relat­ed con­tent:

Cheap Trick’s Bassist Tom Peters­son Helps Kids With Autism Learn Lan­guage With Rock ‘n’ Roll: Dis­cov­er “Rock Your Speech”

“Pro­fes­sor Risk” at Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Says “One of the Biggest Risks is Being Too Cau­tious”

Blondie Drum­mer Clem Burke and Sci­en­tif­ic Researchers Show That Drum­ming Can Help Kids with Autism Learn More Effec­tive­ly in School

The Wis­dom & Advice of Mau­rice Ash­ley, the First African-Amer­i­can Chess Grand­mas­ter

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

How to Be Happier in 5 Research-Proven Steps, According to Popular Yale Professor Laurie Santos

Nature doesn’t care if you’re hap­py, but Yale psy­chol­o­gy pro­fes­sor Lau­rie San­tos does.

As Dr. San­tos points out dur­ing the above appear­ance on The Well, the goals of nat­ur­al selec­tion have been achieved as long as humans sur­vive and repro­duce, but most of us crave some­thing more to con­sid­er life worth liv­ing.

With depres­sion ris­ing to near epi­dem­ic lev­els on col­lege cam­pus­es and else­where, it’s worth tak­ing a look at our ingrained behav­ior, and maybe mak­ing some mod­i­fi­ca­tions to boost our hap­pi­ness lev­els.

Psy­chol­o­gy and the Good Life, Dr. San­tos’ mas­sive twice week­ly lec­ture class that active­ly tack­les ways of edg­ing clos­er to hap­pi­ness, is the most pop­u­lar course in Yale’s more than 300-year his­to­ry.

Do we detect some resis­tance?

Pos­i­tive psy­chol­o­gy — or the sci­ence of hap­pi­ness — is a pret­ty crowd­ed field late­ly, and the over­whelm­ing demand cre­at­ed by great throngs of peo­ple long­ing to feel bet­ter has attract­ed a fair num­ber of grifters will­ing to impart their proven method­olo­gies to any­one enrolling in their paid online cours­es.

By con­trast, Dr. San­tos not only has that Yale pedi­gree, she also cites oth­er respect­ed aca­d­e­mics such as the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chicago’s Nicholas Epley, a social cog­ni­tion spe­cial­ist who believes under­so­cial­i­ty, or a lack of face-to-face engage­ment, is mak­ing peo­ple mis­er­able, and Harvard’s Dan Gilbert and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Virginia’s Tim­o­thy Wil­son, who co-authored a paper on “mis­want­i­ng”, or the ten­den­cy to inac­cu­rate­ly pre­dict what will tru­ly result in sat­is­fac­tion and hap­pi­ness.

Yale under­grad Mick­ey Rose, who took Psy­chol­o­gy and the Good Life in the spring of 2022 to ful­fill a social sci­ence cred­it, told the Yale Dai­ly News that her favorite part of the class was that “every­thing was cit­ed, every­thing had a cred­i­ble source and study to back it up:”

I’m a STEM major and it’s kind of my over­all per­son­al­i­ty type to ques­tion claims that I find not very believ­able. Obvi­ous­ly the class made a lot of claims about mon­ey, grades, hap­pi­ness, that are coun­ter­in­tu­itive to most peo­ple and to Yale stu­dents espe­cial­ly.

With Psy­chol­o­gy and the Good Life now avail­able to the pub­lic for free on Cours­era, even skep­tics might con­sid­er giv­ing Dr. San­tos’ rec­om­mend­ed “re-wire­ment prac­tices” a peek, though be fore­warned, you should be pre­pared to put them into prac­tice before mak­ing pro­nounce­ments as to their effi­ca­cy.

It’s all pret­ty straight­for­ward stuff, start­ing with “use your phone to actu­al­ly be a phone”, mean­ing call a friend or fam­i­ly mem­ber to set up an in per­son get togeth­er rather than scrolling through end­less social media feeds.

Oth­er com­mon sense adjust­ments include look­ing beyond your­self to help by vol­un­teer­ing, resolv­ing to adopt a glass-is-half-full type atti­tude, cul­ti­vat­ing mind­ful­ness, mak­ing dai­ly entries in a grat­i­tude jour­nal, and becom­ing less seden­tary.

(You might also give Dr. San­tos’ Hap­pi­ness Lab pod­cast a go…)

Things to guard against are mea­sur­ing your own hap­pi­ness against the per­ceived hap­pi­ness of oth­ers and “impact bias” — over­es­ti­mat­ing the dura­tion and inten­si­ty of hap­pi­ness that is the expect­ed result of some hot­ly antic­i­pat­ed event, acqui­si­tion or change in social stand­ing.

Below Dr. San­tos gives a tour of the Good Life Cen­ter, an on-cam­pus space that stressed out, social­ly anx­ious stu­dents can vis­it to get help putting some of those re-wire­ment prac­tices into play.

Sign up for Coursera’s 10-week Sci­ence of Well-Being course here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Sci­ence of Well-Being: Take a Free Online Ver­sion of Yale University’s Most Pop­u­lar Course

Free Online Psy­chol­o­gy & Neu­ro­science Cours­es, a sub­set of our col­lec­tion, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

What Are the Keys to Hap­pi­ness? Lessons from a 75-Year-Long Har­vard Study

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Behold a 19th-Century Atlas of the United States, Designed for Blind Students (1837)

In 1835, the New Eng­land Insti­tu­tion for Edu­ca­tion of the Blind (now known as Perkins School for the Blind) acquired a print­ing press.

Under the lead­er­ship of its first direc­tor, Samuel Gri­d­ley Howe, the press was cus­tomized in order to print in raised text that allowed blind and visu­al­ly impaired peo­ple to read unas­sist­ed.

Inclu­siv­i­ty was a prime moti­va­tor for Howe, who strove to make sure his stu­dents would not be “doomed to inequal­i­ty” or regard­ed as “mere objects of pity.”

After inves­ti­gat­ing Euro­pean tac­tile print­ing sys­tems, he devel­oped Boston Line Type, an embossed Roman alpha­bet that could be read with the fin­gers.

It eschewed flour­ish­es and cap­i­tal let­ters, but read­ing it required a lot of train­ing and even then, was like­ly to be slow going. Howe esti­mat­ed that read­ing it would take three times as long as a sight­ed per­son would take to read an equiv­a­lent amount of tra­di­tion­al­ly print­ed text.

Ulti­mate­ly it proved far less user-friend­ly than braille.

Text accom­pa­ny­ing the exhi­bi­tion Touch This Page! Mak­ing Sense of the Ways We Read, notes that braille had been in use in Great Britain and France for decades before being wide­ly adopt­ed in the US:

The amount of time and mon­ey that Perkins and oth­er Amer­i­can schools had invest­ed into Boston Line Type made them resis­tant to adopt­ing a new sys­tem. Boston Line Type was, how­ev­er, much hard­er to learn than braille, and only braille allowed indi­vid­u­als with visu­al impair­ments to read and write tac­tile­ly.

The school used its Boston Line Type press to pub­lish his­to­ry, gram­mar, and spelling books, as well as the New Tes­ta­ment, and a com­plete Bible.

After a vis­it to the school, Charles Dick­ens paid to have 250 Boston Line Type copies of his nov­el The Old Curios­i­ty Shop print­ed for dis­tri­b­u­tion to blind Amer­i­cans.

In light of Touch This Page!’s asser­tion that Boston Line Type’s print forms were “designed to be uni­ver­sal­ly acces­si­ble rather than in those [print forms] most acces­si­ble to the touch”, we sus­pect that the school’s 1837 Atlas of the Unit­ed States offered its read­ers the best val­ue.

While there were many dense descrip­tive pas­sages in Boston Line Type to wade through, it also boast­ed embossed maps to ori­ent geog­ra­phy stu­dents with raised out­lines of each state.

Rivers were chart­ed as sol­id raised lines, while oceans were indi­cat­ed with par­al­lel lines. Sets of tri­an­gles rep­re­sent­ed moun­tains.

Lon­gi­tudes, lat­i­tudes, and city loca­tions were also not­ed, but the pres­ence of neg­a­tive space gave blind and low vision stu­dents the oppor­tu­ni­ty to grasp infor­ma­tion quick­ly.

50 copies were print­ed, of which four sur­vive.

Explore the Atlas of the Unit­ed States Print­ed for the Use of the Blind here.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent 

A Tac­tile Map of the Roman Empire: An Inno­v­a­tive Map That Allowed Blind & Sight­ed Stu­dents to Expe­ri­ence Geog­ra­phy by Touch (1888)

Please Touch the Art: Watch a Blind Man Expe­ri­ence His Own Por­trait for the First Time

Braille Neue: A New Ver­sion of Braille That Can Be Simul­ta­ne­ous­ly Read by the Sight­ed and the Blind

Helen Keller Had Impec­ca­ble Hand­writ­ing: See a Col­lec­tion of Her Child­hood Let­ters

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Patton Oswalt to William & Mary’s Graduating Class: “You Poor Bastards,” “You Do Not Have a Choice But to Be Anything But Extraordinary”

Pat­ton Oswalt, William & Mary, Class of 1991, grad­u­at­ed with a 2.8 GPA “into a world full of triv­ia and silli­ness and fun.”

The Class of 2023, he observed in a recent keynote address at his alma mater, is poised to enter a “hellscape where you will have to fight for every scrap of your human­i­ty and dig­ni­ty.”

The come­di­an sea­soned his speech with jokes, but its “hard truth” is one that could find favor with activist Gre­ta Thun­berg — name­ly that the inat­ten­tion, apa­thy, and blithe waste­ful­ness of his gen­er­a­tion, and all gen­er­a­tions that came before have sad­dled today’s young peo­ple with a seri­ous­ly messed up plan­et:

Your con­cerns as you stum­ble out into real­i­ty tomor­row are mas­sive. Democ­ra­cy is crum­bling. Truth is up for grabs. The planet’s try­ing to kill us and lone­li­ness is dri­ving every­one insane.

The good news?

Your gen­er­a­tion has rebelled against every bad habit of mine and every gen­er­a­tion that came before it. Every­thing that we let cal­ci­fy, you have kicked against and demol­ished.

He sees a stu­dent body will­ing to bat­tle apa­thy, alien­ation, and cru­el­ty, who insist on inclu­sion and open­ness about men­tal health.

(By con­trast he was a “lit­tle daf­fodil” who angri­ly took his Physics for Poets prof to task for hav­ing com­mit­ted an inac­cu­ra­cy involv­ing Star Trek’s chain of com­mand on the final exam.)

The for­mer Eng­lish major man­gles a quote from author Ger­ald Kirsch’s 1938 short sto­ry Bus­to is a Ghost, Too Mean to Give Us a Fright!

The real quote is:

…there are men whom one hates until a cer­tain moment when one sees, through a chink in their armour, the writhing of some­thing nailed down and in tor­ment.

The para­phrased sen­ti­ment retains its pow­er, how­ev­er, and his slop­py fact check­ing squares with his por­tray­al of him­self as a lack­adaisi­cal B- stu­dent.

Return­ing to cam­pus 32 years lat­er as a suc­cess­ful writer, actor and come­di­an, he exhorts the most aca­d­e­m­ic mem­bers of the Class of 2023 to take a cue from their peers whose GPAs were less than stel­lar, “the day­dream­ers, the con­fused, and the seek­ers:”

There are peo­ple out there who want to man­age every moment. They want to divvy up every dream, and they want to com­mod­i­fy every crazy cre­ative caprice that springs out of your cra­ni­um. Don’t let them. Be human in all of its bed­lam and beau­ty and mad­ness and mer­cy for as long as you can and in any way you can.

He may have dashed off his address in his hotel room the night before the cer­e­mo­ny, but he dri­ves his point home with an inge­nious Hol­ly­wood insid­er ref­er­ence that may send the entire class of 2023, their fam­i­lies, pro­fes­sors, and you, dear read­er, rush­ing to view (or revis­it) the 1982 sci fi clas­sic, Blade Run­ner.

As to why Oswalt mer­its the hon­orary degree William & Mary con­ferred on him, fel­low alum and Ted Las­so showrun­ner Bill Lawrence has a the­o­ry:

I guess it’s because he didn’t real­ly deserve the degree he got when he was here.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent 

John Waters’ RISD Grad­u­a­tion Speech: Real Wealth Is Life With­out A*Holes

‘This Is Water’: Com­plete Audio of David Fos­ter Wallace’s Keny­on Grad­u­a­tion Speech (2005)

“Wear Sun­screen”: The Sto­ry Behind the Com­mence­ment Speech That Kurt Von­negut Nev­er Gave

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Neil Gaiman Speaks at the Alternative Graduation Held at a College Resisting Ron DeSantis’ Hostile Takeover

His pres­i­den­tial cam­paign has end­ed before it start­ed. But Ron DeSan­tis is the last to know it. And so he con­tin­ues pan­der­ing to Trump’s base. After ship­ping migrants to Martha’s Vine­yard, the Flori­da gov­er­nor now picks cost­ly fights with Dis­ney, his state’s sec­ond largest employ­er; bans books in Flori­da pub­lic schools; and exerts polit­i­cal pres­sure on the state’s pub­lic col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties.

At the New Col­lege of Flori­da, DeSan­tis is using the cud­gel of gov­ern­ment to trans­form a tra­di­tion­al lib­er­al arts col­lege into a con­ser­v­a­tive-lean­ing insti­tu­tion. If you’re not fol­low­ing what’s hap­pen­ing at New Col­lege, read this pro­file in The New York­er. The arti­cle will help set the stage for the video above.

There, you will see author Neil Gaiman speak­ing at an alter­na­tive grad­u­a­tion arranged by New Col­lege stu­dents. Not want­i­ng to par­tic­i­pate in the offi­cial grad­u­a­tion archi­tect­ed by the school’s new con­ser­v­a­tive boss­es (the event fea­tured Scott Atlas, the radi­ol­o­gist who became Trump’s con­tro­ver­sial Covid “expert,” how inspir­ing!), the stu­dents arranged an alt grad­u­a­tion and invit­ed Gaiman to speak via video. Through a per­son­al sto­ry, The Sand­man author remind­ed the stu­dents of the lib­er­al arts val­ues that under­gird the school, and left stu­dents with some time­ly advice: “You must fight for what you believe to be right while nev­er los­ing your sense of humor or your sense of pro­por­tion.” Here’s to hop­ing that New Col­lege out­lasts the erst­while pres­i­den­tial con­tender.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Neil Gaiman Gives Grad­u­ates 10 Essen­tial Tips for Work­ing in the Arts

John Waters’ RISD Grad­u­a­tion Speech: Real Wealth Is Life With­out A*Holes

David Byrne’s Grad­u­a­tion Speech Offers Trou­bling and Encour­ag­ing Advice for Stu­dents in the Arts

Watch the Original Schoolhouse Rock Composers Sing “Conjunction Junction” and “I’m Just a Bill” Live in Concert

At first blush, School­house Rock!, the inter­sti­tial ani­ma­tions air­ing between ABC’s Sat­ur­day morn­ing car­toon line up from 1973 to 1984, may seem like a catchy, edu­ca­tion­al equiv­a­lent of sneak­ing spinach into pan­cakes (and a major Gen X touch­stone.)

Not so fast! It’s also jazz, baby!

Jazz pianist Bob Dor­ough recalled how an ad exec at a New York ad agency pitched the idea:

My lit­tle boys can’t mem­o­rize their times tables, but they sing along with Jimi Hen­drix and the Rolling Stones, so why don’t you put it to rock music and we’ll call it Mul­ti­pli­ca­tion Rock?

Dor­ough, whose com­po­si­tion­al pref­er­ences ran to “extrav­a­gant love songs” and vocal chal­leng­ing num­bers, real­ized that his first order of busi­ness would be to write a good song:

I hit upon the idea, let’s pick a num­ber. Three! That’s a good num­ber. And I sat down at the piano and start­ed fool­ing around. It took me 2 weeks.

In his hands, three became a mag­ic num­ber, an ear worm to bring even the most reluc­tant ele­men­tary math­e­mati­cians up to speed in no time.

Even­tu­al­ly, Dor­ough was able to bring many of his jazz world friends into the fold, includ­ing, most famous­ly, trum­peter and Merv Grif­fin Show side­kick Jack Shel­don, whose one-of-a-kind deliv­ery is the hands down high­light of “Con­junc­tion Junc­tion.”

(Many School­house Rock! fans, view­ing the excerpt of the duo’s mid-90’s live appear­ance on the KTLA Morn­ing Show, above, pro­fessed dis­be­lief that Sheldon’s soul was of the blue-eyed vari­ety, even though the ani­mat­ed engi­neer who serves as his avatar in that three minute episode is white.)

In an inter­view with the direc­tor of the Fil­lius Jazz Archive at Hamil­ton Col­lege, Shel­don agreed that the series owed a major debt to jazz:

When we made Con­junc­tion Junc­tion, it was me and Ted­dy Edwards and Nick Ceroli and Leroy Vine­gar and Bob Dor­ough played the piano. That’s a jazz band…it was real­ly noth­ing to do with rock. It was always jazz, but we said rock and roll, so every­body loved it for rock and roll.

Anoth­er mem­o­rable col­lab­o­ra­tion between Shel­don and Dor­ough is the much par­o­died “I’m Just a Bill,” in which a weary scroll loi­ters on the steps of the Cap­i­tal Build­ing, explain­ing to a wide eyed young­ster (voiced by his son) the process by which a bill becomes law.

Dor­oughs’ School­house Rock! con­tri­bu­tions include the haunt­ing Fig­ure Eight, the folky Lucky Sev­en Samp­son, whose sen­ti­ments Dor­ough iden­ti­fied with most close­ly, and Naughty Num­ber Nine, which his pro­tégé, singer-song­writer Nel­lie McK­ay sin­gled out for spe­cial praise, “cause it was kind of weird and sub­ver­sive:”

(It) made me want to gam­ble and win. I got hooked when I heard Bob’s jazzy rasp of a voice break­ing the rules even as he explained them… this guy had a wild mind, which I fig­ured out lat­er equaled cre­ativ­i­ty.

She also paid the per­pet­u­al­ly sun­ny Dor­ough, whom she first encoun­tered “glow(ing) with health and good cheer, spread­ing sun­shine wher­ev­er he went on the cam­pus of East Strouds­burg Uni­ver­si­ty, the supreme com­pli­ment:

Lou Reed’s idea of hell would be to sit in heav­en with Bob Dor­ough.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent 

School­house Rock: Revis­it a Col­lec­tion of Nos­tal­gia-Induc­ing Edu­ca­tion­al Videos

I’m Just a Pill: A School­house Rock Clas­sic Gets Reimag­ined to Defend Repro­duc­tive Rights in 2017

Con­spir­a­cy The­o­ry Rock: The School­house Rock Par­o­dy Sat­ur­day Night Live May Have Cen­sored

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Enroll Today for Online Courses with Stanford Continuing Studies: Open Culture Readers Get 15% Off

A heads up for Open Cul­ture read­ers: This spring, Stan­ford Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies has a rich line­up of online cours­es, and they’re offer­ing a spe­cial 15% dis­count to our read­ers. Just use the pro­mo code CULTURE dur­ing check­out.

Serv­ing life­long learn­ers every­where, Stan­ford Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies will launch its spring cur­ricu­lum next week (the week of April 3), let­ting you choose from over 100 cours­es. Among the cours­es, you will find some notable men­tions:

Defend­ing Democ­ra­cy at Home and Abroad fea­tures three Stan­ford schol­ars (includ­ing the for­mer US ambas­sador to Rus­sia Mike McFaul) who will exam­ine the uncer­tain state of democ­ra­cy at home and abroad. Togeth­er, they will explore 1) the mer­its of democ­ra­cy com­pared with the alter­na­tives, 2) chal­lenges to democ­ra­cy both in the US and across the globe, and 3) solu­tions for pro­tect­ing and advanc­ing democ­ra­cy every­where.

With Stan­ford Mon­day Uni­ver­si­ty: 2023, five Stan­ford schol­ars will focus on impor­tant trends cur­rent­ly shap­ing our soci­ety, espe­cial­ly after the pan­dem­ic. What’s the future of work­ing from home, and how will remote work affect the econ­o­my of the Unit­ed States? Why have addictions—including to devices and screens—skyrocketed in the US, and how can a dopamine fast help bring them under con­trol? Why has the mod­ern econ­o­my left behind so many work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties in Amer­i­ca, and how can invest­ment in these com­mu­ni­ties help address the wealth inequal­i­ties in our coun­try? These, and oth­er ques­tions, will be explored in the course.

Final­ly, in The Book of Change: Ovid, Art, and Us, art his­to­ri­an Alexan­der Nemerov–voted one of Stanford’s top 10 pro­fes­sors by Stan­ford students–will exam­ine Ovid’s Meta­mor­phoses and the great works of art inspired by the Roman clas­sic. Along the way, he will explore paint­ings by Peter Paul Rubens, Diego Velázquez, and Nico­las Poussin, plus sculp­tures by Gian Loren­zo Berni­ni.

Stan­ford Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies also offers a large num­ber of online cre­ative writ­ing cours­es and online busi­ness cours­es. See the com­plete line­up of cours­es here. And remem­ber to use the pro­mo code CULTURE dur­ing check­out to get your 15% dis­count. The code expires on April 30.

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