A 4,000-Year-Old Student ‘Writing Board’ from Ancient Egypt (with Teacher’s Corrections in Red)


Americans raised on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books tend to associate slates with one room schoolhouses and rote exercises involving reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.

Had we been reared along the banks of the Nile, would our minds go to ancient gessoed boards like the 4000-year-old Middle Kingdom example above?

Like our familiar tablet-sized blackboards, this paper — or should we say papyrus? — saver was designed to be used again and again, with whitewash serving as a form of eraser.




As Egyptologist William C. Hayes, former Curator of Egyptian Art at the Metropolitan Museum wrote in The Scepter of Egypt: A Background for the Study of the Egyptian Antiquities in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 1, From the Earliest Times to the End of the Middle Kingdom, the writing board at the top of the page:

…bears parts of two model letters of the very formal and ultra-poite variety addressed to a superior official. The writers consistently refer to themselves as “this servant” and to their addressees as “the Master (may he live, prosper, and be well.)” The longer letter was composed and written by a young man named Iny-su, son of Sekhsekh, who calls himself a “Servant of the Estate” and who, probably in jest, has used the name of his own brother, Peh-ny-su, as that of the distinguished addressee. Following a long-winded preamble, in which the gods of Thebes and adjacent towns are invoked in behalf of the recipient, we get down to the text of the letter and find that it concerns the delivery of various parts of a ship, probably a sacred barque. In spite of its formality and fine phraseology, the letter is riddled with misspellings and other mistakes which have been corrected in red ink, probably by the master scribe in charge of the class.

Iny-su would also have been expected to memorize the text he had copied out, a practice that carried forward to our one-room-schoolhouses, where children droned their way through texts from McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers.

Another ancient Egyptian writing board in the Met’s collection finds an apprentice scribe fumbling with imperfectly formed, unevenly spaced hieroglyphs.

Fetch the whitewash and say it with me, class — practice makes perfect.

The first tablet inspired some lively discussion and more than a few punchlines on Reddit, where commenter The-Lord-Moccasin mused:

I remember reading somewhere that Egyptian students were taught to write by transcribing stories of the awful lives of the average peasants, to motivate and make them appreciate their education. Like “the farmer toils all day in the burning field, and prays he doesn’t feed the lions; the fisherman sits in fear on his boat as the crocodile lurks below.”

Always thought it sounded effective as hell.

We can’t verify it, but we second that emotion.

Note: The red markings on the image up top indicate where spelling mistakes were corrected by a teacher.

via @ddoniolvalcroze

Related Content: 

A 3,000-Year-Old Painter’s Palette from Ancient Egypt, with Traces of the Original Colors Still In It

Who Built the Egyptian Pyramids & How Did They Do It?: New Archeological Evidence Busts Ancient Myths

What Ancient Egyptian Sounded Like & How We Know It

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Google & Coursera Launch Career Certificates That Prepare Students for Jobs in 6 Months: Data Analytics, Project Management and UX Design

We live in an age of less-than-total agreement as to the purpose of higher education. Should it immerse students in the best that has been thought and said? Provide an environment in which to come of age? Produce “leaders”? Or should it, as increasingly many argue, first and foremost secure professional futures? In the practice of recent decades, higher education has done a bit of each, to the satisfaction of some and the dissatisfaction of others. It has, in other words, become an industry subject to “disruption” by other players offering specialized solutions of their own. Take for example the new Career Certificates offered by Google and the online education platform Coursera.

“Designed to prepare learners for an entry-level role in under six months,” as Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda explains it, these newly-unveiled Career Certificates “don’t have any prerequisites,” which means that most anyone interested in earning them can do so right now. This goes for “new grads landing their first job, front-line workers seeking stable employment, mid-career professionals making a pivot, or parents planning their return to the workforce,” and presumably myriad other walks of life besides.




Available in Data Analytics, Project Management, and User Experience (UX) Design, “each certificate is completely online, self-paced, and costs $39 per month” — significantly less than most existing forms of higher education, even of the most professionally or technologically oriented varieties.

If you’ve dipped into our list of online courses, you’ve probably encountered Coursera, a leading platform for massive online open courses (or MOOCs) used by some of the world’s best-known traditional universities. Its new provision of Google’s Career Certificates should go some way to making more familiar — at least to those us who’ve already learned online — a reimagining of professional education. This program’s “disruptive” potential, due not least to Google’s own consideration of these certificates as equivalent to a four-year degree, has already been well noted. “But while the new programs offer a fast track to new skills and possibly even a new job in a fraction of the time of a degree program,” writes Inc.‘s Justin Bariso, “students shouldn’t expect the courses to be a walk in the park.” And given that they’re unlikely to get easier, anyone interested in earning a Career Certificate would do well to look into it today.

Below, you can find a list of the new Career Certificates.

  • Data Analytics Professional Certificate – In the U.S., there are nearly 15,000 open entry-level data analytics roles, with an annual median entry-level salary of more than $63,000. This seven-course certificate explores analytical skills, concepts, and tools used in many introductory data analytics roles – including SQL, Tableau, RStudio, and Kaggle.
  • Project Management Professional Certificate – Employers will need to fill nearly 2.2 million new project-oriented roles each year through 2027, according to the Project Management Institute. This six-course certificate prepares learners to launch a project management career. It covers industry-standard tools and methods, including the agile project management system, and key soft skills, such as stakeholder management, problem-solving, and influencing.
  • User Experience (UX) Design Professional Certificate – UX design jobs are projected to steadily grow over the coming years, with median salaries for an entry-level role around $82,000. This seven-course certificate explores UX principles, UX terms, and industry-standard tools, including Figma and Adobe XD. By the time they complete the program, learners will have three portfolio projects to use in their job applications.

The new certificates have been added to our collection, 200 Online Certificate & Microcredential Programs from Leading Universities & Companies.

Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses and programs, it helps support Open Culture.

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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.

Watch Cartoonist Lynda Barry’s Two-Hour Drawing Workshop

We know you’re Zoomed out, but might you make an exception for the pre-recorded drawing and writing session above with legendary cartoonist and illustrator Lynda Barry?

Under the auspices of Graphic Medicine’s participatory online series, Drawing Together, the notoriously playful Barry led participants through a series of exercises from her book, Making Comics, and seemed genuinely pleased to be back in teaching mode. (All of her in-person classes at the University of Wisconsin have been cancelled until further notice due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as has her usual summer stint at the Omega Institute.)




Barry endeavored to loosen her students up right away, brandishing toys and dancing to an amazing playlist in a friend’s borrowed attic, confiding that the wifi situation here was far superior to that in her old farmhouse.

Teacher divided the large group in half by birthdays, as a way to organize viewing each other’s work after each timed exercise.

This couldn’t quite replicate the experience of the live classroom, where students have the opportunity to handle each other’s work, and more time to take it in, but still fun to see the incredible diversity—and in the case of closed-eye exercises—thrilling similarities on display.

Barry’s delight extended beyond the confines of the page, imitating the way some students beam like swaying sunflowers throughout the 60-second closed eye sessions, while others knit their brows, lower their chins and power through.

A series of self-portraits followed, with prompts designed to tap into the sort of imaginative powers that frequently seep away in adolescence—draw yourself as an animal, an astronaut, a member of a marching band, any fruit that’s not a banana…

Longer exercises involved turning random squiggles into monsters, with an extra minute granted after the timer went off to add whatever missing things the artist felt each drawing needed, then choosing one of those monsters to star in a family album of sorts.

Barry, who has, over the course of her career, filled a number of panels with hilariously out-of-touch teachers making life a hell for child characters, is audibly appreciative of her students’ efforts, frequently congratulating them for bringing something into the world that didn’t exist a few minutes prior:

This is the thing about comics! They come intact, they come all together and the most important thing you need to do is just make time to draw them, the uninterrupted time, even if it’s just 2 minutes.

Truth!

The final exercise of the day drew on some of the writing techniques Barry featured in Syllabus, with participants, quickly jotting down memories after a prompt, then choosing one  to explore more deeply, with special attention devoted to sensory recall.

To play along from home after the fact, you’ll need a couple of hours, ten or so sheets of paper, a pencil or pen (Barry favors black felt tips), and your “original digital devices” (hint: they’re attached to the ends of your arms).

Find information on how to participate in upcoming free Drawing Together sessions here.

All drawings used with the permission of participant Ayun Halliday.

Related Content:

Lynda Barry’s New Book Offers a Master Class in Making Comics

Lynda Barry on How the Smartphone Is Endangering Three Ingredients of Creativity: Loneliness, Uncertainty & Boredom

Lynda Barry’s Illustrated Syllabus & Homework Assignments from Her New UW-Madison Course, “Making Comics”

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Wired Co-Founder Kevin Kelly Gives 36 Lectures on Our Future World: Education, Movies, Robots, Autonomous Cars & More

Given recent events, 2019 may now seem to us like the distant past. But to those who were thinking hard about the future the year before last, nothing that has happened since has been wholly unexpected — and especially not to those who’d already been thinking hard about the future for decades. Take Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine and writer on technology as well as a host of other subjects. It was in 2019 that state telecommunications company China Mobile commissioned him to give a series of 36 short video lectures on the “Future of X”: not the future of the internet in China and the future of India in competition with China, but a range of topics that will surely affect us all, no matter our part of the world.

Self-driving cars, virtual reality, 5G, robots: Kelly has given consideration to all these much-discussed technologies and the roles they may come to play in our lives. But the important thing about them isn’t to know what form they’ll take in the future, since by definition no one can, but to develop habits of mind that allow you to grasp as wide a variety of their possibilities as you can right now.




The future, as Kelly frames it in his talk on uncertainties, consists of “known knowns,” “known unknowns,” and “unknown unknowns.” Those last, better known as “black swans,” are events “completely unexpected by anybody” that “change the world forever.” As examples of possible black swans to come he names World War Three, the discovery of cheap fusion energy, and, yes, a pandemic.

Societal preparation for the future, to Kelly’s mind, will involve developing “a very systematic way of collecting these unknown unknowns and turning them into known unknowns.” Personal preparation for the future, according to his talk on schools and learning, will involve ceaseless acquisition and refinement of knowledge and understanding.

If we want to thrive in an uncertain future, he argues, we should “adopt a method of learning called deliberate practice, falling forward or failing forward,” in which we keep pushing ourselves into unknown intellectual territory, always remaining “newbies” at something, assisted all the while by technology.

Just a couple of decades into the 21st century, we’ve already caught a glimpse of what technology can do to optimize our learning process — or simply to enable learning where it wouldn’t happen otherwise. “I don’t imagine that we’re going to go away from a classroom,” Kelly says, but we also “have the online video world, and more and more people today are learning how to do an amazing variety of things, that we wouldn’t have thought would work on video.”

Of course, since he spoke those words, one black swan in particular has pushed much of humanity away from the classroom, and we’ve found out a good deal more about what kind of learning works (and doesn’t) over the internet. The future, it seems, is now.

You can watch the full playlist of videos, all 36 of them, below. We also recommend his very insightful book, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future.

Related Content:

What Technology Wants: Kevin Kelly @ Google

The Best Magazine Articles Ever, Curated by Kevin Kelly

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Octavia Butler’s Four Rules for Predicting the Future

9 Science-Fiction Authors Predict the Future: How Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, William Gibson, Philip K. Dick & More Imagined the World Ahead

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.

The Open Syllabus Project Visualizes the 1,000,000+ Books Most Frequently Assigned in College Courses

The Prince, The Canterbury Tales, The Communist Manifesto, The Souls of Black FolkThe Elements of Style: we’ve read all these, of course. Or at least we’ve read most of them (one or two for sure), if our ever-dimmer memories of high school or college are to be trusted. But we can rest assured that students are reading — or in any case, being assigned — these very same works today, thanks to the Open Syllabus project, which as of this writing has assembled a database of 7,292,573 different college course syllabi. Greatly expanded since we previously featured it here on Open Culture, its “Galaxy” now visualizes the 1,138,841 most frequently assigned texts in that database, presenting them in a Google Maps-like interface for your intellectual exploration.

If you click on the search window in the upper-left corner of that interface, a scrollable ranking of the top 100 most frequently assigned texts opens immediately below. Number one, appearing on more than 15,000 of the syllabi collected so far, is Strunk and White’s classic writing-style guide.




Click on its title and you’ll find yourself in its corner of the map, and you’ll see highlighted other popular readings that tend to be assigned together with it: Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference (at the moment the second-most assigned text), Aristotle’s Rhetoric, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” Jürgen Habermas’ The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere.

Michel Foucault holds by some measures the record for the greatest number of citations in the humanities. If you’ve read only one of his books, you’ve probably read Discipline and Punish, his 1975 study of the penal system — and current holder of sixteenth place on the Open Syllabus rankings. But zoom in on it and you’ll find plenty of relevant books and articles you might not have read: Alan Elsner’s Gates of Injustice, William Ian Miller’s The Anatomy of DisgustSoledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson. Similarly, an excursion in the neighborhood of Benedict Anderson‘s Imagined Communities brings encounters with other investigations of country and citizenship like Ernest Renan’s What Is a Nation? and Duncan S.A. Bell’s Mythscapes: Memory, Mythology, and National Identity.

In every sense, the results to be found in the Open Syllabus Galaxy are more interesting than those offered up by the standard you-may-also-like algorithms. Back in college you may have enjoyed, say, Edward Said’s Orientalism, but the range of texts that could accompany it would have been limited by the theme of the class and the intent of your instructor. Here you’ll find Noam Chomsky’s Failed States on one side, John R. Bowen’s Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves on another, Hans Wehr’s Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic on another, and even Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden on another still. If we want to understand a subject, after all, we must read not just about it but around it. In college or elsewhere, you might well have heard that idea; here, you can see it. Enter the Open Syllabus Galaxy here.

Related Content:

David Foster Wallace’s 1994 Syllabus: How to Teach Serious Literature with Lightweight Books

W.H. Auden’s 1941 Literature Syllabus Asks Students to Read 32 Great Works, Covering 6000 Pages

Lynda Barry’s Wonderfully Illustrated Syllabus & Homework Assignments from Her UW-Madison Class, “The Unthinkable Mind”

Donald Barthelme’s Syllabus Highlights 81 Books Essential for a Literary Education

Junot Díaz’s Syllabi for His MIT Writing Classes, and the Novels on His Reading List

“Calling Bullshit”: See the Syllabus for a College Course Designed to Identify & Combat Bullshit

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.

The “Academic Tarot”: 22 Major Arcana Cards Representing Life in the Academic Humanities Under COVID-19

“Speculations about the creators of Tarot cards include the Sufis, the Cathars, the Egyptians, Kabbalists, and more,” writes “expert cartomancer” Joshua Hehe. All of these suppositions are wrong, it seems. “The actual historical evidence points to northern Italy sometime in the early part of the 1400s,” when the so-called “major arcana” came into being. “Contrary to what many have claimed, there is absolutely no proof of the Tarot having originated in any other time or place.”

A bold claim, yet there are precedents much older than tarot: “A few decades before the Tarot was born, ordinary playing cards came to Europe by way of Arabs, arriving in many different cities between 1375 and 1378. These cards were an adaptation of the Islamic Mamluk cards,” with suits of cups, swords, coins, and polo sticks, “the latter of which were seen by Europeans as staves.”




Whether the playing cards invented by the Mamluks were used for divination may be a matter of controversy. The history and art of the Mamluk sultanate itself is a subject worthy of study for the tarot historian. Originally a slave army (“mamluk” means “slave” in Arabic) under the Ayyubid sultans in Egypt and Syria, the Mamluks overthrew their rulers and created “the greatest Islamic empire of the later Middle Ages.”

What does this have to do with tarot reading? These are academic concerns, perhaps, of little interest to the average tarot enthusiast. But then, the average tarot enthusiast is not the audience for the “Academic Tarot,” a project of the Visionary Futures Collective, or VFC, a group of 22 scholars “fighting for what higher education needs most,” Stephanie Malak writes at Hyperallergic, “a bringing together of thinkers who ‘believe in the transformational power and vital importance of the humanities.’”

To that end, the Academic Tarot features exactly the kinds of characters who love to chase down abstruse historical questions—characters like the lowly, confused Grad Student, standing in here for The Fool. It also features those who can make academic life, with its endless rounds of meetings and committees, so difficult: figures like The President (see here), doing duty here as the Magician, and pictured shredding “campus-wide COVID results.”

The VFC, founded in the time of COVID-19 pandemic and “in the midst of the long-overdue national reckoning led by the Black Lives Matter movement,” aims to “trace the contours of things that define our shared human condition,” says Collective member Dr. Brian DeGrazia. In the case of the Academic Tarot, the conditions represented are shared by a specific subset of humans, many of whom responded to “feelings surveys” put out by the VFC in a biweekly newsletter.

The surveys have been used to make art that reflects the experiences of the grad students, professors, and professional staff working the academic humanities at this time:

VFC artist-in-residence Claire Chenette, a Grammy-nominated Knoxville Symphony Orchestra musician furloughed due to COVID-19, brought the tarot cards to life. What began as a three-card project to complement the VFC newsletter grew in spirit and in number. 

“In tarot, the cards read us,” the VFC writes, “telling a story about ourselves that can provide clarity, guidance and hope.” What story do the 22 Major Arcana cards in the Academic Tarot tell? That depends on who’s asking, as always, but one gets the sense that unless the querent is familiar with life in a higher-ed humanities department, these cards may not reveal much. For those who have seen themselves in the cards, however, “the images made them laugh out loud,” says Chenette, or “they hit hard. Or… they even made them cry, but… it needed to happen.”

Struggling through yet another pandemic semester of attempting to teach, research, write, and generally stay afloat? The Academic Tarot cards are currently sold out, but you can pre-order now for the second run.

via Hyperallergic

Related Content: 

Divine Decks: A Visual History of Tarot: The First Comprehensive Survey of Tarot Gets Published by Taschen

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Carl Jung: Tarot Cards Provide Doorways to the Unconscious, and Maybe a Way to Predict the Future

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

How Martin Luther King Jr. Got C’s in Public Speaking–Before Becoming a Straight-A Student & a World Class Orator

How many Americans have never heard the name of Martin Luther King Jr.? And indeed, gone more than half a century though he may be, how many Americans have never heard his voice, or can’t quote his words? Long though King will doubtless stand as an example of the English language’s greatest 20th-century orators, he once showed scant academic promise in that department. Tweeting out an image of his transcript from Crozer Theological Seminary, where King earned his Bachelor of Divinity, Harvard’s Sarah Elizabeth Lewis notes that King “received two Cs in public speaking,” and “actually went from a C+ to a C the next term.”

Still, that beat the marks King had previously received at Morehouse College. In an article for The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, Stanford’s Clayborne Carson quotes religion professor George D. Kelsey as describing King’s record there as “short of what may be called ‘good,'” but also adding that King came “to realize the value of scholarship late in his college career.” This early underachievement may have been a consequence of King’s entrance into college at the young age of fifteen, which was made possible by Morehouse’s offering its entrance exam to junior high schoolers, its student body having been depleted by enlistment in the Second World War.




But King “probably realized that he would have to become more diligent in his studies if he were to succeed at the small Baptist institution in Chester, Pennsylvania, a small town southwest of Philadelphia,” writes Carson. “Evidently wishing to break with the relaxed attitude he had had toward his Morehouse studies,” he “quickly immersed himself in Crozer’s intellectual environment” and adopted a mien of high seriousness. “If I were a minute late to class, I was almost morbidly conscious of it,” King later recalled. “I had a tendency to overdress, to keep my room spotless, my shoes perfectly shined, and my clothes immaculately pressed.”

The young King eventually rose to the role in which he’d cast himself, thanks in part to the rigor of certain professors who knew what to expect from him. Apart from the sole minus blemishing his grade in “Christianity and Society,”  his transcript for 1950-51 shows straight As. “By the time of his graduation,” Carson writes, “King’s intellectual confidence was reinforced by the experience of having successfully competed with white students during his Crozer years.” Named student body president and class valedictorian, “he was also accepted for doctoral study at Boston University’s School of Theology, where he would be able to work directly with the personalist theologians he had come to admire.” Even then, one suspects, King knew the real work lay ahead of him — and well outside the academy, at that.

Related Content:

How Martin Luther King, Jr. Used Nietzsche, Hegel & Kant to Overturn Segregation in America

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Handwritten Syllabus & Final Exam for the Philosophy Course He Taught at Morehouse College (1962)

Martin Luther King Jr. Explains the Importance of Jazz: Hear the Speech He Gave at the First Berlin Jazz Festival (1964)

Albert Einstein’s Grades: A Fascinating Look at His Report Cards

Famous Writers’ Report Cards: Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Norman Mailer, E.E. Cummings & Anne Sexton

John Lennon’s Report Card at Age 15: “He Has Too Many Wrong Ambitions and His Energy Is Too Often Misplaced”

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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Coursera Offers $100 Off of Coursera Plus, Giving You Unlimited Access to Courses & Certificates

FYI: Between now and January 20, Coursera is offering a $100 discount on its annual subscription plan called “Coursera Plus.” Normally priced at $399, Coursera Plus (now available for $299) gives you access to 90% of Coursera’s courses, Guided Projects, Specializations, and Professional Certificates, all of which are taught by top instructors from leading universities and companies (e.g. Yale, Duke, Google, Facebook, and more). The $299 annual fee–which translates to 81 cents per day–could be a good investment for anyone interested in learning new subjects and skills in 2021, or earning certificates that can be added to your resume. Just as Netflix’s streaming service gives you access to unlimited movies, Coursera Plus gives you access to unlimited courses and certificates. It’s basically an all-you-can-eat deal.

You can try out Coursera Plus for 14 days, and if it doesn’t work for you, you can get your money back. Explore the offer (before January 20, 2021) here.

Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses and programs, it helps support Open Culture.

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