Foreign Exchange Students Debate Whether American Teenagers Have Too Much Freedom (1954)

The teenager was invented in the 1950s. Of course, the stages of physical development that characterize those years taking us from childhood to adulthood haven’t fundamentally changed as long as Homo sapiens has existed. But even though there were “teenagers” in, say, ancient Rome, they weren’t teenagers as we’ve known them over the past three or four generations. It happened amid the economic growth of the years after World War II, first in the United Kingdom and even more so the United States: adolescents, especially high-school students, turned from mere immature adults into a distinct demographic group with its own tastes, politics, spaces, mobility, and culture.

Before teenagers invaded the rest of the world, they must have struck visitors to America as by turns thrilling and troubling. So it was with the students in the video above, who came to the U.S. in 1955 — the year of Rebel Without a Cause — as participants in the New York Herald Tribune‘s World Youth Forum.

This filmed discussion on the curious phenomenon of the American teenager features Minji Karibo of Nigeria, Nasreen Ahmad of Pakistan, Paik Nak-chung of South Korea, and Ava Leitenan of Finland, all of whom had just spent a few months visiting American schools. Leitenan begins on a positive note: “I didn’t know there would be so much smile,” she says. “I can just feel the friendliness flow against me.”

But as many a first-time traveler in America has discovered, that characteristic (and sometimes overwhelming) friendliness masks a more complex realty. Karibo criticizes American girls who “think it’s fashionable to tell lies about going on dates during weekends, when as a matter of fact they sat at home all the time.” After reminding everyone that “you cannot judge the amount of freedom the American children have by your standard,” Paik admits that “I see such an informality between the ages and between the sexes, I get rather shocked, but the fact that it is shocking does not necessarily mean it is not good for them.”

None of these exchange-student panelists shows more skepticism about America than Ahmad, whose glimpses of dating and education there have confirmed her preference for arranged marriage and sex-segregated schools. Maybe it works for American teenagers, but “if we were given suddenly this amount of freedom,” she says, “I’m afraid you would get fearful consequences.” However much the four disagree about the benefits and dangers of that freedom, they all seem to believe that Americans could stand to reflect on how to make better use of it than they do. “I think it is a lack of intellectual capacity to use their freedom properly,” says the young Paik, trying delicately to pin down the problem with American life.

After the World Youth Forum, Paik traveled the world before finishing high school in Korea. He would then return to the U.S. to study at Brown University before starting his career as a literary critic and public intellectual in his homeland. In 2018 he gave a speech at the University of Chicago on Korea’s “Candlelight Revolution,” and this past summer he published a new book on D.H. Lawrence, which Korean-speakers can hear him interviewed about here. He’s one of the success stories among the many participants in the World Youth Forum, more of whose 1950s discussions — on race, on social relations, the Middle-East conflict — you can watch on this Youtube playlist. 65 years later, no matter our age or nationality, we all have something of the American teenager about us. Whether that’s good or bad remains a matter for debate.

via Messy Nessy

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The 1937 Experiment in Distance Learning: When Chicago Schools Went Remote, Over Radio, During a Polio Outbreak

As all of us have noticed in recent months, living in a viral pandemic really messes with your sense of time. A few months feels like a decade. Time slows to a crawl. If you’re a parent, however, you have before you walking, talking, growing, complaining reminders that no matter what’s happening in the world, children still grow up just the same. They need new experiences and new clothes just as before, and they need to keep their brains engaged and try, at least, to build on prior knowledge.

Maybe we’re learning new things, too. (Adult brains also need exercise.) Or not. We have some control over the situation; kids don’t. “Learning loss” over inactive months is real, and the government still has the responsibility (for what the word is worth) to educate them. Online learning may feel like a bad compromise for many families, and its success seems largely dependent—as in regular school—on parent involvement and access to resources. But it’s better than eight months of the more mindless kind of screen time.

It may help to know that remote learning isn’t new, even if we’re still adjusting to technology that lets teachers (and bosses) into our homes with cameras and microphones. The challenges “may seem unprecedented,” Stanford professor Michael Hines writes at The Washington Post, but “educators may be surprised to learn that almost 100 years ago Chicago’s schools faced similar circumstances” during the polio epidemic and met them in a similar way. In 1937, an outbreak forced the city to close schools, and prompted “widespread alarm about lost instructional time and students left to their own devices” (so to speak).

Administrators were “determined to continue instructions for the district’s nearly 325,000 elementary age students” through the only remote technology available, radio, “still fairly new and largely untested in education in the 1930s.” According to Hines, a historian of education in the U.S., the program was very well organized, the lessons were engaging, and educators “actively sought to involve parents and communities” through telephone hotlines they could call with questions or comments. On the first day, they logged over 1,000 calls and added five additional teachers.

You might be wondering—given digital divide problems of online learning today—whether all the students served actually owned a radio and telephone. Katherine Foss, a professor of Media Studies at Middle Tennessee State University, notes that in the late 1930s, “over 80% of U.S. households owned at least one radio, though fewer were found in homes in the southern U.S., in rural areas and among people of color.” Those who didn’t were left out, and school authorities had no way to track attendance. “Access issues received little attention” in the media. School Superintendent William Johnson had no idea how many students tuned in.

The local program lasted less than three weeks before schools reopened. Some felt the instruction moved too quickly and “students who needed more attention or remediation struggled through one-size-fits-all radio lessons,” notes Hines. Educators today will sympathize with the overall sense at the time that those who benefitted most from the radio lessons were students who needed them least.

Learn more about the experiment in Hines’ history lesson (also see Foss’ recent article), and consider the lessons we can apply to the present. Remote education still has flaws, and parents still struggle to find time for involvement, but the technology has made it a viable option for much longer than three weeks, and maybe, given future uncertainties, far longer than that.

via The Conversation

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

Explore a Digital Archive of Student Notebooks from Around the World (1773-Present)

To bring back memories of your schooldays, there’s nothing quite like the sight of your old exercise books. This holds true whether you went to school in Ghana in the 2010sItaly in the 90s, France in the 80sChina in the 70sJapan in the 60s, or India in the 50s. All of these examples and many more have come available to view at the Exercise Book Archive, an “ever-growing, participatory archive of old exercise books that allows everyone to discover the history, education, and daily life of children and youth of the past.” All of the entries include the relevant book’s front cover — already a Proustian viewing experience for any who had them growing up — and some feature scans of the interior pages, student writing and all.

One girl’s notebook describes the bombing of her small town in 1940s Switzerland,” writes Collectors Weekly‘s Hunter Oatman-Stanford. “Another boy’s journal chronicles daily life in rural Pennsylvania during the 1890s; the diary of a Chinese teenager recounts his experiences in prison during the 1980s.” The article quotes Thomas Pololi, co-founder of the organization behind the Exercise Book Archive, on the historical value of books containing “compositions about war, propaganda, or political events that we now recognize as terrible.

But in the narration of children, there is often enthusiasm about the swastika in Germany, or the Duce in Italy (dictator Benito Mussolini), or for Mao in China.” (Thanks to the work of volunteers, these and other exercise-book writings have been transcribed and translated into English.)

These young students “tended to see the positive side of traumatic things, perhaps because their main goal is to grow up, and they needed to do it the world they lived in.” Their exercise books thus offer reflections of their societies, in not just content but design as well: “In Spain or in China,” for example, “you see beautiful illustrations of propaganda themes. They are often aesthetically appealing because they were meant to persuade children to do or think something.” Educational trends also come through: “Before, there were mainly exercises of calligraphy with dictated sentences about how you have to behave in your life, with phrases like ‘Emulation seldom fails,'” which to Pololi’s mind “implies that if you are yourself, you risk failing. That’s the opposite of what we teach children nowadays.”

Somehow the most mundane of these student compositions can also be among the most interesting. Take the journal of a group of Finnish girl scouts from the early 1950s. “The train to Leppävaara arrived quickly,” writes the author of one entry from April 1950. “At the station it started to rain. We walked to the youth house, where we sang ‘Exalt the joy’ etc. Then we went to the sauna where we had to be. We sang and prayed. We then ate some sandwiches.” Could she have possibly imagined people all around the world reading of this girl-scout day trip with great interest seventy years later? And what would the young man doing his penmanship nearly a quarter-millennium ago in Shropshire think if he know how eager we were to look at his exercise book? Better us than his schoolmaster, no doubt. Enter the Exercise Book Archive here.

via Collectors Weekly

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Understanding Chris Marker’s Radical Sci-Fi Film La Jetée: A Study Guide Distributed to High Schools in the 1970s

Pop quiz, hot shot. World War III has devastated civilization. As a prisoner of survivors living beneath the ruins of Paris, you’re made to go travel back in time, to the era of your own childhood, in order to secure aid for the present from the past. What do you do? You probably never faced this question in school — unless you were in one of the classrooms of the 1970s that received the study guide for Chris Marker’s La Jetée. Like the innovative 1962 science-fiction short itself, this educational pamphlet was distributed (and recently tweeted out again) by Janus Films, the company that first brought to American audiences the work of auteurs like Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, and Akira Kurosawa.

Written by Connecticut prep-school teacher Tom Andrews, this study guide describes La Jetée as “a brilliant mixture of fantasy and pseudo-scientific romance” that “explores new dramatic territory and forms, and rushes with a stunning logic and a powerful impact to its shocking climax.”

The film does all this “almost entirely in still photographs, their static state corresponding to the stratification of memory.” More practically speaking, at “twenty-seven minutes in length, La Jetée is an ideal class-period vehicle” that “can help students speculate on the awesome potential of life as it may exist after a third world war” as well as “man’s inhumanity to man, not only as it may occur in the future, but as it already has occurred in our past.”

“Why do you suppose Marker filmed La Jetée in still photographs? What significance does the one moment of live action have?” “How does Marker’s concept of time and space compare with that of H.G. Wells in the latter’s novel, The Time Machine?” “If the man of this story has helped his captors to perfect the technique of time travel, why do they wish to liquidate him?” These and other suggested discussion questions appear at the end of the study guide, all of whose pages you can read at Socks. It was produced for Films for Now and The Human Condition, “two repertories for high school assemblies and group discussions” based on Janus’ formidable cinema library. (François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows also looks to have been among their educational offerings.) You can see further analysis of La Jetée in A.O. Scott’s New York Times Critics’ Picks video, as well as the Criterion Collection video essay Echo Chamber: Listening to La Jetée.

Much later, in the mid-1990s, Terry Gilliam would pay tribute with his Hollywood homage 12 Monkeys, and Marker himself still had many films to make, including his second masterpiece, the equally unconventional Sans Soleil. But at time of this study guide’s publication, La Jetée’s considerable influence had only just begun to manifest. It was around then that pioneering cyberpunk novelist William Gibson viewed the film in college. “I left the lecture hall where it had been screened in an altered state, profoundly alone,” he later remembered. “My sense of what science fiction could be had been permanently altered.” Perhaps his instructor heeded Andrews’ advice that “teachers would probably do better not to ‘prepare’ their students for viewing this film.” Not that anyone, in the 58 years of the film’s existence, has anyone ever truly been prepared for their first viewing of La Jetée.

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Internet Archive Will Digitize & Preserve Millions of Academic Articles with Its New Database, “Internet Archive Scholar”

Open access publishing has, indeed, made academic research more accessible, but in “the move from physical academic journals to digitally-accessible papers,” Samantha Cole writes at Vice, it has also become “more precarious to preserve…. If an institution stops paying for web hosting or changes servers, the research within could disappear.” At least a couple hundred open access journals vanished in this way between 2000 and 2019, a new study published on arxiv found. Another 900 journals are in danger of meeting the same fate.

The journals in peril include scholarship in the humanities and sciences, though many publications may only be of interest to historians, given the speed at which scientific research tends to move. In any case, “there shouldn’t really be any decay or loss in scientific publications, particularly those that have been open on the web,” says study co-author Mikael Laasko, information scientist at the Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki. Yet, in digital publishing, there are no printed copies in university libraries, catalogued and maintained by librarians.

To fill the need, the Internet Archive has created its own scholarly search platform, a “fulltext search index” that includes “over 25 million research articles and other scholarly documents” preserved on its servers. These collections span digitized and original digital articles published from the 18th century to “the latest Open Access conference proceedings and pre-prints crawled from the World Wide Web.” Content in this search index comes in one of three forms:

  • public web content in the Wayback Machine web archives (, either identified from historic collecting, crawled specifically to ensure long-term access to scholarly materials, or crawled at the direction of Archive-It partners
  • digitized print material from paper and microform collections purchased and scanned by Internet Archive or its partners
  • general materials on the collections, including content from partner organizations, uploads from the general public, and mirrors of other projects

The project is still in “alpha” and “has several bugs,” the site cautions, but it could, when it’s fully up and running, become part of a much-needed revolution in academic research—that is if the major academic publishers don’t find some legal pretext to shut it down.

Academic publishing boasts one of the most rapacious legal business models on the global market, and one of the most exploitative: a double standard in which scholars freely publish and review research for the public benefit (ostensibly) and very often on the public dime; while private intermediaries rake in astronomical sums for themselves with paywalls. The open access model has changed things, but the only way to truly serve the “best interests of researchers and the public,” neuroscientist Shaun Khoo argues, is through public infrastructure and fully non-profit publication.

Maybe Internet Archive Scholar can go some way toward bridging the gap, as a publicly accessible, non-profit search engine, digital catalogue, and library for research that is worth preserving, reading, and building upon even if it doesn’t generate shareholder revenue. For a deeper dive into how the Archive built its formidable, still developing, new database, see the video presentation above from Jefferson Bailey, Director of Web Archiving & Data Services. And have a look at Internet Archive Scholar here. It currently lacks advanced search functions, but plug in any search term and prepare to be amazed by the incredible volume of archived full text articles you turn up.

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

Google Introduces 6-Month Career Certificates, Threatening to Disrupt Higher Education with “the Equivalent of a Four-Year Degree”

I used to make a point of asking every college-applying teenager I encountered why they wanted to go to college in the first place. Few had a ready answer; most, after a deer-in-the-headlights moment, said they wanted to be able to get a job — and in a tone implying it was too obvious to require articulation. But if one’s goal is simply employment, doesn’t it seem a bit excessive to move across the state, country, or world, spend four years taking tests and writing papers on a grab-bag of subjects, and spend (or borrow) a large and ever-inflating amount of money to do so? This, in any case, is one idea behind Google’s Career Certificates, all of which can be completed from home in about six months.

Any such remote educational process looks more viable than ever at the moment due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a condition that also has today’s college-applying teenagers wondering whether they’ll ever see a campus at all. Nor is the broader economic harm lost on Google, whose Senior Vice President for Global Affairs Kent Walker frames their Career Certificates as part of a “digital jobs program to help America’s economic recovery.” He writes that “people need good jobs, and the broader economy needs their energy and skills to support our future growth.” At the same time, “college degrees are out of reach for many Americans, and you shouldn’t need a college diploma to have economic security.”

Hence Google’s new Career Certificates in “the high-paying, high-growth career fields of Data Analytics, Project Management, and User Experience (UX) Design,” which join their existing IT Support and IT Automation in Python Certificates. Hosted on the online education platform Coursera, these programs (which run about $300-$400) are developed in-house and taught by Google employees and require no previous experience. To help cover their cost Google will also fund 100,000 “need-based scholarships” and offer students “hundreds of apprenticeship opportunities” at the company “to provide real on-the-job training.” None of this guarantees any given student a job at Google, of course, but as Walker emphasizes, “we will consider our new career certificates as the equivalent of a four-year degree.”

Technology-and-education pundit Scott Galloway calls that bachelor’s-degree equivalence the biggest story in his field of recent weeks. It’s perhaps the beginning of a trend where tech companies disrupt higher education, creating affordable and scalable educational programs that will train the workforce for 21st century jobs. This could conceivably mean that universities lose their monopoly on the training and vetting of students, or at least find that they’ll increasingly share that responsibility with big tech.

This past spring Galloway gave an interview to New York magazine predicting that “ultimately, universities are going to partner with companies to help them expand.” He adds: “I think that partnership will look something like MIT and Google partnering. Microsoft and Berkeley. Big-tech companies are about to enter education and health care in a big way, not because they want to but because they have to.” Whether such university partnerships will emerge as falling enrollments put the strain on certain segments of the university system remains to be seen, but so far Google seems confident about going it alone. And where Google goes, as we’ve all seen before, other institutions often follow.

Note: You can listen to Galloway elaborate on how Google may lead to the unbundling of higher ed here. Listen to the episode “State of Play: The Sharing Economy” from his Prof G podcast:

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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.

What Made Richard Feynman One of the Most Admired Educators in the World

If Richard Feynman had only ever published his work in theoretical physics, his name would still be known far and wide. As it is, Feynman remains famous more than thirty years after his death in large part for the way he engaged with the public. From his popular textbook The Feynman Lectures on Physics (which you can read free online here) to his bestselling conversational essay collections like Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman to the classes he taught at Cornell (now available online) to his demonstration of what went wrong with the Space Shuttle Challenger, he kept in conversation all his life with humanity outside the realm of professional science. This explains, in part, why Feynman became what Bill Gates calls, in the video above, “the best teacher I never had.”

Gates points to Feynman’s lecture series “The Character of Physical Law,” previously featured here on Open Culture, as “a great example of how he could explain things in a fun and interesting way to everyone. And he was very funny.”

That sense of humor complemented a sense of rigor: “Dr. Feynman used a tough process on himself, where if he didn’t really understand something, he would push himself,” asking questions like “Do I understand this boundary case?” and “Do I understand why we don’t do it this other way?” Such an effort to find the gaps in and failures of one’s own understanding may sound familiar, fundamental as it is to Feynman’s “notebook” technique of learning that we’ve posted about more than once before.

You only know how well you understand something when you explain it to someone else; many of us realize this, but Feynman lived it. The depth of his own understanding allowed him never to be boring: “Feynman made science so fascinating,” Gates says, “He reminded us how much fun it is,” and in so doing emphasized that “everybody can have a pretty full understanding. He’s such a joyful example of how we’d all like to learn and think about things.” Though the term “science communicator” wasn’t in wide use during Feynman’s lifetime, he played the role to near-perfection. And in the kind of materials highlighted here, he continues to convey not just knowledge but, as he liked to put it, the pleasure of finding things out.

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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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