Coursera Offers $100 Off of Coursera Plus (Until September 21), Giving You Unlimited Access to Courses & Certificates

A heads up on a deal: Between now and September 21, 2023, 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 6,000+ world-class courses for one all-inclusive subscription price. This includes Coursera’s Specializations and Professional Certificates, all of which are taught by top instructors from leading universities and companies (e.g. Yale, Duke, Google, Meta, 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, 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. Explore the offer (before September 21, 2023) here.

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

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

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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.

A Student Writes a Rejection Letter Rejecting Harvard’s Rejection Letter (1981): Hear It Read by Actor Himesh Patel

The documentary filmmaker and sports editor Paul Devlin has won five Emmy awards, but he may well be better known for not getting into Harvard — or rather, for not getting into Harvard, then rejecting Harvard’s rejection. “I noticed that the rejection letter I received from Harvard had a grammatical error,” Devlin writes. “So, I wrote a letter back, rejecting their rejection letter.” His mother then “sent a copy of this letter to the New York Times and it was published in the New Jersey section on May 31, 1981.” In 1996, when the New York Times Magazine published a cover story “about the trauma students were experiencing getting rejected from colleges,” she seized the opportunity to send her son’s rejection-rejection letter to the Paper of Record.

It turned out that Devlin’s letter had already run there, having long since gone the pre-social-media equivalent of viral. “The New York Times accused me of plagiarism. When they discovered that I was the original author and they had unwittingly re-printed themselves, they were none too happy. But my mom insists that it was important to reprint the article because the issue was clearly still relevant.”

Indeed, its afterlife continues even today, as evidenced by the new video from Letters Live at the top of the post. In it actor Himesh Patel, well-known from series like EastEnders, Station Eleven, and Avenue 5, reads aloud Devlin’s letter, which runs as follows:

Having reviewed the many rejection letters I have received in the last few weeks, it is with great regret that I must inform you I am unable to accept your rejection at this time.

This year, after applying to a great many colleges and universities, I received an especially fine crop of rejection letters. Unfortunately, the number of rejections that I can accept is limited.

Each of my rejections was reviewed carefully and on an individual basis. Many factors were taken into account – the size of the institution, student-faculty ratio, location, reputation, costs and social atmosphere.

I am certain that most colleges I applied to are more than qualified to reject me. I am also sure that some mistakes were made in turning away some of these rejections. I can only hope they were few in number.

I am aware of the keen disappointment my decision may bring. Throughout my deliberations, I have kept in mind the time and effort it may have taken for you to reach your decision to reject me.

Keep in mind that at times it was necessary for me to reject even those letters of rejection that would normally have met my traditionally high standards.

I appreciate your having enough interest in me to reject my application. Let me take the opportunity to wish you well in what I am sure will be a successful academic year.


Paul Devlin
Applicant at Large

However considerable the moxie (to use a wholly American term) shown by the young Devlin in his letter, his reasoning seems not to have swayed Harvard’s admissions department. Whether it would prove any more effective in the twenty-twenties than it did in the nineteen-eighties seems doubtful, but it must remain a satisfying read for high-school students dispirited by the supplicating posture the college-application process all but forces them to take. It surely does them good to remember that they, too, possess the agency to declare acceptance or rejection of that which is presented to them simply as necessity, as obligation, as a given. And for Devlin, at least, there was always the University of Michigan.

Related content:

Read Rejection Letters Sent to Three Famous Artists: Sylvia Plath, Kurt Vonnegut & Andy Warhol

T. S. Eliot, as Faber & Faber Editor, Rejects George Orwell’s “Trotskyite” Novel Animal Farm (1944)

Gertrude Stein Gets a Snarky Rejection Letter from Publisher (1912)

Meet the “Grammar Vigilante,” Hell-Bent on Fixing Grammatical Mistakes on England’s Storefront Signs

Steven Pinker Identifies 10 Breakable Grammatical Rules: “Who” Vs. “Whom,” Dangling Modifiers & More

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.

A Retired Math Teacher Helps Students Learn Geometry Through Quilting

Some real talk from retired geometry teacher Wendy Lichtman, above, the author of several math-themed YA novels:

Not many 15-year-olds care that two parallel lines are crossed by a transversal.

“But right here are two parallel lines,” she continues, pointing to a pink and orange quilt. “and these are transversals, and they are at a 90º angle and it feels real. You’ve gotta get it to look right.”

The teenaged participants in the Oakland, California program she founded to demystify geometry through hands-on quiltmaking get it to look right by plotting their designs on graph paper, carefully measuring and cutting shapes from bright calico of their own choosing. (Licthman has committed to buttoning her lip if their favored print is not to her taste.)

Lichtman came up with this creative approach to help a bright student who was in danger of not graduating, having flunked geometry three times.

She details their journey in How to Make a Geometric Quilt, an essay formatted as step-by-step instructions…not for quiltmaking but rather how those in the teaching profession can lead with humility and determination, while maintaining good boundaries.

Some highlights:

6. Sometime after the sewing has begun, and the math notebook is ignored for weeks, begin to worry that your student is not really learning geometry.  She’s learning sewing and she’s learning to fix a broken bobbin, but really, geometry?

7. Remind yourself that this kid needs a quilt as much as she needs geometry.

8. Remember, also, the very, very old woman who taught you hat-making one night long ago.  She had gone to school only through 5th grade because, she said, she was a Black child in the deep south and that’s how it was back then.  Think about how she explained to the hat-making class that to figure out the length of the hat’s brim, you needed to measure from the center to the edge with a string and then do “three of those and a little bit more,” and remember how you sat in awe, because three radii and a little bit more is the definition of pi, and this hat-maker had evidently discovered for herself the formula for circumference.

As the two become better acquainted, the student let her guard down, revealing more about her situation while they swapped stories of their mothers.

But this was no easy A.

In addition to expecting regular, punctual attendance, Lictman stipulated that in order to pass, the student could not give the fruits of her labor away.

(Solid advice for creators of any craft project this ambitious. As Debbie Stoller, author of Stitch ‘n Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook counsels:

…those who have never knit something have no idea how much time it took. If you give someone a sweater, they may think that you made that in an evening when you were watching a half-hour sitcom. It’s only when people actually attempt to knit that they finally get this realization, this light bulb goes on over their heads, and they realize that, “Wow, this actually takes some skill and some time. I’ve got newfound respect for my grandma.”)

Ultimately, Lichtman concludes that the five credits she awarded her student could not be reduced to something as simple as geometry or quilt-making;

You are giving her credit for something less tangible.  Something like pride.  Five credit hours for feeling she can accomplish something hard that, okay, is slightly related to geometry.

Examples of the current cohort’s work can be seen on Rock Paper Scissors Collective‘s Instagram.

Once completed, these quilts will be donated to Bay Area foster children and pediatric patients at the local Children’s Hospital.

via BoingBoing

Related Content 

The Solar System Quilt: In 1876, a Teacher Creates a Handcrafted Quilt to Use as a Teaching Aid in Her Astronomy Class

17-Year-Old Adeline Harris Created a Quilt Collecting 360 Signatures of the Most Famous People of the 19th Century: Lincoln, Dickens, Emerson & More (1863)

Bisa Butler’s Beautiful Quilted Portraits of Frederick Douglass, Nina Simone, Jean-Michel Basquiat & More

Via Boing Boing

– 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.

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