Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I'm sure you've all heard of homeschooling. The most extreme version of homeschooling, inspired by the writings of John Holt, who coined the term, is called "unschooling". One practitioner of this radical approach to education is Sandra Dodd, who maintains an excellent collection of articles and resources on this subject. I often browse them using her random page server. 

Not only do unschoolers keep their children out of school, they also don't follow any regular schedule to  teach at home. They give the kids enormous freedom to follow their interests all day so they can learn whatever they wish to or need to on their own, through self-driven activities like playing games, reading, talking, watching tv, listening to music, traveling; in other words, by living rich and fulfilled lives, unrestricted by any externally imposed notion of a curriculum. It should be mentioned that unschooling parents are not completely hands-off in that they do try actively to expose their children to a very wide range of activities and experiences, and are always there to answer their children's questions and help them, but this is all done in a non-interfering, non-controlling manner.

The fundamental premise of unschooling (which I believe because I have experienced it myself) is that children given such freedom do not abuse it, but rather exercise their natural desire to grow and learn autonomously.  But an essential key to its success is something Sandra calls "strewing", which consists of actively and continually exposing the children to a wide array of interesting materials and experiences.

The main goal of an unschooling parent is not to "teach" their children, but to help them "learn" in a very natural setting. In "What Teaching Never Can Be", Sandra Dodd clarifies the essential distinction between learning and teaching:

If I want to teach someone how to use quotation marks, I can talk, show them, make jokes, draw stick figures with speech-balloons, and I could maybe sing songs about it. So IF the person who's in the room "being taught" is thinking about how to file down that one piece of a machine gun that can turn a legal semi-automatic into an illegal automatic, and how to hide that part really well, disguised as something altogether different, what am I doing?
I'm talking, writing, drawing, dancing, and singing. But I'm not teaching. I'm reviewing for myself something I already know. I'm just performing a play of sorts, without any audience. I'm playing with myself. I'm ...well, you know.
So if I'm reading a magazine about machine guns and someone comes and says, "How do I punctuate a quote within a quote?" I can show them. If they don't totally understand, I can draw pictures or give other examples. When I perceive that they have learned the thing they wanted to learn, I should shush up and go back to my magazine, because the action is completed. .
They learned. I helped them learn. I was "the teacher" but I didn't do the work that resulted in learning. The learner did that in his own head. I could put ideas in the air, but only he could hear and process and ask more questions. Without his active work, no teaching can possibly take place.
Sandra writes that it is key for an unschooling parent in the beginning stages to "see learning as a separate process from their own song and dance. In advanced stages there is teaching, but it is compassionately and competently facilitating another's learning." 

I would argue that this is valuable advice to teachers everywhere.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Learning at your own pace, online

I saw this article about Western Governors University (WGU) today in the LA Times (the print version was titled "Nonprofit takes new approach to education" and had essentially the same text as the online version.)  WGU is an online university, in which each student is assigned an individual mentor. The article, appearing in the personal finance section of the newspaper, emphasizes the low cost of this program ($2800 a semester for undergraduate classes). It points out that students can also go through courses at their own pace; in particular, they can finish a course faster if they already know some of the material or can learn it at a quick pace. Apparently, the average WGU graduate earns a BA in 2.5 years, further reducing the overall cost-to-degree.

The article gushes about this online university in glowing terms. It highlights the McGraw Prize in Education received by the President of WGU, Robert Mendenhall, which cited the university's "flexibility, accessibility and affordability"; it notes that Time magazine once called it "the best college you've never heard of" (the original quote was, actually, "the best relatively cheap university you've never heard of"); and it quotes words of praise by the chief executive of the nation's largest education foundation (Lumina Foundation), Jamie Merisotis, who calls WGU  "a 'disruptive innovator' that's likely to push the entire education system to change in positive ways." The article further mentions that the "National Study of Student Engagement, which rates both traditional universities, showed WGU as performing equal to or better than other private, nonprofit universities not directly supported by governmental bodies. The ratings were based on academic challenge, quality of advisors and overall educational experience."

Intrigued by all this positive press, I dug around a little further on my own. From looking at the course offerings described on WGU's own website, it seems to be geared primarily towards working adults looking to complete a bachelor's degree so they can list it on their resume. The offered majors are not very diverse, and what is on offer focuses less on mind-broadening education than on "marketable/market-oriented" subjects, such as business and teacher's education and narrowly defined information technology domains. For example, most closely related to my area of networks is their degree of B.S. in Information Technology - Networks Design and Management. Their description of this degree reads:

Our network design degree will launch your network systems engineering career. The B.S. in Information Technology—Networks Design and Management will give you leading-edge networks design and engineering skills that employers demand along with eight recognized industry certifications including your Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) Enterprise Administrator certification. You will become a better networks designer and network systems engineer.
I also found some online reviews of their program. While there are indeed many positive comments, there are also several very dissatisfied students (with complaints ranging from the degrees not being recognized in their work environment, to lack of serious classes, to arbitrary changes in schedule and content, and so on). In the context of the IT program, in particular, one of the reviewers notes: 
I enrolled in the WGU IT program in September 2008. Unfortunately I wasn't told that there weren't "real" IT classes, but that I would be working on getting certificates... So if you want to attend WGU, take all the certifications on your own, and then transfer them in. You could save over $6000+! Also be aware that you won't get basic CS foundational courses such as OOP, Data Structures, etc. It seems that they don't have any of their own curriculum, and everything is outsourced. ... This can be a good school, but be careful, and ask a lot of questions before you enroll. However, because of the lack of advanced classes (Calculus, etc) I don't think you would be a first pick by an employer.
Based on these, I don't believe WGU's IT programs, though they are certainly much less expensive to complete, and are more market-oriented, offer the same breadth and depth as a B.S. in computer science program at schools you have heard of. Nevertheless, I think the article about WGU raises some good questions about one of the major trends in higher education --- the wider adoption of online learning. 

I should note that USC's Viterbi School of Engineering, where I work, has long had a well-subscribed distance education program (I believe it dates back more than 35 years, to 1972, well before WGU was founded; originally using satellite TV transmissions). I myself have taught many classes in this program, in which my lectures are taped and streamed in real-time on the web, and students are able to do homeworks and even take tests remotely. The opportunities for outside-class interactions with the instructor and TA are not always as good for off-campus students as they are for on-campus students, but in my experience faculty/TA's often do make an effort to respond to off-campus student queries in a timely manner, via email or online discussion forums. 

I very much like the free models exemplified by MIT's open courseware and Stanford's iTunes U courses, which allow anyone to see lectures and materials from courses at these universities. I think they get close to the very heart of education.  But they neither provide a framework for evaluation, nor (understandably) for any degree of direct interaction with faculty or other students.

So, we have an open question: is it possible to design high-quality, interactive, online learning programs, with evaluation, that are also self-paced? 

Such a program could go beyond traditional classrooms by allowing for much more personalized and self-directed learning. But, I think, it can never make the brick and mortars version of the university completely redundant, because real spaces and physical interactions provide a rich sense of community in the context of learning --- an essential, albeit intangible, benefit, that cannot be obtained in the virtual world. 

I myself am most interested in how a well-designed online-learning program can be made to complement live interactive experiences at a university, so that we can combine the best of both worlds.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Teaching kids to speak

I shall certainly be quoting John Holt a lot in these pages. As someone who extensively observed children, his writings are a collection of deep insights about the learning process, though they are sometimes hard to digest given how counter they run to our systems of education. I was reminded of the following passage from his classic "How Children Learn" when I posted yesterday on Paul Lockhart's article, which starts in similar vein.
Bill Hull once said to me, “If we taught children to speak, they’d never learn.” I thought at first he was joking. By now I realize that it was a very important truth. Suppose we decided that we had to “teach” children to speak. How would we go about it? First, some committee of experts would analyze speech and break it down into a number of separate “speech skills.” We would probably say that, since speech is made up of sounds, a child must be taught to make all the sounds of his language before he can be taught to speak the language itself. Doubtless we would list these sounds, easiest and commonest ones first, harder and rarer ones next. Then we would begin to teach infants these words, working our way down the list. Perhaps, in order not to “confuse” the child—“confuse” is an evil word to many educators—we would not let the child hear much ordinary speech, but would only expose him to the sounds we were trying to teach.
Along with our sound list, we would have a syllable list and a word list. 
When the child had learned to make all the sounds on the sound list, we would begin to teach him to combine the sounds into syllables. When he could say all the syllables on the syllable list, we would begin to teach him the words on the word list. At the same time, we would teach him the rules of grammar, by means of which he could combine these newly-learned words into sentences. Everything would be planned with nothing left to chance; there would be plenty of drill, review, and tests, to make sure that he had not forgotten anything.
Suppose we tried to do this; what would happen? What would happen, quite simply, is that most children, before they got very far, would become baffled, discouraged, humiliated, and fearful, and would quit trying to do what we asked them. If, outside of our classes, they lived a normal infant’s life, many of them would probably ignore our “teaching” and learn to speak on their own. If not, if our control of their lives was complete (the dream of too many educators), they would take refuge in deliberate failure and silence, as so many of them do when the subject is reading.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Mathematician's Lament

This article written by Paul Lockhart in 2002 moved me nearly to tears, amidst laughter. It is humorous, but full of a passionate rage about what's deeply wrong with our approach to technical education:

Just an except:
...on  the other side of town, a painter has just awakened  from a similar nightmare…
I was surprised  to find myself in a regular school classroom— no easels, no  tubes of paint. “Oh we don’t actually apply paint until high  school,” I was told by  the students. “In  seventh grade we mostly study colors and applicators.” They showed me a worksheet. On one side were swatches of color with blank spaces next to them. They were told to write in the names. “I like painting,” one of them remarked, “they tell me what to do and I do it. It’s easy!”
After class I spoke with  the teacher. “So your students don’t actually do any painting?” Iasked. “Well, next year they  take Pre-Paint-by-Numbers. That prepares them for the main Paint-by-Numbers sequence in high school. So they’ll get to use what they’ve learned here and apply it to real-life painting situations— dipping the brush into paint, wiping it off, stuff like that.
Of course we track our students by ability. The really excellent painters— the ones who know their colors and brushes backwards and forwards— they get to the actual painting a little sooner, and  some of them even  take the Advanced  Placement classes for college credit. But mostly we’re just trying to give these kids a good foundation in what painting is all about, so when they  get out there in the real world and paint their kitchen they don’t make a total mess of it.”
“Um, these high school classes you mentioned…”
“You mean Paint-by-Numbers? We’re seeing much higher enrollments lately. I think  it’s mostly coming  from parents wanting  to make sure their kid gets into a good college. Nothing looks better than Advanced Paint-by-Numbers on a high school transcript.” 
Sadly, our present system of mathematics education  is precisely  this kind of nightmare. In fact, if I had to  design  a mechanism for the express purpose of destroying a child’s natural curiosity and  love of pattern-making, I couldn’t possibly do as good a job as is currently being done— I simply wouldn’t have the imagination  to  come up with  the kind  of senseless, soul-crushing ideas that constitute contemporary mathematics education.
Lockhart identifies as the core problem the "systematized" mathematics curriculum, in which prepackaged facts are presented to the student in an arbitrary order, instead of allowing them to experience the joy of  investigating interesting phenomena through the application of intuition, and trial & error, which is what real mathematics is all about.
“The area of a triangle is equal to one-half its base times its height.” Students are asked to memorize this formula and  then “apply” it over and over in  the “exercises.” Gone is the thrill, the joy, even the pain and frustration of the creative act. There is not even a problem anymore. The question  has been  asked  and  answered  at the same time— there is nothing  left for the student to do.
What brought me close to tears was the recognition that I myself routinely deprive students of experiencing the joy, pain, and frustration of the creative act in my engineering classes, particularly the more mathematically oriented ones, by merely presenting arbitrarily arranged sets of pre-packaged facts and techniques, and testing them on their short-term retention of these facts and techniques. However nicely I package and present these facts, ultimately they do not matter to students who have not sought or found them on their own.

This part cracked me up:
In  practice, the curriculum is not even  so much a sequence of topics, or ideas, as it is a sequence of notations. Apparently mathematics consists of a secret list of mystical symbols and rules for their manipulation. Young  children are given  ‘+’ and  ‘÷.’ Only  later can  they  be entrusted  with  ‘√¯,’ and  then  ‘x’ and  ‘y’ and  the alchemy  of parentheses. Finally, they  are indoctrinated  in  the use of ‘sin,’ ‘log,’ ‘f(x),’ and if they are deemed worthy, ‘d’ and  ‘∫.’ All without having had a single meaningful mathematical experience. 
How true!

If you care at all about education, particularly in areas like mathematics and engineering, I beg you to read this article in its entirety and think about it. We cannot hope to reform our truly broken system of education until revolutionary ideas like Lockhart's become mainstream.


Here's a brief biography of Lockhart:

Paul became interested in mathematics when he was about 14 (outside of the school math class, he points out) and read voraciously, becoming especially interested in analytic number theory. He dropped out of college after one semester to devote himself to math, supporting himself by working as a computer programmer and as an elementary school teacher. Eventually he started working with Ernst Strauss at UCLA, and the two published a few papers together. Strauss introduced him to Paul Erdos, and they somehow arranged it so that he became a graduate student there. He ended up getting a Ph.D. from Columbia in 1990, and went on to be a fellow at MSRI and an assistant professor at Brown. He also taught at UC Santa Cruz. His main research interests were, and are, automorphic forms and Diophantine geometry.
After several years teaching university mathematics, Paul eventually tired of it and decided he wanted to get back to teaching children. He secured a position at Saint Ann's School, where he says "I have happily been subversively teaching mathematics (the real thing) since 2000."
        - Keith Devlin, Devlin's Angle, MAA Online, March 2008

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Empirical evidence for the benefits of child-centered education

Those of us with a scientific training certainly are inclined to ask "so where's the evidence that one form of education is better than another?" Ideally, this should be obtained from a controlled experiment conducted over a sufficiently long period of time. Here is one such long-term study of different approaches to pre-school education for 68 children born into poverty, tracked over 23 years:

[1] Schweinhart, L. J., & Weikart, D. P. (1997). Lasting differences: The HighScope Preschool Curriculum Comparison study through age 23 (Monographs of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation, 12). Ypsilanti, MI: HighScope Press.

(Apparently the full report is a monograph that must be purchased online, but a free summary can be found here: )

Although this study was focused on early-childhood education, the findings seem quite stark. Two quotes from the summary:
  • "Scripted teacher-directed instruction, touted by some as the surest path to school readiness, seems to purchase a temporary improvement in academic performance at the cost of a missed opportunity for long-term improvement in social behavior."
  • "These findings constitute evidence that early childhood education works better to prevent problems when it focuses not on scripted, teacher-directed academic instruction but rather on child-initiated learning activities...These findings suggest that the goals of early childhood education should not be limited to academic preparation for school, but should also include helping children learn to make decisions, solve problems, and get along with others."

There were two other long-term studies started in the 1970's:

[2] Karnes, M. B., Schwedel, A. M., & Williams, M. B. (1983). A comparison of five approaches for educating young children from low-income homes. In Consortium for Longitudinal Studies, As the twig is bent . . . lasting effects of preschool programs (pp. 133-170). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum

[3] Miller, L. B., & Bizzell, R. P. (1983). The Louisville experiment: A comparison of four programs. In Consortium for Longitudinal Studies, As the twig is bent . . . lasting effects of preschool programs (pp. 171-199). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

The Karnes et al. study was conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois, while the MIller and Bizzell study was conducted at Louisville, Kentucky. They are both described along with the Shweinhart and Weikart study in this digest article titled "Child-Initiated Learning Activities for Young Children Living in Poverty" written by L.J. Schweinhart in 1997. Shweinhart writes:
All three included the Direct Instruction model—which offered scripted, teacher-directed academic instruction—and a Nursery School model, in which children initiated their own learning activities with minimal teacher support. The High/Scope study included the High/Scope model, in which children initiated learning activities with substantial teacher support. The Louisville and Illinois studies included several additional teacher-directed models and the Montessori model, which encouraged child-initiated activities with didactic materials.
These three studies found that children in Direct Instruction programs intellectually outperformed children in child-initiated-activities programs during and up to a year after the preschool program, but not thereafter. In the Louisville study, the Nursery School children showed higher verbal-social participation and increased more in ambition and aggressiveness than did the Direct Instruction children, but both groups scored lower than their peers on inventiveness. In the Illinois study, 78% of the Nursery School group, but only 48% of the Direct Instruction group and 47% of the no-program group graduated from high school. 
Finally, a more recently concluded long-term study conducted in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is described in:

[4] Dohrmann, K. R. Outcomes for students in a Montessori program: A longitudinal study of the experience in the Milwaukee Public Schools. (2003). Association Montessori Internationale/ USA, 410 Alexander Street, Rochester, New York. 14607-1028. This paper is freely available online at

This study looks at 201 Montessori students who completed fifth grade between 1990-1994, and graduated in 1997-2005, compared with a carefully matched control sample of non-Montessori students. Montessori schools emphasize child-centered education with a strong emphasis on self-directed learning. Dohrmann writes:
A significant finding in this study is the association between a Montessori education and superior performance on the Math and Science scales of the ACT and WKCE. In essence, attending a Montessori program from the approximate ages of three to eleven predicts significantly higher mathematics and science standardized test scores in high school.
These findings are further corroborated by a short-term study published in Science, in 2006, which also finds significant academic/cognitive as well as social/behavioral benefits to a Montessori education:

[5] Lillard A, Else-Quest N (September 2006). "The early years. Evaluating Montessori education". Science 313 (5795): 1893–4.  (See for link to full paper.)

I think that the fact that four long-term studies done on this topic (I am not aware of any other such studies and would welcome pointers) all show positive impacts of starting children on an autonomous and self-directed learning path is pretty compelling. Don't you?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Schools kill creativity

Sir Ken Robinson was knighted in 2003 for his achievements in creativity, education and the arts. He has given two outstanding TED talks, and I strongly recommend seeing at least the first one:

In this talk, he points out, with a lot of humor, that conventional one-size-fits-all schooling kills creativity, and that the main end of our outdated education system, which focuses exclusively on a narrow view of deductive reasoning, seems to be to produce college professors. He argues forcefully that we have to revolutionize education dramatically if we want our kids to grow up to be more creative and self-fulfilled individuals.

Oh, and you simply should not miss the fun animated version of another one of his talks:
Changing Educational Paradigms:

(RSA has other informative talks in this highly entertaining animated format that you might like to see as well.)

Monday, December 06, 2010

Raking geniuses from the rubbish

Our education system is a hierarchy. There are progressive stages,  from school, to two-year colleges, to four year colleges, to the masters degree, to the Ph.D. Schooling in the U.S. is compulsory up to the age of 17-18. Beyond high school, a significant number of students do not move on to the next step for a range of reasons: due to the students' own volition, lack of financial resources, or selective admissions policies.

It is instructive to consider the history of this system we have in place today. The following text is by Thomas Jefferson, written in 1782 in the context of a bill on education in his state:

The bill [on Education in the Revised Code of Virginia] proposes to lay off every county into small districts of five or six miles square, called hundreds, and in each of them to establish a school for teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. The tutor to be supported by the hundred, and every person in it entitled to send their children three years gratis, and as much longer as they please, paying for it. These schools to be under a visitor who is annually to choose the boy of best genius in the school, of those whose parents are too poor to give them further education, and to send him forward to one of the grammar schools, of which twenty are proposed to be erected in different parts of the country, for teaching Greek, Latin, geography, and the higher branches of numerical arithmetic. Of the boys thus sent in any one year, trial is to be made at the grammar schools one or two years, and the best genius of the whole selected, and continued six years, and the residue dismissed. By this means twenty of the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish annually, and be instructed at the public expense, so far as the grammar schools go. At the end of six years instruction, one half are to be discontinued (from among whom the grammar schools will probably be supplied with future masters) : and the other half, who are to be chosen for the superiority of their parts and disposition, are to be sent and continued three years in the study of such sciences as they shall choose, at William and Mary College. ... The ultimate result of the whole scheme of education would be the teaching all the children of the State reading, writing, and common arithmetic; turning out ten annually of superior genius, well taught in Greek. Latin, geography, and the higher branches of arithmetic; turning out ten others annually, of still superior parts, who. to those branches of learning, shall have added such branches of the sciences as their genius shall have led them to; the further furnishing to the wealthier part of the people convenient schools at which their children may be educated at their own expense.
From: Notes On Virginia. viii, 388. Ford Ed., iii, 251. (1782.), as quoted in The Jefferson Cyclopedia, a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson, Ed. John P. Foley, Funk and Wagnalls Company, New York, 1900, page 275. 

Interesting, is it not? I don't know to what extent these ideas were implemented in the form advocated, but the idea of progressive levels of education, with each successive level being increasingly more selective, is certainly still with us.

Jefferson's phrase referring to geniuses "raked from the rubbish" rankles, but it plainly points out an uncomfortable truth about our present system, particularly in the context of higher education: that it is a meritocracy.

It is certainly a point of pride for faculty and for academic institutions that they can identify, recruit, and cultivate "geniuses." But should we not also be mindful of what it really means (both to the individuals in question, and to society as a whole) to discard the rest as "residue"? Even if we are forced to be selective due to resource constraints, could our society be better served if we cultivate a more inclusive perspective in academia?

These are not idle questions. They are at the very root of the debate about increasing diversity in undergraduate and graduate programs, and among the ranks of faculty.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Learning together

I like teaching classes that I haven't taught before. In seven and a half years of teaching at USC, I have taught about ten different courses. This is somewhat unusual in an environment where many faculty prefer to teach a relatively small stable set of courses over time.

I confess I do this mostly because I like the excitement of mastering new material, and gain a lot of value from learning while teaching. But, it struck me today, I also do this in part because it is precisely when I'm teaching material that I'm not deeply familiar with, that I feel closest to students, most sympathetic to how they perceive the material, most understanding about what they may find challenging. And it's a pleasure to feel  thus connected to the student's doubts and uncertainties, because then we're on the same team, learning together.

There is a risk, of course, that I am caught short when explaining some concept that I don't completely grasp myself. At such moments, if I can set aside my ego, and approach the situation with humility instead of trying to hide my ignorance, I find that the honest act of showing students how I deal with what I don't understand (say, by trying to re-derive some mathematical expression from first principles, or by saying out loud what I'm myself confused by, so that potentially a student can help me figure out some simple fact I'm ignoring) is itself of value to them. I've had students tell me after class that they found it helpful to watch me model how to overcome my own uncertainties.

My research group and I often meet to read a technical paper or parts of a book together. The way we organize these sessions, which can last anywhere from two to four hours, none of us, including I, have read the material before. We take turns reading a few paras each, stopping periodically to make sure we all fully understand what we have read (descriptions of algorithms, equations, proofs of theorems, the experimental setup, etc.). We are often puzzled, of course, but because there are usually ten or more of us in the room, one of us is likely to figure out the answer quickly. These sessions are always a pleasurable and rewarding experience, and help my students and me bond with each other, enhancing our sense of shared identity as a group.

One of my Ph.D. students once remarked after such a session, "I wish our classes were more like this!" and it struck a chord in me. It occurred to me that such a reading-based class could indeed offer a refreshing experience of non-authoritarian, communal learning.

In Spring 2006, I taught such a class at the graduate level, with about fifteen students. Because I was starting to move my own research interests more significantly in this direction, I told the students from the very start, we would together learn about different optimization techniques and their application to communication networks. We had a three-hour class in the evening once each week. I specifically asked for and got a small classroom where we could all sit around a table. For the first hour or so I would present a lecture covering requisite background material (such as KKT conditions for solving constrained optimization problems in closed form, linear programming, convex optimization and Lagrange duality), and then we would read a paper which used that theory in the context of a communication or network algorithm/protocol  (e.g., optimal popularity-based replication in P2P networks,  primal-dual techniques for network utility maximization). Beyond this, the students worked on research projects either alone or in pairs where they took the tools we learned and applied them to a networking problem of their own choice.  Looking back over all the courses I've taught to date, this was easily the most enjoyable experience I've had as a teacher (the 5/5 course evaluations I got that semester indicate that the students had found the experience valuable too).

There were many reasons why this class went so well, including the small class size, the balanced mix of theory and applications, a highly motivated set of students, the diverse and interesting material, and the outstanding teaching assistant I had that semester, but I am certain that one of the biggest factors was the fact that we were, in a very real sense, learning together. I have warm memories of us all huddled closely around the table in this small room each week, reading and discussing papers late into the spring evening.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The best thing for being sad

This quote, I think, speaks for itself:
"The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies. You may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins. You may miss your only love. You may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it, then: to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the world can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you."
- T. H. White, The Once and Future King