Discover more from The Ruffian
Come on it's such a joy
This week: why the classroom doesn't need reinventing, why Facebook is depressing, and the nature of Sir Isaac Newton's sins.
Apologies for a slightly shorter than usual Ruffian today, this is for Reasons (one of which is that it's my birthday, hurrah).
There's a story about schools, rehearsed in popular TED talks and by tech industry leaders, which goes something like this: the classroom needs to be radically reinvented for the twenty-first century, because our model of schooling was developed by Gradgrindian Victorians who conceived of schools as factories for producing pliable subjects of empire. I don't have space here to get into why everything about this narrative is wrong but I will tell you I enjoyed this post, by a teacher called Tom Sherrington. It focuses on one aspect of that story: the idea that having children sit in rows, facing the teacher, is anachronistic and somehow oppressive. As Tom says, the reason most schools in every education system around the world still do it this way is simple: the teacher can see everyone's face at the same time. The more the teacher can read each face, the more engaged she can be with the class and with each child. More broadly this is a reminder that just because a certain practice has survived a long time, that doesn't mean it's some dumb legacy of a bygone age. We can celebrate disruption and innovation while not forgetting that cultural conventions usually survive for good reasons, and that most new ideas are bad.
There's quite a lot of evidence now that Facebook usage tends to make people less happy. This article offers an interesting account of why that might be, drawing on the sociologist Erving Goffman, whose ideas I discussed in Born Liars. Goffman conceived of the social world as a stage on which people perform different versions of themselves to different audiences (the word 'person' derives from the Latin word for a mask worn by an actor). He made a well known distinction between the "front stage self" - the self you show to colleagues or distant acquaintances - and the "back stage self": the self that family or close friends get to see. The trouble with Facebook is that it mashes these selves, these different aspects of identity, into one (academics call it "context collapse"), with the consequence that we strive to create a perfect self that works for all audiences. And guess what, doing that while observing everyone else's perfect self turns out be emotionally draining. Zuckerberg might say it makes us more honest, but actually the opposite is true: when you try and create perfectly transparent environments the response of individuals is to create perfectly false selves.
When he was 19 and a student at Cambridge, Isaac Newton made a list of sins he had committed. It reads like a modernist poem. What's more, Newton's sins convey such a vivid sense of his personality, his life force, that what's intended as a solemn confession constantly threatens to veer into celebration.
FATS AND THE MONKEY
Talking of the life force: someone on the Backlisted podcast cited this as the best ever cover of a Beatles song and they may have a point.
In the week that Twitter declared a profit, here is one of those tweets that make the case for it being an art form.
If you're enjoying The Ruffian, please help by posting this link on Facebook or Twitter https://tinyletter.com/IanLeslie (only if it makes you happy)