John Holt on learning in mid-life and the role of the teacher (1978)

& (verbiage overflow)Sun 25 June 2017RSS

Never Too Late (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1978; full text found on-line, 20170625) is a memoir by John Holt (1923–85) of his experiences learning in mid-life to perform music, without much background. Holt’s best-known books are from the mid-sixties and deal with teaching small children. This book, on the other hand, is squarely about the adult learner.

A lot of the text rather rambles, but below I provide extracts of what seem to me the finest parts.

This book narrates Holt’s various encounters with music, from childhood onward, with some philosophizing on independent learning. The two most important tales feature the flute and the cello. Holt took up the flute in his mid-thirties and then set it down again a couple of years later. At forty — the same time he wrote his first book — he took up the cello and by the time of this book he had been at it for thirteen years.

Chapter 10 and the Epilogue (only) are good enough that I sense they could stand alone.

Chapter 10 (pp. 187-217) deals at discursive length with mental habits of self-reproach (“crippling and self-destructive thoughts”, p. 194) by learners. The Epilogue, “Clearing a Space” (pp. 234-42), deals most directly with the difficulties a learner in mid-life and later has in mastering a new skill. Much of the matter from Chapters 2 to 9 meanders among unfocused recollections about music in his life (“I never heard any of [my father’s brothers or sisters] sing, hum, or whistle, any part of a song or tune”, p. 20), although there are gems here and there.

There is a nod or two to Holt’s best-known advocacy, educational reform:

For many years, with many others, I tried to make schools more kindly, interesting, competent, and serious. It now seems clear that in the near future this will not happen, mostly because there are so few people, in or out of schools, who want it to happen. To those few people who can’t stand what schools are doing to their children, I now urge that they look for ways to take their children out altogether and have them learn at home. (p. 240-41)

This work of deinstitutionalizing people and society now seems to me perhaps the most fundamental and important political task of our times. (p. 183)

But the value of the book is in Holt’s reflections on his own difficulties in learning, outside of an institution — self-directedly, as an adult.


Difficulties in learning

Midway through the book Holt offers an autopsy of his failure to progress with the flute (“Not Ready Yet”, pp. 133-35). He lists six issues that were mostly resolved by the time he turned to the cello (below I name them in my own words). Three of them are relatively simple:

The other three issues are major ones and I deal with them below in depth:


“Clearing a space” for learning

When he was learning the flute, music was

still only a hobby, not at the center but at the edge of my life, not connected with any of my concerns about politics or the world or human life. (p. 134)

I have the sense that Holt was aware of this issue’s importance long before he resolved it. In 1969 or ’70, as a result of new thinking about education while working with Ivan Illich, “the gap I had felt between my work and my hobby had disappeared” (p. 186). And yet, based on the first stories (“The Beginner over His Head”, pp. 187-94) in the following chapter, it sounds as though his level four years after that was still terribly low.

The issue of clearing space for learning also arises elsewhere in the book and I think the best résumé of Holt’s thinking about it is: “Time is my problem, not ignorance about what to play” (p. 211). The problem is not only time but single-mindedness.

Holt takes the phrase “clearing a space” from (he suspects) Matthew Arnold (1822–88), who learned to play the piano after uncluttering enough spiritual Lebensraum to do so. The main points he makes under the heading “clearing a space” are:

Holt also feels a conflict between the desires to write and to work on music:

I am like the rope in a tug of war, the writer pulling one way, the musician the other. ... When the writer is in command, working on a book or an article for my newsletter, words are in my mind all the time, music making seems remote and trivial. When the musician is in command, I think music all the time. ... Words seem a distraction. (p. 238-39)

And there is something of a change from the voice in Instead of Education (1976; Boulder: Sentient Publications, LLC, 2004; published the same year as this book), which fulminates against social injustice. Here, although he grants that many social problems and issues still “seize his mind” and he “can’t stop thinking about them” (p. 240), Holt says:

One of the things I have had to learn to do, not just to make time for music, but to keep some sanity, is to give up the idea that I have to know and do something about everything, or everything bad, that is happening here and in the world. ... I already have all the bad news I can stand. (p. 239-40)


Mental “space” and single-mindedness are a problem only because time is a problem:

Even if I can keep a space clear for music, time may also tell me something else — that the experts were right. Perhaps people in their fifties, like me, really do have something missing in their nervous and muscular systems that makes it impossible for them to become skilled musicians. ... Perhaps I will hit a speed barrier, a point beyond which I just can’t make my brain, eyes, arms, hands, and fingers work any faster. Perhaps I will find that even though I learn and improve, I do it so slowly that to play as well as I would like to would take me eighteen hours a day for fifty years — hours and years that I don’t have. ... By the time I can no longer dodge such a truth, I will have had many glimpses of it. Maybe I will be ready for it. ... Meanwhile, none of this has happened. If Nature has waiting for me up the road some kind of impassable barrier, she has so far given me no clear signs if it. (p. 241-43)

There is one more aspect to consider in the question why time and space should be at issue. Earlier in the book Holt relates cellist János Starker’s (1924–2013) advice (p. 179):

It’s extremely difficult for someone of our age to learn to play this instrument well, because we have to develop a whole new set of muscles, and a whole new set of coordinations. On the other hand, we have an advantage. … We can think of problems, and find solutions.”

“Problems”, indeed, are part of the process of learning. Mental “space” is needed to work on them:

There seem to be so many more kinds of problems in music, and so many more ways to work on them. It is a limitless field for thought, invention, experiment. (p. 238)


Fear and shame

This has been a trademark part of Holt’s arguments for educational reform. Here he says, of his flute studies:

I was too frightened and ashamed of my mistakes, and the possibility of making mistakes, to be able to give myself wholly to the music (p. 134).

He coins the name “Szigeti syndrome” (pp. 90-93) for the feeling of sympathetic embarrassment he experiences while attending a performance by violinist Joseph Szigeti (1892–1973); Szigeti’s arthritis led to many technical mistakes, which mortified Holt.

What I finally came to understand is that I was not thinking about him, not feeling for him at all, but imagining myself up there, making those mistakes, and imagining all those three thousand people sneering and laughing at me. (p. 92)

And yet

Szigeti played on, in what was probably a very tough, thoughtful, and beautiful performance. But I could barely get past the wrong notes to hear the music. (p. 92)

It’s illuminating that Holt thinks this 1952 performance “must have been one of his last public appearances”, although in fact Szigeti did not stop performing until 1960.

Holt says that helping children to be free of the fear of making mistakes, over several years between his encounters with flute and with cello, unburdened him of much of his own earlier worry about making mistakes (p. 143). He considers fear and shame to have been his biggest obstacle as a learner.

I have to keep in mind the distant goal, without worrying about how far away it is or reproaching myself for not being already there. This is very hard for most adults. It is the main reason why we old dogs so often do find it so hard to learn new tricks, whether sports or languages or crafts or music. But if as we work on our skills we work on this weakness in ourselves, we can slowly get better at both. (pp. 196-97)

And he has thought a great deal about fear and shame in learning, and ways of escaping them. A propos of causes of shame, he mentions a student who went from an insightful but inexperienced teacher to an experienced but uninsightful one. He says the student could have returned to the less experienced teacher but

he would have seen it, quite rightly, as a going back, a kind of retreat. Sooner or later, he must have thought, if he was going to be a good player, he was going to have to take lessons from a real teacher and if these lessons were going to be a misery, what was the use of going on? So he quit. (p. 155)

One way to escape feelings of fear and shame in learning is to avoid eliciting words of consolation by making excuses for one’s poor performance — he calls this “no alibis in advance, no appeals for sympathy” (pp. 169-70).


Independence and resourcefulness, and the role of the teacher

Holt is sometimes portrayed as minimizing the role of the teacher in education, but that seems to me to misconstrue him. Wary, yes, he is. In this book he says:

Teaching is a very strong medicine, which like all strong medicines can quickly and easily turn into a poison. (p. 209)

But he says very clearly that another way of minimizing fear and shame in the learning process is to have benefit of a teacher’s critical and expert guidance:

I need ideas — beyond those I have already — about ways to work on a number of specific weaknesses: … . I need more critical feedback, more criteria for judging my own playing, more things to pay attention to in practice. … I practice very attentively right now, but there still might be something important that I am overlooking. Most of all, I need the experience of playing for a critical listener, to get over any stage fright I might feel about that, and to learn to play my best under pressure — just as in sports. (p. 216)

Holt then adds his trademark caveat — a teacher’s guidance must not be all-dominating:

Even while giving me this help, the teacher I need must accept that he or she is my partner and helper and not my boss, that in this journey of musical exploration and adventure, I am the captain. Expert guides and pilots I can use, no doubt about it. But it is my expedition; I gain the most if it succeeds and lose the most if it fails, and I must remain in charge. (p. 217)

The same ideas come up in the “conditions” Holt set when, early in his own cello studies, he was asked to teach the instrument to a young person who had trouble sitting still:

In agreeing, I made a few conditions. I insisted that playing the cello, and studying with me, be the boy’s idea, not his mother’s. He had to be free, and to know that he was free, to stop studying with me or stop playing altogether any time he felt like it, without having to feel ashamed or guilty. He had to be free to cancel a lesson if he wanted to. And I insisted that the whole matter of practice be left entirely up to him. Practice done in the spirit of why-do-I-have-to-do-this is worse than none at all. The only good practice is that done with zest and enthusiasm. I wanted this boy to play the cello for his own delight, to find out for himself that practice brought improvement, and to decide for himself how much improvement he was willing to pay for with work. (p. 150-51)

He remarks that for parents to be involved in even such minor things as helping to tune a child’s instrument may be read as “a kind of subtle hint that he ought to practice” (p. 152), and that undermines self-direction.

As for Holt’s own flute studies,

I was not independent or resourceful enough in my practice. I tried to do whatever my teacher told me, but I rarely thought of different ways to work on the problems he pointed out to me. … I did not understand enough about what happens in our minds, nervous systems, and muscles when we learn music, to take an intelligent, critical, and imaginative part, the leading part, in that process. I was not yet ready to be at the center of my own learning (p. 135).

Holt describes what he calls the “mental-muscular model” (p. 197) of musicianship. He names eight things that have to be learned in mutual coordination and then makes two important points about the process of learning them. First, the process of mastering the mutual coordination of these things is not a linear process:

Structures of knowledge … are much greater than the sum of their parts. (p. 202)

Second, this learning is “not verbal” but carried out by the body (p. 199). Holt believes that the learner’s self-observation is vital to progress.

He illustrates this point on analogy with how we know how to change pitch when we are whistling or pressing strings against fingerboards — we understand through perception of ourselves: “trial and error; feedback; satisfaction, pleasure when it came out right” (pp. 114-16). Another example is his story of teaching a supposedly tone-deaf person to sing by harnessing the learner’s self-perception (pp. 99-104).

Holt’s fullest development of this theme now follows:

There are no rules for getting a good sound from a stringed instrument. There is nothing that we can tell a novice that will enable him, then and there, to make a nice sound. ... The thing to do is to bow [DPB: rhymes with “go”], and as you bow, to listen. When you hear a note that is nicer than most of your notes, think “Aha!” — and keep bowing. You may not know what your muscles did that was different, but whatever it was, they will tend to do more of it.

What all this boils down to is a kind of law of learning that I have finally come to understand and accept:

WHEN YOU’RE WORKING, YOU’RE LEARNING.

... If we are fully involved in our music making, interested in it, excited by it, then we are learning. We may not and probably cannot know all of what we are learning. We are almost certainly learning much more than we think. By our work and our attention we are helping to grow the musical structures I spoke of earlier. If we are patient, we will find, as I am constantly surprised to find, that we know more than we consciously learned, even things that we never set out to learn.

... There is nothing mysterious or magical about this. The point about structures of knowledge is that they are much greater than the sum of their parts. ... As we build into our minds, nerves, and muscles these musical maps I have spoken of, we are using a finite amount of information, of conscious learning and practicing, to build structures that will generate an almost infinite amount of information, and what is more important, do it almost without conscious thought.

... This can create a paradox, a tension. At times we must think very hard with our conscious, planning, questioning, critical mind. At other times we must tell that part of our mind to shut up. (pp. 200-2)

It seems that at the time he wrote this book, Holt was still really struggling to master technical proficiency — he says, for instance:

What I need most, right now, is not someone to help me with interpretive problems. ... What I need is good advice about how to learn to play faster and read better. ... I need help with hard problems of fingering and bowing in the music I am playing with others. (pp. 213-16)

In the Epilogue Holt describes his most current state, and all the things he describes are cases of growing into facility at playing. He says his left hand is getting more flexible. He is pleased to find he can now see more notes at once than before. “I knew all along that I should see more notes, should look ahead, but I couldn’t do it. Now, even when I am not trying to make it happen, it is beginning to happen. It is as if my eyes themselves have changed.” The biggest improvement is the changes he feels in his bow arm (p. 235).

Holt thinks the “method”, meaning a book of graded exercises, is a helpful tool for the beginner, but he is also grateful that his teacher, Hal Sproul, encouraged him to encounter technical challenges directly in major works that by any standard were too hard for him (pp. 143-45). He is fascinated by little tricks and rules of thumb to improve proficiency. Some of those used by his flute teacher Bill Grass (1926–2005) appear on p. 123. Holt also describes his own “inventions” — for tuning and for remembering specific intervals as an aid to sight-reading (p. 162-68). The Appendix lists his mnemonics for quickly remembering 19 pitch-intervals (pp. 243-44). In my experience, both as a learner and as a teacher, it’s helpful to devise one’s own mnemonics rather than using other people’s.

Mated with the non-verbal process of learning is Holt’s praise of Izler Solomon (1910–1987), as a conductor who talked very little and did not even interrupt the orchestra’s playing very often to make corrections. Solomon let players go as far as they could on their own. In general, says Holt, a teacher should not aim for more improvement in a day than is feasible for people (pp. 174-77).


Reflections

Apart from Holt’s clear statements about the teacher’s role, the thing I expect to stay with me most vividly after reading this book is my own reflection on the place of non-verbal learning in self-directed study. In Instead of Education Holt says:

Reading, unlike dancing, is not a muscular act (2004[1976]: 59)

and this is related to firm ideas he has about what is and is not learnable. Curiously, in the present book Holt says it is not our business to decide what people are capable of learning:

It is not our proper business as teachers, certainly not music teachers, to make decisions and judgments about what people are or are not “capable” of doing. It is our proper business, above all in music, to try to find ways to help people do what they want to do. ... Keep looking, keep asking, keep working on the problem yourself. If you want to make music, don’t let anybody tell you, and don’t tell yourself, that it is totally impossible for you to do it. (pp. 103-4)

Speaking for myself, I am not persuaded that learning to read is a “verbal” and “non-muscular” process. I think the mind is a virtual muscle — “virtual” in the sense of “effective” or “simulated”, meaning that we interact with it usefully by modeling it as though it were a muscle. That is why learning by gestalt can be so effective at times.

Holt’s emphasis on direct perception of oneself in the process of learning leads me to reflect that “self-study” can mean both study by oneself and the study of oneself.

I think that what Holt is describing in his wrestling with musical performance applies to almost anything one tries to learn in adulthood.

[end]

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  226. A bon mot of Peter Carey about reviews of one's work (2012)
  227. A bon mot of Peter Carey about New York (2012)
  228. Identifying the active bridge adapter for use with a headless virtual machine on VirtualBox
  229. Doubts about l'affaire Chén Guāngchéng 陳光誠
  230. Military officers who cannot count
  231. Parallel text and vocabulary in LaTeX
  232. A stricture on Google Voice
  233. Resolving VirtualBox error VERR_INTNET_FLT_IF_NOT_FOUND
  234. Ubuntu 12.04LTS (Precise Pangolin) on VirtualBox
  235. Recordings for Classical Chinese
  236. Arthur Luehrmann on "computer literacy" (1972)
  237. The origin of the symbol Θ (big theta) in asymptotic notation
  238. Being censored in China
  239. The experience of learning vim commands
  240. How should I rate this movie on Netflix?
  241. Netflix miscalculation — Hugo
  242. Curious vim behavior: treats date range as subtraction
  243. Alexandra Lord on the myth of the academic career (2012)
  244. Elia Kazan on getting along in society (1974)
  245. ssh unavailable over Amtrak's wifi network
  246. Tricked again by Python's mutable objects
  247. Is blocking ads theft of service?
  248. A poor analogy on intellectual property rights
  249. A mutton chop at Keen's Steakhouse
  250. An anecdote about William Hung (Hóng Yè 洪業, 1893-1980)
  251. Sorting a list of Unicode strings in Python, case-insensitively and ignoring diacritics
  252. Avoid deleting the contents of a file in Python through sloppy use of "write" mode
  253. Reloading a Python module after modifying it
  254. Frank Mittelbach on documentation (2006)
  255. Frank Mittelbach on collaboration (2006)
  256. Frank Mittelbach's "moral obligation" license for the LaTeX multicol package
  257. Keith Whalen records scales and patterns from the Slonimsky Thesaurus
  258. Calligraphy in Chinatown
  259. Manchu dictionary done
  260. Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) on the damage done by immaturity in politics
  261. Gotham breakneck to Chinatown
  262. Calculus III progresses
  263. Some Western recipe-names as transformed by the Taiwanese linguistic experience
  264. Class war against the banking and financial industry
  265. Avoiding the Emailyama
  266. Adblock Plus is the most useful piece of shareware I've ever had
  267. A less painful way to install Adblock Plus filter-subscriptions in Firefox
  268. Tales from Calculus III
  269. Jack Cheng on "the technology I grew up with" (2012)
  270. Distribution of fonts: competing models are coexisting
  271. MoinMoin for notebook-wiki (and WordPress, you are trying the patience of my affections)
  272. generate native MATLAB code from finished figures, for study
  273. Quintilian on laziness and difficulty in one's studies
  274. Guide to Gwoyeu Romatzyh 國語羅馬字 (tonal spelling for Mandarin)
  275. Guide to the radicals of the traditional Chinese dictionary
  276. Origins of the Mandarin Phonetic Symbols (注音符號/ㄅㄆㄇㄈ)
  277. Installing UCC certificate for multiple domain names hosted virtually on a single server
  278. QuickTime Pro easily concatenates .m4v video files
  279. Columbia to Chinatown walk, 20120122
  280. A local custom without the corresponding exotic saying in rural Taiwan
  281. HTTPS being rejected at Yahoo hosting
  282. Classical Chinese syllabus posted; using Landslide for markdown-to-HTML5
  283. Phonosymbolism, etymology, and the nebulous Chinese word family
  284. Simple meal at Shui Mei Café (嘎嘎叫, 67A East Broadway, NYC), formerly So Go Café)
  285. Are cell phones and bananas radioactive?
  286. LaTeX and electronic documents
  287. New definition of “algorithm”
  288. Materials used in paper bank statements
  289. Finally making progress with Vim
  290. Kenneth S. Wherry on American influence in China (1940)
  291. Propagation of a meme and a metameme
  292. Against the single time zone
  293. Hamish Milne on transcriptions of Bach (2005)
  294. Choosing a suitable site for fieldwork, and working with illiterate informants in China
  295. Yuen Ren Chao (1892–1982) urging Americans to resist Chinese telephantasmia (1921)
  296. The brown German flour of Przasnysz
  297. Recollection of the traditional bagel in central Poland before World War I
  298. Vaclav Havel (1936–2011) on doing good work (1978)
  299. Vaclav Havel (1936–2011) on the "dictatorship of technology" (1978)
  300. Vaclav Havel (1936–2011) on ideological enslavement (1978)
  301. Vaclav Havel (1936–2011) on law (1978)
  302. Vaclav Havel (1936–2011) on responsibility and a "post-democratic" system (1978)
  303. Vaclav Havel (1936–2011) on "opposition" and "dissident" (1978)
  304. Vaclav Havel (1936–2011) on ideology (1978)
  305. 'Factorial' in Chinese (jiēchéng 階乘/阶乘)
  306. Leibniz’s theodicy, dynamic programming, and strategies for learning
  307. Emanuel Derman and Paul Wilmott on mathematical models and self-delusion (2009)
  308. Y. R. Chao and Henry Sheffer added to the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  309. Two more rules of thumb for the New York subway
  310. Math in the Movies
  311. Jim Coplien on reflection and problem-solving (2011)
  312. Richard Feynman on practical applications of the theory of gravitation (1964)
  313. Karl Popper on understanding a problem (1963)
  314. Galileo on "reason conquering sense" (1632)
  315. Apparent error in Python's priority queue and heapq
  316. Literacy book finally out
  317. Y. R. Chao on his dissertation (1974)
  318. Doctoral pedigrees
  319. Lack of stable sort in Python's priority queue
  320. Suitable pots for making turmeric tea
  321. Neuro-plasticity and strategies for improving cognitive functioning: "The Brain Fitness Program" (2007)
  322. Code-switching between comfortable cognitive aptitudes and the main aptitudes used in math and coding
  323. Wishes for the Orthodox Nativity Season (began 15 November this year)
  324. Two rules of thumb about transportation in New York
  325. Pípá yā 琵琶鴨 (Frisbee Duck)
  326. Testing the reliability of the Python priority queue
  327. Edsger Dijkstra on programming as an intellectual discipline (2001)
  328. Edsger Dijkstra on the name of the field Computer Science (2001)
  329. Edsger Dijkstra on anthropomorphizing computers (2001)
  330. Edsger Dijkstra on mastery of one's native tongue as a vital programming skill (2001)
  331. Edsger Dijkstra on the origin of his shortest path algorithm (2001)
  332. Efrem Podgaits's New York Mass (2001)
  333. Anecdotal report on experimenting with creatine as a study aid
  334. "Suppose" for math proofs, in LaTeX
  335. A rule of thumb in teaching
  336. Graphing flowcharts and automata in LaTeX
  337. Perception of time and suspension of finality (studying math)
  338. Suddenly perceiving the cantus firmus in a Bach chorus
  339. Two of Elvira's arias from Don Giovanni
  340. Identifying robots among human beings
  341. Apparent misspelling in LaTeX command set: \guillemotleft and \guillemotright
  342. Table of contents in a LaTeX book: make the TOC entry different from the actual chapter headings in the text
  343. Competition and sharing in academia
  344. Kuhn and Popper
  345. Herb Gross's calculus lectures
  346. The abbreviation UTC as an acronym
  347. Clyde Haberman on validating one's authenticity as a New Yorker (2011)
  348. The era of lost words
  349. Never odd or even
  350. William Deresiewicz on multitasking and solitude (2009)
  351. Bjarne Stroustrup's advice to up-and-coming programmers (2008)
  352. Chet Ramey's advice to up-and-coming programmers (2008)
  353. Bjarne Stroustrup on the name C++ and common criticisms of the language
  354. Steve Bourne, advice to up-and-coming programmers (2009)
  355. Alfred Aho on the origins of awk (2008)
  356. Leslie Lamport on thinking first and on commenting code (2007)
  357. Pens of choice for linguistic fieldwork
  358. How I learned LaTeX
  359. Some bons mots from Edsger Dijkstra (1984)
  360. Non-paean to Steve Jobs
  361. Annotations of Cormen et al.'s algorithm for a Red-Black Tree (delete and delete-fixup functions only)
  362. John McCarthy on "Generality in Artificial Intelligence" (1987)
  363. Brian Kernighan's summary thoughts on scripting languages
  364. Changes to the inventory of IPython magic commands (v. 0.10 to 0.11)
  365. One man's calm reflection on Java-think in Python
  366. mdfind as a substitute for locate on Mac OS X
  367. Reconsider P. T. Barnum's reputation
  368. LaTeX macro for circling answers on math problem sets
  369. View of the Mariana Trench
  370. Simulating private variables in Python
  371. Choice of formats for basic code documentation
  372. Dennis Ritchie on Computer Science and Commerce (1984)
  373. Inconsistent results of the same seed in random.seed() on different Python installations
  374. An opinion on vi configuration
  375. The virtue of Vim (or: why I do not remap copy and paste)
  376. Shark fin and the economics of Chinese "face"
  377. Two funerary practices and the end of a good story
  378. An important skill for instructors
  379. p::c
  380. Twice-a-day mail delivery
  381. Portmanteau characters in Chinese (abstract)
  382. A math professor I enjoyed
  383. The state of my Netflix patronage
  384. Longevity vs. versatility of code
  385. A new kind of noise in the subway
  386. Router VI is dead
  387. Tinker Tailor remake
  388. Automated upward pricing spiral
  389. Break-in?
  390. Telephantasmia, one of the great gifts of Chinese culture
  391. September 11th sensations
  392. Whether to take a small loss or consent to the devaluation of the US dollar
  393. City checkpoint chaos
  394. Continuing opportunity for techno-elitism
  395. A worry of Donald Knuth's
  396. An opinion of TeX
  397. Advice on teaching English in China if you lack a TEFL degree
  398. "The Highline" Park
  399. Plutarch on the sensitivity and versatility of the human mind
  400. Plutarch's praise of the "fox" temperament
  401. Unagi hitsumabushi 鰻櫃まぶし
  402. My mother and me, at work on the Early China index, 20110526
  403. juémíngzǐ 決明子 tisane
  404. Brillat-Savarin on the pleasures of the fast
  405. University of Maryland, (College Park) general education rated D in a national survey
  406. The EMACS meta key and the standing desk
  407. A rule of thumb in choosing one's tools
  408. Dr. Johnson on the "fox" temperament
  409. Carl Elliott reviews Ginsberg, Fall of the Faculty (WSJ)
  410. Hard copy vs. electronic copy
  411. Deborah Ball's article on the opposition to standardizing the Romansh language (WSJ)
  412. Boris Veytsman's review of Kottwitz, LaTeX Beginner's Guide
  413. Why even 212 phone numbers calling in-area have to dial 212 first
  414. Dr. Johnson on keeping a diary
  415. Against object-oriented design (except in scripting languages)
  416. Worrying about inadequate memory to hold program and debugger (1973)
  417. Consequences of a compiler defect
  418. The Internet and scripting languages
  419. Newton's own suffering at math
  420. Fresh turmeric-root tea
  421. Appreciation of awk
  422. "Computer Science, Modern Languages Most Gender-Polarized Majors"
  423. Food issues during the Siege of Leningrad
  424. Starting a blog