I have plugged John and Hank Green’s excellent online education series of videos, Crash Course, previously. Most recently, I suggested it as one of several options for how to spend time productively during the current COVID-19 crisis. (https://barefootvoosk.com/2020/03/19/10/)

The newest Crash Course video was just released this morning, and it is an especially poignant and disturbing one: The Holocaust,Genocides, and Mass Murder of WWII: Crash Course European History #40


This might not seem like the best viewing material for a world in the midst of a global pandemic, but let’s not forget that the problems that existed just before we all went into quarantine still exist. Climate change still exists. The United States still faces challenges to democracy under the current administration. And hatred still exists in all its many forms: racism, homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, bigotry, etc.

The Holocaust happened, and not all that long ago. There are still many people alive today who remember it. George Orwell’s allegory Animal Farm, which I also mentioned recently, shows just how quickly authoritarianism can take root, and just how easily hatred can erase equality. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” It’s happened before. If we’re not careful, it can happen again.



Three Good Instructional Websites

I love learning, but as I mentioned yesterday (College Advice from Someone Who Sucked at College), college and I never gelled. Happily, the internet has some great options for learning. Some of those options are completely free! I’d like to introduce you to three of them.

Sal Khan is an internet hero. His Khan Academy (Khan Academy) began humbly. Sal began tutoring his cousins in math in 2008, making simple YouTube videos to illustrate his lessons. Since then, Khan Academy has added history, art, programming, career advice and more to its very thorough offering of mathematics from elementary to advanced levels. The site is easy to navigate, with clear learning pathways along which you can earn badges to reward your progress.

It was through Khan Academy that I discovered Crash Course (Crash Course). This project from John and Hank Green grew out of their successful VlogBrothers YouTube channel. Crash Course lessons are delivered in fast-paced, often humorous videos, each 10-15 minutes long. Courses include history, engineering, theater, philosophy, chemistry, and more. In addition to Crash Course, the Greens’ company, Complexly (Complexly), also manages several other educational YouTube channels like SciShow (in several flavors), Art Assignment, and Animal Wonders. They have also partnered on educational projects with Mental Floss and PBS Digital Studios. Once you enter their orbit, you’ll find enough brain food to keep you busy for a long time!

Finally, a site that is more specialized: Justin Guitar (Justin Guitar). YouTube has no shortage of music how-to videos, but few people have put as much thought, effort, and love into an instructional music site as Justin Sandercoe. His sit is a must for anyone interested in playing the guitar. In addition to well-ordered video lessons, his site includes interviews with notable players, and resources for sheet music, staff and TAB paper, equipment, and more. Justin’s thoroughness and personable teaching style make this site an example of internet instruction at its finest.

While it’s easy to think of the internet as little more than a collection of cat pictures, extremist propaganda, and endless threads vitriolic argument, if you look past the clutter you can find a wealth of learning opportunities. At its worst, the internet is a time-wasting sinkhole of nastiness. At its best, it really is the information superhighway.

It’s Complicated

A conservative friend posted this joke on Facebook recently:

Bernie Sanders walks into a bar. “Drinks for everyone!” he says. “Who’s paying?”

The joke made me laugh, in spite of the fact that I like Bernie Sanders. (I’m not sure he should be the Democratic candidate to run against Trump in 2020, however. The Democrats need someone who can convert a red voter into a blue voter, and I don’t think Bernie is that person. But that’s a topic for another time.)

What bothers me about jokes like this is that they have become the entire political debate in this country. Whoever invented the joke, and everyone who has since reposted it, no doubt think they have scored points in the election process, but elections are more nuanced than that. Political discourse should not come in the form of tweets and memes. (International dialogue should certainly not come in the form tweet-storms, and someone needs to tell our president that.)

The appeal of soundbites is that they appear to make a point in a pithy, easily-digestible manner. We are so loaded with responsibilities that our days are scheduled down to the minute from the time we wake up until the time we go to bed for too little sleep. We are so bombarded with information that anything which promises to help us whittle it down to manageable bits comes as welcome relief.

But the promise is false. Life is more complicated than that, and oversimplification, while appearing to help, actually hinders our understanding of the world. We should all be more careful how we consume information, especially online, where memes and tweets rule, and fact-checking is an after-thought if it’s thought of at all. Author John Green hosts a YouTube playlist designed to help (Crash Course Navigating Digital Information). It’s largely aimed at students, but the advice is sound for anyone trying to navigate the complexities of the information (and disinformation) superhighway.