A Language Map of South Asia


An anti-monolithic visual!

The idea that something is monolithic — India, Hinduism, religion — is, in my experience, one of the most enduring misconceptions people can have when they begin to learn about a topic.

I have used this graphic for the past few years with good success, both in courses with high school students, and in professional development presentations I’ve given to fellow teachers. It’s been great at getting across a couple related ideas:

1. India is not monolithic. There is no one single India; rather, it’s probably better to think about Indias. (This is similar to a point I made here about Hinduisms, Buddhisms, and the like.) We can see different languages, such as the Sanskritic ones in the north (with the horizontal bar linking letters) and Dravidian ones in the south (with the rounder letters). There are real cultural and linguistic differences that a map such as this one points to.

(Other scripts are present as well, and they give a sense of the broader cultural diversity of this region: there are Perso-Arabic scripts in the western part of this map, there is Tibetan (not quite properly formatted), and there is Chinese.)

2. The other idea, which is in many ways, a restatement of the first point, is that India is internally diverse. The idea of internal diversity is central to the cultural studies approach to religion, but it’s not always the most intuitive one for students to grasp. With an abstract idea such as this one, I often find that seeing something grounds understanding better than just hearing something (for example, if I simply tell students that India is internally diverse), and I think this image is a good way to help students see the internal (linguistic) diversity of India.

This visual also has real value as a schema — a way to help organize subsequent knowledge. Even though this map is about languages, I can refer back to it when we begin to study Hinduism and Buddhism to remind us that these religions, like India, do not speak in one voice.

Michael Puett and Chinese Philosophy at Harvard


Master Kong (better known as Confucius). Not to be confused with Master Puett.

I just came across this piece in The Atlantic about Professor Michael Puett’s Chinese Philosophy course at Harvard. It’s a great example of how the study of philosophy can change your life.

I would note, however, that the author shortened the quotation attributed to Puett. She has Puett saying “This course will change your life.” He may have said those words as part of a larger paragraph, but he’s not the type of person to say so that directly. What he has said is something more like this (something I have, on occasion, shared with my students as we begin our study of Ancient Chinese Philosophy):

“If you read these texts — if you really read them, and think them through, and take them seriously, you will not be able to look at the world in the same way again. They will change your life.”

That quotation is a bit more Puett’s speed, in no small measure because it places the agency upon the student, and her effort thinking through these complex ideas from Confucius, Mencius, Laozi, and others, as opposed to on the professor.

It’s a great piece! Read it here:


Mick Jagger, Doctor Buddha, and the Four Noble Truths


(This post is a PG-rated follow-up to my post on Louis CK, and a follow up to the 2×2 Four Noble Truths post.)

When I was working with my sixth graders, I wanted to give them a way to think through and understand the idea of dukkha. The Four Noble Truths do not make much sense if this central idea is not grasped, but I wasn’t quite sure how to make this idea accessible to them without either bludgeoning them with the truth (impermanence, death, loss, pain, etc. — not very appropriate developmentally) or skipping over it entirely.

It was at this point that I remembered once hearing Lama Zopa Rinpoche, a contemporary Tibetan Buddhist teacher, speak about “that skinny man from England with the big lips who teaches the Lam Rim [Stages of the Buddhist Path to Awakening].” This was the way in!

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Doritos and Discipline


I still recall a conversation I had early in my student-teaching career. My supervisor and I were talking about a recent class that had gone pretty well, although I had been dealing with some boisterousness in my classes. (Typical first-year teacher things, and typical 9th grade things.) I asked her if she had any ideas for classroom management, and she replied in her typically straightforward way, “Yes. Teach better.” Continue reading