Copernicus and Erasmus

genealogy1The Mathematics Genealogy Project and its cousins, the AI [artificial intelligence] Genealogy Project, and the Philosophy Family Tree are attempts to compile information about scholars in various fields, including where they received their degrees and the titles of their dissertations. The information is organized in an academic family tree, in which one’s adviser is one’s parent.

Here’s the mission statement for the Mathematics Genealogy Project:

The intent of this project is to compile information about ALL the mathematicians of the world. We earnestly solicit information from all schools who participate in the development of research level mathematics and from all individuals who may know desired information.

Please notice: Throughout this project when we use the word “mathematics” or “mathematician” we mean that word in a very inclusive sense. Thus, all relevant data from statistics, computer science, or operations research is welcome.

I’m actually in all three of these trees. My PhD is in Computer Sciences, specifically in AI; the core of the dissertation is in mathematical logic; and my adviser, Norman Martin, was a philosopher. His work was in the area of logic, as was that of a committee member, Michael Richter, a mathematician.

One of the best Christmas presents I received was a depiction of this tree made by Emily and Stephen (above, click to enlarge). There is so much detail, that you need to see the full-scale poster to read it all, but you may be able to make out the names of my adviser, and co-adviser, Robert F. Simmons, as well as early ancestors, Copernicus and Erasmus. It’s fun to explore the connections, which ultimately show how interconnected we all are.

Why I came to library and information science

My academic career includes degrees in biology and computer science, teaching computer science in two universities, research in a high-tech, R&D firm, teaching in a college of education, and teaching now in a school of library and information science. My dissertation adviser was in philosophy, and the dissertation itself was in mathematical logic and artificial intelligence. I’ve published in a variety of journals, including those in other fields. People have often asked: Is there any rationale for this? Were you just booted from one place to another?

I could give a practical account of why I moved to a library and information science school nine years ago, but that wouldn’t explain how I think of the field and what led me to that decision. To do that, I need to start a bit earlier…

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Chip in Fort Worth, 1954

When I was three years old, I enrolled along with four other children in the Frisky and Blossom Club held at the Fort Worth Children’s Museum (now the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History). Frisky and Blossom were de-scented skunks who lived in the old house that was the Museum then. The club evolved into the Museum School, the largest in the US, with over 200,000 alums. I stayed with the school, learning about plants and animals, astronomy, history, and many other topics. Most importantly, I learned how energizing learning could be when it’s connected to what we care about and how it can grow out of things in the world around us.

That interest in informal learning bolstered by museums and libraries, continued. When I was eight years old, I never missed the bookmobile when it came by our neighborhood. I was a collector of insects, sea shells, postage stamps, books, and all sorts of other things. But reading and writing were the most important means for expanding my world. It’s sad to say, but little of this occurred for me in school, which often felt like some unjustified punishment. I learned arithmetic from card and board games outside of school, but also by counting the minutes until the end of the class, the school day, or the school year. Science was as much through a chemistry set and nature study as through classes. And so on.

These experiences led me to value inquiry-based learning. They also made it harder for me to understand knowledge as confined within static categories. When I applied to college, I considered majoring in history, geology, biology, and English, but later thought philosophy or behavioral sciences might be better. For graduate school, I chose computer sciences, not because I was so enamored of the machine, but because the field appeared the be the closest to offering a general tool for interdisciplinary inquiry. My work in artificial intelligence emphasized computer natural language understanding and reasoning. That led in a more direct way than might appear at first into education. Fortunately, working on projects such as a statistics curriculum and software for high school students, or Quill, a program for reading and writing, allowed me to create learning environments that were more integrated and connected to the life of students, something I had missed to a large extent in my own schooling.

Later, I brought those experiences to a college of education. I found many opportunities to expand on those experiences. But I also found that the means of formal schooling were sometimes disconnected from the ends I valued. The emphases on measurable learning objectives and teacher credentialing often crowded out discourse on the changing nature of literacy or the connection of learning and life. Because my work involves collaborations with those in other disciplines, I saw space for those ideas in other realms, such as writing studies, communication, occasionally in the sciences, and especially, in library and information science.

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Chip in Dublin, 2007

As I worked with people in library and information science, I found a serious engagement with issues such as the moral and political aspects of texts and information systems, changes to literacy practices related to new technologies and globalization, distributed knowledge making, information for community needs, and new ways of organizing and providing access to information. Although not all of my colleagues would characterize it this way, I see issues of learning threaded through everything we do. Learning is the creative act of meaning making that occurs in praxis, the integration of theory and practice. More than any other discipline, library and information science provides the space to engage with that phenomenon. It brings together the informed and critical understanding of texts and information systems with serious attention to the impact on human life.

There are many other reasons I might add for my joining GSLIS per se–the high level of collegiality, the moral commitment, the respect for both the old and the new, and the sincere interest in and openness to continuing to learn. These things make coming to library and information science seem wise, in spite of myself and my meandering path.

Thinking with toes and fingers

Four generations

four generations

What pleasure could be greater than spending time with four generations of family (see photo at left), as we did last weekend in Fort Worth? The twins, Caitlyn and Chloe provided all the entertainment one could want, far surpassing anything that might have been offered on TV or on some stage. They were in turn the most attentive audience, soaking in everything around them, including as you can see, Caitlyn exploring her own toes.

Chloe's fingers on the Mac keyboard

Chloe’s fingers on the Mac keyboard

We did venture on to YouTube to listen to some Raffi songs. This led to some “digital” explorations by the generation poised to supplant in not so many years the so-called digital natives of today. It’s not evident in this photo, but digital here includes toes as well as fingers.

The final photo shows Chloe studying the camera studying her.

Chloe, 7 mos.

Chloe, 7 mos.

For Chloe and Caitlyn, learning involves all the senses and all the body. They explore faces using their eyes, but also their noses and fingers. Things are as they look, but also as they smell and taste and feel.

Some people would claim that the girls don’t talk yet, but that’s only in the incredibly narrow sense of saying that they don’t speak standard English. Their world is actually suffused with communication; it’s a rich laboratory of experiments with sounds linked to ideas and feelings. They gently remind us that the adults among us who constrain their talk to formulaic utterances and language without feeling are the ones who don’t know how to talk.

It will not surprise some of you to hear that this reminds me of John Dewey, who says:

Upon this view, thinking, or knowledge-getting, is far from being the armchair thing it is often supposed to be. The reason it is not an armchair thing is that it is not an event going on exclusively within the cortex or the cortex and vocal organs. It involves the explorations by which relevant data are procured and the physical analyses by which they are refined and made precise; it comprises the readings by which information is got hold of, the words which are experimented with, and the calculations by which the significance of entertained conceptions or hypotheses is elaborated. Hands and feet, apparatus and appliances of all kinds are as much a part of it as changes in the brain. –pp. 13-14, John Dewey, Essays in experimental logic

References

Dewey, John (1916). Introduction to Essays in experimental logic (pp. 1-74). Chicago: University of Chicago.

National Day of Listening

The day after Thanksgiving (November 28, 2008), has been declared by StoryCorps as the first annual National Day of Listening.

This holiday season, ask the people around you about their lives — it could be your grandmother, a teacher, or someone from the neighborhood. By listening to their stories, you will be telling them that they matter and they won’t ever be forgotten. It may be the most meaningful time you spend this year.

You can preserve the interview using recording equipment readily available in most homes, such as tape recorders, computers, video cameras or a pen and paper. Our free Do-It-Yourself Guide is easy to use and will prepare you and your interview partner to record a memorable conversation, no matter which method of recording you prefer.

The National Day of Listening site has a four-step scheme to help with the process, including the DIY guide and a video. This looks like a great way to build up a family or community oral history.

The process that StoryCorps describes could of course be done any time, but most of us are inclined to procrastinate. We tend to vacillate between thinking that it’s nothing more than listening again to an old story and thinking that it requires fancy equipment, special expertise, and many days of hard work. Maybe setting aside a National Day, calling for one hour of serious listening, and offering a four-step process will make it easier for any of us to do.

Reading versus first-hand experience

Three thoughts regarding reading and first-hand experience:

MUCH have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne:
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
—John Keats, “On first looking into Chapman’s Homer”

No book or map is a substitute for personal experience; they cannot take the place of the actual journey. The mathematical formula for a falling body does not take the place of throwing stones or shaking apples from a tree.
—John Dewey, Schools of tomorrow

There are some who say that sitting at home reading is the equivalent of travel, because the experiences described in the book are more or less the same as the experiences one might have on a voyage, and there are those who say that there is no substitue for venturing out in the world. My own opinion is that it is best to travel extensively but to read the entire time, hardly glancing up to look out of the window of the airplane, train, or hired camel.
—Lemony Snicket, Horseradish: Bitter truths you can’t avoid

Sleeping in the new VW camper

Stephen & Emily in the VW

Stephen & Emily in the VW, some time later

From the “Kid Talk” file (June, 1990), when Emily and Stephen were 4 1/2 and 3 1/2 years old:

We just got the new VW camper. E and S wanted to sleep in it the first night.

D: The problem is, I’d have to sleep in it, too.
E: Why?
D: Because I can’t leave you guys alone.
E: We wouldn’t be alone. I’d be with Stephen and he’d be with me.