Julieswan (julieswn) Sun 26 Sep 10 10:34
This week we welcome Eva Timothy to Inkwell.vue, to discuss her new book, Lost in Learning. Eva Timothy has been fascinated by history for as long as she can remember. Growing up in Europe she was continually surrounded by the stories of the great explorers, artists and inventors. Evas photographic work has been exhibited internationally, and is included in the George Eastman House Library, the Smithsonian, and theLibrary of Congress Permanent Collection in the US. In the UK, her work may be seen in the Fox Talbot Museum, the British Library, Green Templeton College at Oxford University, and the Victoria Albert Museum. In Lost in Learning: The Art of Discovery, Eva draws from her life of learning, history and art to draw us into her creative worldview. Interviewing Eva will be our own <lrph>, Lisa Harris: Lisa Harris is a mother, business owner, reader, and educator. Lisa taught fourth grade twenty years ago and is currently seeking to return to the classroom. She is a co-host of the Inkwell.vue conference hereon The WELL and an active member in the Wine and Words book club of West Palm Beach, FL. For fun, Lisa likes to bake bread and play board games (Scrabble, Pictionary, Boggle, Yahtzi, Backgammon, etc.).
Lisa Harris (lrph) Sun 26 Sep 10 15:35
Thanks for the introduction, Julie. Hi Eva. Thank you for this absolutely beautiful book. You write so much of inspiration, I'll start by asking you about yours. Where and how were you inspired to write this book/create this exhibition?
Lisa Harris (lrph) Mon 27 Sep 10 07:46
Oh! And while we're at it... Which came first, the exhibition or the book?
Eva Koleva Timothy (sees-the-day) Mon 27 Sep 10 15:34
Eva Koleva Timothy (sees-the-day) Mon 27 Sep 10 15:43
Thank you Julie and Lisa great question to kick things off. My love of history was the primary source of inspiration. I enjoy getting into peoples lives, their minds and dreams and learning from what happened in ages past. I know there are a lot of people who have learned to regard history and learning generally as a rote exercise memorization dates, names etc. A big part of my inspiration for this project and book was to infuse the excitement of what learning can be and how much history has to teach us about the adventures, discoveries and passions of people not so much different than ourselves in many respects. As far as that specific moment when "lightning struck", so to speak... I was reading the Discoverers, by Daniel Boorstin one night. He wrote about the discovery of the New World. Apparently we don't have any record of a book or journal Columbus left, but we do have the notes he left in the margins of his copy of Imago Mundi by Pierre dAilly. The moment I read that Columbus own handwriting was in this book somewhere, I knew I had to find it and photograph it. The rest of the project followed from that instance. The book followed a couple of years behind the exhibition.
Lisa Harris (lrph) Tue 28 Sep 10 05:41
How fabulous that your inspiration began with a book I adore! Boorstin's books kicked off my own interest in reading solely non-fiction for the past few years. "The Discoverers" made history interesting for the first time for me. Now we know about your inspiration. I thought Columbus was a great choice to open the Voyage section of your book, however I was surprised that all of the people you wrote about were European. There is a rich history of discovery and learning dating back to ancient China and the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia. Why didn't you choose any of the historical figures from those areas?
Eva Koleva Timothy (sees-the-day) Tue 28 Sep 10 08:58
Glad to hear that you enjoyed Boorstin as much as I did! I'm sure a big part my decision to focus on Europe was my roots and upbringing. I grew up in Eastern Europe, immersed in the stories of these people so I felt more of a connection to them. Being on that side of the Iron Curtain too, I was generally more interested in the Western world than the Orient. In the end I decided to focus on The European Age of Discovery as a window in time which was an apex of cultural inspiration, curiosity and voyaging into unknown waters, both literally and figuratively.
Lisa Harris (lrph) Tue 28 Sep 10 15:01
How did you get access to all the wonderful art which you photographed? And aside from the obvious Imago Mundi, which you already mentioned, how did you choose your art subjects?
Eva Koleva Timothy (sees-the-day) Wed 29 Sep 10 04:49
For this project I needed to be able to arrange manuscripts, portraits and period works of art in ways that would not have been possible with the originals. So I created a makeshift copy stand and visited the special collections of libraries here in New England in order to obtain facsimiles. The History of Science Department at Harvard University was also very generous in allowing me to photograph their scientific instrument collection for the project. I choosing the subjects, I read a lot of biographies and researched which original manuscripts and portraits would best represent the figures I was studying. I think my photographer's bias may have entered in here a bit as I ended up working with Opticks by Sir Isaac Newton and Galileo's sketch of the moon as he viewed it through the telescope lens for the first time. Da Vinci has always been a favorite and I was excited to discover a prominent Renaissance woman in Isabella d'Este; she was someone whom I could relate to and who had been painted by Da Vinci. Once the subjects were chosen, the art of bringing these people and this era to life began. I raided numerous antique shops looking for artifacts (primarily different lenses) which had been a part of that era and which I could incorporate in the photographs.
Teleological dyslexic (ceder) Wed 29 Sep 10 20:56
Greetings Eva and Lisa, I was fortunate enough to get a copy of your wonderful book! It is inspiring to see the lenses focusing into each page. The reflectivity in your book allows me to see differently every time I read through it. Clare Eder
Lisa Harris (lrph) Thu 30 Sep 10 06:53
I couldn't agree more! Now about education. You talk a lot about inspiration and imagination being the key ingredients in the making of these geniuses. You used an analogy between seafarer and landlubber to describe the difference between those that have the inspiration or spark and those who don't. Can you elaborate on that theme?
bill braasch (bbraasch) Thu 30 Sep 10 13:08
Your book is beautiful, as is your website <http://www.illumea.com/lost_in_learning/book.asp> Your photography is wonderful, but you also express your insights on learning very inspirationally in the words you wrote. Your curiosity was drawn to great inventors and discoverers, but your enthusiasm for learning is inspiring at any point in the voyage. I'm reminded of Lewis Hyde's book, _The Gift_, about the transition of art from something that was exchanged into something that was bought and sold. Curiosity is like art in a way as it can lose its wonder in a commercial setting. Lisa's question about seafarers and landlubbers gets at the choices we make, and you write about how early experience influences us in making those choices. I'd also like to hear your thoughts on ways we might make the best of our curiosities.
Eva Koleva Timothy (sees-the-day) Thu 30 Sep 10 17:51
Welcome Clare and Bill and great questions all. I feel that most unfortunately our formal education systems often encourages us to develop the habit of landlubbers. Instead of seeking out the new and exciting which has just captured our imaginations, we learn to treat our deep held interests as distractions to what is really important, we learn to rely on experts for our knowledge and we learn to avoid risk-taking and being wrong. Curiosity can be scary. We don't know where it's going to lead us. We might get really into something and that might lead to something else and before long we have lost our bearings and we most definitely have become distracted. That's how the seafarer sets sail, without knowing the precise route; for who can perfectly predict the wind? But when something does catch our intellectual fancy, it's important that we don't just discount it as irrelevant to making money, or getting our errands done or whatever other mundane quest we have set to keep ourselves from taking risks. With the busy demands of a high-tech modern life, this can be easier said than done. I find though that spending time with children, sharing stories, reading great books, making art, writing poetry or engaging in any other non-linear, creative activity tends to awaken this curiosity within us. Once awoken it's really just a matter of not shushing it or allowing it to fall back into dormancy. After a while it just becomes a part of who we are. We start inquiring more, our interests become deeper and our questions more profound. Thanks for the suggestion of The Gift. My favorite book on this subject of seeing life through a child's curious eyes is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince.
descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Thu 30 Sep 10 20:02
Now that I'm retired, I've naturally become interested in what people have done later in life and am finding some truly inspiring stories about what can happen when people are free of daily responsibilities. You could even say that I'm energized!
bill braasch (bbraasch) Thu 30 Sep 10 21:45
I agree that the school system can drive you toward a goal in a way that forces curiosity to the sidelines. My son returned from Jr year of college with stories about classmates who had discovered they didn't look forward to the work they were learning to do. He was happy with his choice and was passing a warning to his younger sister who then changed her major. Living longer gives us a chance to be serial curiosity seekers. I suggested to the kids that they don't try to take a long view on their choice of work, but instead work on what interests them now with the understanding that they will probably chase a few different interests over the course of their lives. When I started working it was alongside people who expected to stay with the job for a career. The pace of change has made that far less likely. Our longer lifespans open more doors to change. I wonder how many Da Vinci's were stuck in landlubber jobs in days past, and what great ideas might come from career landlubbers newly energized.
Lisa Harris (lrph) Fri 1 Oct 10 04:38
Frankly, I think school and academic pursuits to some extent are wasted on the very young. Sure, they need basic skills, but the inspirational pursuit of knowledge comes with age and maturity. To expect that from a nine year old seems like setting everyone up for failure. Nine year olds are curious, sure, but only for a moment and then they're off. Not all nine year olds, of course, but many.
Eva Koleva Timothy (sees-the-day) Fri 1 Oct 10 12:09
I think what we're really looking at here isn't a question of age. It's more about what (jmcarlin) is talking about - freedom - and not just from daily responsibilities. We can be deeply curious at any age, but as kids we are coached to respond to questions posed by textbooks instead of looking at the questions that come from within. It doesn't take long for those questions to become more of a chore than a catalyst to exploration. When we get older, for many of us, it's the first time we experience the autonomy to ask our own questions and pursue our own interests. It's energizing and inspiring because it comes from within us and it's our own decision to pursue it. Young children and teens have the capacity for inspiration and unwavering pursuit of knowledge. Just look at how quickly they can pick up complex technologies, skills and/or solve difficult problems when they feel it is relevant and they want it for themselves. I do agree that curiosity in children is less focused. They've got more ground to cover so the minute they feel like they've got something they often lose interest and move to the next item of interest. This is natural and one more reason why insistently drilling facts or skills once the interest is gone, in young children, does little more than stifle the momentum for real learning.
. (wickett) Fri 1 Oct 10 15:38
I very much enjoy looking at your photographs, rich, complex, and fresh. It is a gift to entice the eyes to return.
bill braasch (bbraasch) Sat 2 Oct 10 10:41
our older three kids advised their younger sister to skip middle school as it had been a waste of time for them. fortunately for michelle, a new all girls middle school was forming nearby (Julia Morgan school in Oakland), so she transferred there. she had a writing teacher there who really helped her gain confidence in her ability to write, which in turn has her learning Spanish to get a degree in comparative literature. she built her own gaming computer when she was about 11 years old, and now she has her own computer readout thing for her car (so she can clear her own error codes without paying some repair shop), but she's not drawn to engineering because math sucks. schooling out to be seen more as a survey to find what interests you than a contest to see how you score on the tests, but we'd need a way to measure the ability of a learning style to inspire interests. any thoughts on how we might measure the success of a learning system in terms of its ability to provoke curiosity and inspire interests?
. (wickett) Sat 2 Oct 10 13:10
I bait as many hooks as I can and follow where the student leads. Anything (math, language, critical thinking) can be taught once the enthusiasm has been ignited. This works one-on-one, of course, but not for a disparate group.
Eva Koleva Timothy (sees-the-day) Sat 2 Oct 10 15:08
I think it is possible to measure a learning system by the enthusiasm it generates. Whenever we measure something we tend to try to affect it directly instead of looking at the root causes and indirect affects. In education we measure test scores so we start teaching to a test. If we believe that enthusiasm and motivation really are prerequisites for inspired effective learning, we would need to take a long view of this and start measuring how students feel about their educational experiences. Giving students a meaningful voice about what they want to study and how they like to be taught would affect policy and teaching immediately. Technology is continually increasing our ability to reach students individually without having to scale up teaching resources (see Clayton Christensen's bok Disrupting Class). Test scores might take a while to show the positive results of a more student centric system, but they would follow. After all we have historical examples which show us what happens when a civilization gets inspired. So here's a question: what do you think it was about the Renaissance period that caused learning to advance so rapidly?
Lisa Harris (lrph) Sat 2 Oct 10 17:19
The Dark Ages. The problem with teaching through inspiration and child-directed learning is the evaluation of children's development. There is no doubt that Maria Montessori was on to something when she developed manipulatives to inspire students to seek knowledge and learning. But it is very challenging to design tests which evaluate those outcomes. We are an outcome based society, much to my dismay. And if it's hard to test then it won't be the standard.
Lisa Harris (lrph) Sun 3 Oct 10 06:54
Just re-reading that post and I realized that I forgot to mention that I am not so outcome-based, but until we realize as a nation that we can't test and evaluate every single thing we do, then we will be stuck with what we have in one form or another.
bill braasch (bbraasch) Sun 3 Oct 10 09:44
my dad was school principal at a juvenile home in Chicago when the Plato system was brought in for evaluation. It knew who you were and it paced the learning based on how the student was doing, also gave the student feedback with comparative test rankings. he had kids who did very well in math who had done something not so well to get sentenced in his school. personal recognition by the teacher, something of a challenge, good feedback and encouragement seemed to work together. Back then, this required a control data mainframe connection and I suppose a federal grant. instead of test scores, we need to measure engagement and reward goals. Mafia Wars, Farmville, World of Warcraft take advantage of the same techniques that were in Plato software about 40 years ago, but collaborative learning hasn't taken hold in the classroom. we don't hear so much about da Vinci's sidekicks, but it seems he must have had a few. he'd have been someone's understudy at a point, then a colleague, then a luminary. there's a story in the NYTimes today about Sheryl Sandberg, Mark Zuckerberg's handler at Facebook. He saw the opporunity and took it on, but she's the one who keeps the wheels on it. In a sense, she's the teacher. I've not seen the movie, but I'm told the lawyers provide adult supervision as the entrepreneurs work through the issues. we need to find our way back to the apprentice model. maybe Farmville will pave some cornfields and put up a college.
. (wickett) Sun 3 Oct 10 11:25
How about dismantling some parking lots and building a college amidst a revivied natural environment within which kids learn, experiment, and create! Of course, in addition, everyone needs a shared core of knowledge. That's tough with diversity prioritized to extremes, or so I found when I was teaching college. As for da Vinci, he was taught by, among others, Luca Pacioli, Franciscian friar and author of the first treatise on double entry bookkeeping! da Vinci sought instruction from him in geometry and proportion, not bookkeeping (or at least not to my knowledge).
Mostly not sure (gertiestn) Sun 3 Oct 10 19:33
If da Vinci had mastered bookkeeping, he might have saved for retirement the real work of his life. I found myself reading "Lost in Learning" and thinking more and more about retirement; I was somewhat taken aback to see that (jmcarlin) beat me to it in introducing the topic. It's never too late to unlearn, I hope.
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