Esteemed thinker: Benjamin Banneker

math class Every day we use numbers and though they are part of our daily life we take them for granted. Yet isn’t it a curious notion that something we use so often is actually not a real or tangible thing but rather an abstraction? Numbers are a made-up concept. We can’t hold one, or touch one, or even eat one. Numbers are merely a representation of items. They represent the years we have lived, the amount of candy in a box, or how long it takes for a person to travel from one place to another.

Numbers are used in a calendar and on a clock whereby we can calculate another made up abstraction we call time. Time is a sequential relationship to events that mark the past, the future, or the present. The numbers are a collection of the events such as 24 hours in a day; which again represents a practical way of measuring a sequence of a specific duration. How chaotic would life be if we did not have numbers.

Which leads me to another very important integer, the zero! Yes, I know what ou are thinking, zero mean nothing…whereby I will remind those skeptics that the zero was a most ingenious invention as the universal place holder …let’s face it, without zero we would never get above 9………..

So the next time someone tells you that are not good in math, look upon them with a bit more empathy for after all, numbers are all just a bunch of made-up notations. (Might as well use x, y, and z…oh wait we do!!)

Benjamin BannekerToday’s blog brings to you the esteemed thinker: Benjamin Banneker (1731- 1806) African-American mathematician, surveyor, astronomer, and publisher of a popular almanac. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, he was the son of a free woman and a former slave father. Banneker did not have much of a formal education, although he was taught to read by his grandmother, he was able to only briefly attend a Quaker school because he was needed to work on the family farm.

Banneker was a self- motivated and self-educated man who gained national acclaim for scientific work in the 1791 surveying the Federal Territory (now Washington, D.C.). In 1753, he built one of the first watches made in America, a wooden pocket watch. His interest in how the celestial world worked eventually gave him the insight to learned to predict lunar and solar eclipses based on what he absorbed from his learning and mathematical equations that he formulated.

His skills as a mathematician continued to dazzle when he published an almanac with astronomical calculations. (1792-1797).

I now bring to you a portion from his letter to Thomas Jefferson, where the correspondence between these two great men can be seen today at the home of Jefferson, Monticello.

“… Sir, although my sympathy and affection for my brethren hath caused my enlargement thus far, I ardently hope, that your candor and generosity will plead with you in my behalf, when I make known to you, that it was not originally my design; but having taken up my pen in order to direct to you, as a present, a copy of an Almanac, which I have calculated for the succeeding year, I was unexpectedly and unavoidably led thereto.
This calculation is the production of my arduous study, in this my advanced stage of life; for having long had unbounded desires to become acquainted with the secrets of nature, I have had to gratify my curiosity herein, through my own assiduous application to Astronomical Study, in which I need not recount to you the many difficulties and disadvantages, which I have had to encounter…

I industriously applied myself thereto, which I hope I have accomplished with correctness and accuracy; a copy of which I have taken the liberty to direct to you, and which I humbly request you will favorably receive; and although you may have the opportunity of perusing it after its publication, yet I choose to send it to you in manuscript previous thereto, that thereby you might not only have an earlier inspection, but that you might also view it in my own hand writing…”

First image: Vocational Printing math class. 1916,Fall River, Massachusetts photographed by Lewis W. Hine

Second image: “Benjamin Banneker: Surveyor-Inventor-Astronomer,” mural by Maxime Seelbinder, at the Recorder of Deeds building, built in 1943. 515 D St., NW, Washington, D.C.

Esteemed thinker: Noah Webster


If you have ever been stymied by the loss of a word, unable to describe an object or a feeling, you are not alone. In English, as in many languages, we institute an adjective, a metaphor, or a simile to help us along. For example, let us think about snow. If it is a flurry we may call it a light snow and if it is coming down like a blizzard we may say it a heavy snow. However, in the land of snow and ice where the weather is hostile to most who inhabit the earth, there are people who communicate with snow; and within their language are lexemes (vocabulary) to describe the variety of conditions relating to snow. The Inuit/Eskimo language is credited for having over 100 of these terms however, linguistics claim the distinction is more like 50. But, regardless of the number, I believe we may all agree that it is quite eloquent a notion that one can find snow so expressive when the rest of us spend much of the winter discrediting it to nothing more than a nuisance.

Today’s blog brings to you the man who brought to us words in a compact manner, the dictionary. Allow me to introduce the esteemed thinker: Noah Webster (1758-1843). Best known for his noteworthy accomplishment as the American lexicographer, he was also a Founding Father. Born in Connecticut he grew up during the colonial days, becoming a Federalist who supported the efforts of creating a new nation. A leading statesman, who was a confidant of both George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, Webster was in Philadelphia during the Constitutional Convention writing influential essays on behalf of the nation’s founding document. Noah Webster

In 1783, he published the American Spelling Book; a text that was so popular it outsold every book in the 19th century except the Bible. He founded the first daily newspaper in New York City, American Minerva, as well as helping to establish Amherst College. However, it was in 1828’s publication of the two volumes American Dictionary of the English Language that we best remember him for. Webster was a change agent, known as the “father of copyright,” he remained active throughout his life promoting and legislating copyright protection.

I now bring you a snippet from a letter he penned to Senator Daniel Webster in 1826.

“When I was in England in 1825 I learned that the British Parliament had, a few years before, enacted a new law on copyrights, by which the rights of authors were much extended. This led me to attempt to procure a new law in the United States, giving a like extension to the rights of authors. My first attempt appears in the following letter [to the Hon. Daniel Webster, dated September 30, 1826]:—

‘Since the celebrated decision, respecting copyright, by the highest British tribunal, it seems to have been generally admitted that an author has not a permanent and exclusive right to the publication of his original works at common law; and that he must depend wholly on statutes for his enjoyment of that right. As I firmly believe this decision to be contrary to all our best established principles of right and property, and as I have reason to think such a decision would not now be sanctioned by the authorities of this country, I sincerely desire that while you are a member of the House of Representatives in Congress your talents may be exerted in placing this species of property on the same footing as all property, as to exclusive right and permanence of possession…’”

First image: On the way to sea @1900

Esteemed thinker: Theodor Seuss Geisel

Dr. SuessAlthough we may think we know someone well, there are often more sides to an individual than meets the eye. As years pass, those experiences that molded a person can often be unnoticed because we are content with what we perceive. But just what if we took time to journey deeper, to go beyond the familiar, then is it not quite possible that we will be enlightened? A most unique author who is renowned to both children and adults represents this idea; for what we know about him is not nearly all the talent he offers.

So without further hesitation, I bring you the esteemed thinker: Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991 ) Born in Springfield, Massachusetts he is best known as Dr. Suess, the author and illustrator of children’s books. The acquisition of his pen name was derived under very different circumstances. As a student at Dartmouth College, he became the editor of the school’s humor magazine, Jack-O-Lantern. However, Geisel and his friends were in violation of Prohibition law when they were caught drinking and as a result he was removed from the working on the magazine. Yet this did not deter him for he came up with the pseudonym “Seuss” and continued to contribute to it. Dr. Suess 2

Dr. Seuss is the author-illustrator of more than 50 children’s books. But many are not aware that he drew over 400 political cartoons during WWII. These cartoons tackled such subjects as racism and discrimination, the dangers of isolationism, fascism, and other political issues, and the vital work of the war effort at home.

I now introduce you to the political cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel.

dr seuss wartime10

Esteemed thinker: Clas Oldenburg

pizza restaurant
We have memories that are both positive and negative and they come and go throughout our day often without any warning. The method they use to interrupt our thoughts is often initiated by a random trigger; all fitting very neatly under the umbrella of our senses. A song may bring back romance or regrets while an aroma recreates a holiday.

Pizza is a food that that carries and omits memories; ordering through an open window where the smells waft into the street and greasy wax paper barely big enough to hold the triangular slice. The best way to eat a piece was to fold it lengthwise with the full advantage of biting off the end. Ultimately you had to stretch your arm out in front of you before reeling in a thin string of mozzarella cheese.

However, what was once the norm of pizza has now become almost extinct since its culinary metamorphosis. Its evolution through the years has been transformed into what I call “boutique pizza.” Not only has the size of the average pie been dramatically reduced, but the crust is not longer made with the soft dough that bubbled up on the edges like a dune on the beach. Presently it is more like a fancy cracker. The toppings range from artichoke hearts, to pineapple, to chicken and rosemary. Mozzarella is no longer the cheese of choice but rather feta and goat drizzled with olive oil. Served on small tapas dishes the order comes with knives and forks.

Alas, the evolution of the pizza has made quite a change; and though the “boutique pizza” is delicious, there was once something special about watching the pizza baker twirl the dough above his head while you waited… and just maybe this would be the time it would go splat!!

Museum Ludwig - Pressekonferenz - Claes Oldenburg Today’s post brings to you the esteemed thinker: Clas Oldenburg (Stolkholm, 1929), a Swedish born artist who moved to the United States and eventually became a citizen of his adopted counntry. Educated at Yale, Oldenburg later attended the school of the Art Institute of Chicago, opened a studio and did freelance illustrating for magazines. Using commercial and ordinary objects as subject matter, he brought to the art world a new meaning of expression. He became known for public art and instilations of grand scales, utilizing materials that deemed his work “soft sculpture”. In the 1960s he participated in what was called the Pop Movement, also related to “happenings” a kind of performance art work.

I now bring you his 1964 lithograph titled Flying Pizza from New York Ten a work of art that clearly, from the title and subject, reminds many of us of the “good-old-days” of the plain cheese pizza!

Pizza Oldenburg

Esteemed thinker: Nikola Tesla

futureIt is astounding to think that only a hundred and fifteen years ago, which is not a very long ago in the realm of time, the world was in the throes of a new millennium. This was the Edwardian era, the very beginning of the 20th century, and the future seemed as unrealistic as one could imagine. Airplanes, radios, and wireless transmission were at its infancy. And if only the predictions had come true, what a different world it would be. Andrew Carnegie hoped warfare would “become the most dishonorable” profession and Secretary of the Navy John D. Long held the common belief that war would be abolished.”

Forward to the 21st century, where we began with such inventions as segways, ipods, braile gloves and hybrid cars. Sadly we cannot celebrate the predictions of Carnegie and Long for they did not hold up to the test of time. Which leads us to today’s esteemed thinker: Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) a world renowned scientist who made some of his own predictions seventy or so years before the millennium.

nikola tesla Nikola Tesla, born in Smiljan, Lika, which was then part of the Austo-Hungarian Empire, the region of modern day Croatia. In 1873 he began his studies in mathematics and physics at the University in Prague, however became fascinated with electricity. In 1881 he started his career in electrical engineering in Budapst and privately built a reduction motor, a radical idea that was not received well in Europe. As a result he moved to the United States and worked with Thomas Edison. For the next 59 years he established himself as a great inventor, which included constructing his theory of alternating current, in direct conflict with Edison’s theory of direct current. In 1882, Tesla discovered the rotating magnetic field, a fundamental principle in physics and the basis of nearly all devices that use alternating current. Alternating current became standard power in the 20th Century, an accomplishment that ultimately changed the world.

I now bring to you a snippet from an article in the 1935 issue of Liberty magazine. Here is one of many predictions made by the inventor, Nikola Tesla, a man who probably did not predict his own beneficial contribution to everyday life.

“… At present we suffer from the derangement of our civilization because we have not yet completely adjusted ourselves to the machine age. The solution of our problems does not lie in destroying but in mastering the machine. Innumerable activities still performed by human hands today will be performed by automatons. At this very moment scientists working in the laboratories of American universities are attempting to create what has been described as a ” thinking machine.” I anticipated this development. I actually constructed “robots.”

Today the robot is an accepted fact, but the principle has not been pushed far enough. In the twenty-first century the robot will take the place which slave labor occupied in ancient civilization. There is no reason at all why most of this should not come to pass in less than a century, freeing mankind to pursue its higher aspirations…”

Walker Evans and choices

Cereal aisle One has only to take a stroll down the aisle of the grocery store to see that the choices offered are more than one stomach could ever tolerate. Perhaps that is why we are often reminded that if you are trying to watch your weight you should not go to the store hungry. The cereal shelves are a fine example of choice overload, flakes of every size and concoction, from sugar coating to corn and rye, it seems as though we have been given quite a palette of breakfast delights.

But lest we really take time to pause just perhaps all this abundance is actually what could be referred to as “false generosity”. Are all these enticing products for our nutritional benefit or have they been formulated for our ever-greedy taste buds and another’s financial appetite? And although the food industry and manufactures have given us such ample reason to eat, their generosity may actually be something very different than what meets the eye.

Today’s blog reintroduces the esteemed thinker: Walker Evans (1903-1975), an artistic icon who became one of the most influential American photographers. In 1926 he traveled to Paris where he developed an interest in literature. However, upon his return to the United States a year later, he resorted to a different medium, photography, as his artistic outlet. Rejecting the prevailing aestheticized view of artistic photography, he instead chose a straightforward and direct style where he concentrated on photographing quotidian American life during the second quarter of the 20th century. He is universally regarded as the premier photographic artist among the Farm Security Administration staff during the late 1930s.

I now bring you one of his photographs, Grocery Store Window, Macon, Georgia (1935) a flashback in time to a date in history when choices of what to eat were often not a luxury but rather a function of necessity.

walker evans grocery store

Esteemed thinker: Paulo Freire

teacher and classThe world of business is thought to be ever so complex however it appears to revolve around two events, the passing of time and the passing of money. Both involve good planning and good luck; for without them both working hand-in-hand, one could stymie the other. For those readers that like examples, let us take the film industry. Production on a new movie does not occur without first deciding upon time involved in production and the finances to put the idea into action. However, how often do we hear that the making of the movie is “behind schedule” and “cost productions” are over budget.

Such an occurrence is not rare but rather common practice. The identical business scenario results ever- so- often in the construction industry. Plans are created however, for whatever reason, perhaps a building permit or poor weather, construction is placed “on hold’ and as the company sorts things out, one-thing-leads to another, costs increase, and extra time is needed for the project to be completed. One can delve into a multitude of examples yet the more we look the more we not that the business world appears not to really have a hold on keeping to a schedule, even when they plan so many planning meetings that one has to wonder how they have so much time to plan.

Yet, there is one set of workers that complete their job everyday on time, regardless of money or the lack of time….teachers. Go into any classroom and one will find a diversity of clients (students) under the management of one and regardless of the weather or the lack of materials, when the bell rings and their day begins, in spite of distractions, interruptions, or disgruntled kids, work goes on according to plans.

So, perhaps the next time a business cannot seem to get the job completed according to schedule, rather than pouring more money into it…why not call in the experts of time management… the teacher.

Paulo_Freire Today’s blog brings to you the esteemed thinker: Paulo Freire (b. Recife, Brazil 1921-1997) Brazilian philosopher and teacher who developed educational theories that helped transform the field of education to better literacy to the poor. His studies centered around the relationship between teaching and learning where he endorsed that the teacher should help students in developing freedom of thought that would enable them to use their knowledge to take constructive action. In 1962 the first experiments in Freire’s method of education saw extreme success when 300 farmworkers were taught to read and write in just 45 days.

Freire was a child during the Great Depression where his experiences from this time later framed his life’s work; making changes in the development of education and literacy. His book ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ is considered one of the foundational texts of critical pedagogy.

I now bring you a snippet from the great Paulo Freire’s work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Take time from your busy day and afterwards, if you could read this…thank a teacher.

“A careful analysis of the teacher-student relationship at any level, inside or outside the school, reveals its fundamentally narrative character. This relationship involves a narrating Subject (the teacher) and patient listening objects (the students). The contents, whether values or empirical dimensions of reality, tend in the process of being narrated to become lifeless and petrified. Education is suffering from narration sickness…Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the “banking’ concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. They do, it is true, have the opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is the people themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system. For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other…”

First image early 1890s.