Academic journal article Vitae Scholasticae

Finding Lucien B. Kinney

Academic journal article Vitae Scholasticae

Finding Lucien B. Kinney

Article excerpt

I first met Lucien B. Kinney in a dusty basement storeroom. Or rather, I met his chair. It is painted ebony black, with gold accents and the Stanford University seal embellishing its back. You can still purchase these chairs, presumably to remember your time at the university, or signal your affiliation. That is what drew my eye: These chairs are expensive, and this one might be free. Everything in that storeroom was destined for removal, and I had permission to select what I wanted. I liked the chair and planned to take it back to my desk. Even so, I paused. There were two brass plaques fixed to the back of the chair and they read, "In loving memory of Lucien B. Kinney, Professor of Education, Stanford University, 1940-1959" and, "His wisdom and wit are remembered by his students." This chair was meant to honor a person! Did somebody not still want it? Whatever those original intentions, the Lucien B. Kinney chair was now gathering dust in a basement storeroom. The chair was no longer valued, and that seemed sadly emblematic. I decided to take it back to my office and apologize later if that was a problem. I found myself wondering how someone once so appreciated was now so forgotten.

The Stanford Graduate School of Education once displayed photographs of its faculty along a hallway. It was there, musing over those portraits, that I next encountered Lucien B. Kinney. He looked back at me from the 1940s, sharing no secrets. What happens to scholarship, when a scholar leaves the field, leaves the world? Who was this man to Stanford University, and to the study of education? I was compelled to learn more.

As I began this project, I was also beginning my own journey as an academic, unsure where my scholarship might take me. This study of Kinney's life, including the theoretical and empirical ties bridging his work and my own, is in some ways the story of my own becoming... my coming-into-being as a new kind of person, of trying on the new identities of researcher, professor, and academic. The Kinney chair became a focal point, both anchoring me to his world and projecting me forward into a new world of my own making and discovery; a world where I had a job, an office, and students who would come to me with questions and concerns. Those students might sit in the Kinney chair.

Beginning the Search

Jonathan Rabinovitz, then the chief communications officer for our school, found me in the hallway staring at Kinney's picture. He knew my emerging scholarly writing, and he was looking ahead to the school's centennial celebration. He suggested I write up "500 words" on Kinney. I worried this might be a diversion, taking time from the all-consuming task of producing a dissertation. But 500 words also felt like a reasonable goal. My brief initial search revealed some astonishing things: It turned out that Kinney and I shared connections across training, research, and even homeland. This preliminary work led to more questions: How did Kinney come to Stanford? Who was he to Stanford? Who was Kinney as a scholar? Who was Kinney to his family? Finally, synthesizing those four views, who is Kinney to me?

The first four questions and their anticipated answers are metaphorical chair legs, supporting a composite understanding of the whole of Lucien B. Kinney, who is represented by the chair. This biography begins with a description of research methods and concerns specific to the field of mathematics education. My answers to the four questions follow, with illustrations of the personal and professional events that paved Kinney's path to Stanford, the work he carried out at Stanford, his scholarly contributions to the fields of mathematics education and teacher certification, his connections to family and home, and how Kinney's life and work resonate with my own. Finally, I conclude with a holistic consideration of who Kinney was, and who he continues to be.


As a novice biographer, I needed knowledge of historical biographical research methodology. …

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