Photograph: Jonathan Kozowyk
The Longbottom Thesis
Joseph Longbottom finds inspiration in his grandfather’s Harvard thesis
Joseph Longbottom can thank his brother’s desire not to live on land for the framed 1940 Harvard dissertation that was hanging above the bookshelf in his living room in Denver.
The hand-typed dissertation, focused on the theories of French philosopher Henri Bergson, was written by the Longbottoms’ grandfather, Robert Lincoln Coffin Rein’L. After Robert died, the dissertation was handed down to Joseph’s brother, who was starting to become interested in philosophy.
“We used to marvel at the pages together,” says Longbottom, a first-year student in the Ed School’s Doctor of Education Leadership Program (Ed.L.D.).
But then his brother decided to live on a sailboat, and so the dissertation was again handed down, this time to Longbottom, who was the principal of an elementary school in Aurora, Colorado, far from any oceans. “We wanted to ensure it was safe and always stayed in the family. My wife had it framed, and we mounted it above the bookshelves in our living room. It is a beautiful document that is completely hand-typed on about three inches thick of old parchment paper,” Longbottom says. “My mother told me the story about grandad making a mistake and needing to type it twice. It was quite the undertaking.”
It was also inspirational, which is why Longbottom decided to take it with him when he moved to Cambridge to start the Ed.L.D. this year. He was nervous, and despite a long career in education, including time as an instructional coach, school media specialist, teacher, and principal, he questioned if he had what it took to get a doctorate, like his grandfather, at such a well-known university.
“Like so many, I wondered whether I would be ‘good enough’ for the Harvard name,” he says. “My grandfather’s dissertation was a reminder to just be myself and trust that I belong. Before each interview, I would give it a kiss to calm my nerves. Although my grandfather was no longer around, it felt as though he was somewhere rooting me on.”
Longbottom says he didn’t explicitly apply to Harvard for his doctorate just because of his grandfather’s experience, “although I do love the idea of starting a family legacy that I can potentially pass down to my own son,” he says. Instead, “when researching doctorate programs, the Ed.L.D. Program stood above all others. The program is geared toward practitioners who are driven to disrupt systemic inequities that plague our education system and that is me. I am so eager to learn with and from my 24 classmates and the distinguished faculty members.”
There’s also a chance we may see some air guitar on Appian Way this year.
A musician, Longbottom started incorporating air guitar into his work, first starting when he was a media specialist and elementary school teacher in Kansas City, where he grew up.
“I have used air guitar in a variety of ways in my educational career,” he says. “It started as a project to teach my elementary students the importance of risk taking and perseverance. I have also used it as a principal and EL Education National Conference presenter to help educators experience how authentic feedback using clear success criteria can rapidly improve the quality of student work.”
The question now is, will he teach his Ed School classmates how to rock out?
“I have no idea at this point, but I wouldn’t rule it out,” he says. “Who says deep learning can’t be fun?”