Natalie and I each taught for years in high school and college classrooms. Despite the hazards of possible chalk poisoning and mindless administrators, we loved it: Natalie taught finance, which is the hard edge of business school, and I built the structures of physics and electrical engineering.
We enjoyed carving scary-looking material into understandable and logical concepts. Her courses were based on the intimate relationship between time, money, and value, and mine on methods that let us understand and predict the behavior of things we can’t see, like heat and electricity. Both physics and finance use “mathematical models,” which sound terrifying until we learn that these are just ‘story problems:’ e.g., it’ll take 3 hours to drive the 150 miles to Dayton if we travel @ 50 mph.
Our schools operate on an ‘adversarial system’ of education, i.e., “I won’t flunk you if you can pass the tests I administer,” cackles the evil professor. It is inherently unkind and encourages dishonesty, which is the last skill we ought to be teaching, but schools use it because parents have come to regard education as a painful but compulsory rite of passage.
Unlike her gentler spouse Natalie enjoyed taking and giving tests. She discouraged copying through nefarious schemes, e.g. issuing exam sheets that looked identical, except that important numbers in the problems varied from one sheet to another. Conversely, she’d distribute 3 sets of test sheets printed on green and blue and white paper. All the questions were identical.
“You are evil,” I pointed out.
Our common educational goal in teaching tough subjects is to remove their terror factor. Much unnecessary drama originates with arrogant teachers who encourage ordinary people to fear math-based fields. The only antidote to such well-poisoning lies in training students to study effectively and to emphasize that scary-looking courses are heavily front-loaded, so they get much easier after those first few weeks of basic training.
Mark Kinsler, email@example.com, is a stone-age conservative in matters of education, kept under moderate control by Natalie and the two striped alley cats.
This article originally appeared on Lancaster Eagle-Gazette: Kinsler column: Do lots of practice problems, and do your own work