Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Education in the Community I Grew Up In

I was born in 1945 -- lots of people are surprised to hear that -- and grew up in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, just outside of Trenton, New Jersey.

I remember going to Farmingdale and Greenwood Elementary Schools. I have good memories of the teachers I met there. They were very caring about their students. They encouraged my growing interests in things like space exploration, astronomy and science in general. My family was even more encouraging. I remember Mom and Dad buying me a telescope to look out into the heavens before I was a teenager. I think this was part of my getting the astronomy merit badge in the Boy Scouts.

I still have some interesting memories of that time in school.

One day in a high school history class I got into an informal debate with our teacher about what was more important -- the United States exploration of space or the various political changes that were happening in the Middle East (think United Arab Republic) at the same time. Oh -- I was on my high school's debate team. I obviously took the position that space exploration was most important. Our teacher claimed that the United Arab Republic was more important by far. He eventually kicked me out of class sending me to the principal's office. While I was waiting there, the vice principal came in and saw me sitting there. With a look of concern on his face he asked me what I was doing there. I told him. He relaxed and told me not to worry that he would take care of the problem.

One day also in high school when I was walking through our local bookstore I saw a book by a physicist named Eddington titled Mathematical Theory of Relativity. Since it was only $2.95 -- well within my allowance. I bought it. Soon I starting seeing mathematics that I had never seen before. I took the book into school and showed it to our math teacher -- a fine man named Mr. Rosen. I asked for his help. He with a friendly smile said "Why don't you wait until you are in college?" That's how I found out that my interests had gone far beyond what even a good high school back then could provide.

I also have a high school memory of my first grade teacher. How? One evening near the end of our class's senior year all of the teachers who had taught us as we were growing up were invited to a graduation oriented event. I ran into said first grade teacher there. She, with a big smile on her face, congratulated me on graduating from high school. She then asked quite friendlily what I would be doing after high school. I told her with a seventeen year old's enthusiasm that I would be going to Rutgers and majoring in physics. The expression on her face switched to something along the lines "You were bored in first grade!"

Lots of other people besides my family and my schools nurtured my growing interest in science. My parents were quite active in St. James Episcopal Church. They were part of the more well educated people there. All those people encouraged my interests. The Scopes Monkey Trial down in Tennessee decades earlier did get some attention -- particularly after the film Inherit the Wind came out. What did people at St. James think? They thought that kind of thinking was that of quite ignorant people who did not know what they were talking about.

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