I’ve sometimes wondered about mathematics and science teachers. They have acquired the knowledge and skills to do difficult things that have great commercial and practical value, yet they work as underpaid public school teachers.
Yesterday, I thought about the algebra teacher at my old junior high school in Lincoln, Nebraska and wondered if he’s still alive. I think he was probably the smartest person I’ve ever known. Mr. Mercer was one of those people who can write complex equations on large blackboards and explain what each integer means, why it’s necessary, and how it works. They explain each number while writing it. To me, that is some amazing multi-tasking.
It seemed odd that someone of Mercer’s genius-level knowledge and skills decided to teach junior high level mathematics at a nondescript school in Nebraska. I wish I wouldn’t have been so in awe of him, otherwise I would have walked up to Mr. Mercer and interviewed him for the school’s monthly newspaper. As a budding journalist, I noticed that among his many astute predictions was that computer science would dominate civilization within the next few decades. (It was 1967 when he made that prediction.)
It’s not that Mercer was a gruff, imposing man; it was because I was shy. (I chose journalism as a way to learn how to get over my shyness.) The 20/20 hindsight provided by current knowledge is what made me regret never interviewing the mathematician. Because of my inexperience, I’ll never know why Mr. Mercer chose to teach kids instead of working in aerospace or scientific research.
“Never stop fighting until you arrive at your destined place–that is, the unique you. Have an aim in life, continuously acquire knowledge, work hard, and have perseverance to realise the great life.”–former President of India A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
The acquisition of knowledge is a continuous habit that is not only pleasurable by its own merits, but is a tool to use towards a more productive, satisfying life. In fact, knowledge is one of the most powerful tools to have at our disposal. It takes knowledge in order to learn that hard work and perseverance are also important for the attainment of a great life. The late, former Indian President was proof of that wisdom.
Kalam was born in 1931 into very humble circumstances. As a child, he had to sell newspapers to supplement the family income. In school, he was an average pupil but had a strong love of learning. His best subject was mathematics. Kalam eventually graduated in physics at the University of Madras, then went on to study aerospace at the Madras Institute of Technology.
He began his professional career as a scientist for India’s “Defence Research and Development Organization division of the Aeronautical Development Establishment.” In 1969, Kalam was transferred to ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organization. He was Project Director for India’s first Satellite Launch Vehicle.
Kalam continued his brilliant scientific career until his election as India’s eleventh President from 2002 until 2007. During his term of office, Kalam was known as “The People’s President”.
Throughout his life, Kalam personified the importance of completing school then continuing to widen one’s scope of knowledge. He knew that knowledge is important in order to enhance the overall quality of life for himself and others.
What we need to remember is that we must have knowledge and know other people who also have knowledge. Side with reason and knowledge if we want to avoid defeat. There is a caution to remember: Don’t be the person who doesn’t think that she/he doesn’t know. A great many people believe they know, even though they know nothing. This makes them ignorant of what they need to know in order to truly know themselves. Therefore, they do not know what they need to investigate. I hope you will always remain curious.