Stories from the University (of Minnesota) 1981 - 1985 My U of M stories perhaps don't amount to anything that people don't already know about the state of universities in the U.S. So now this page has just one story -- my tribute to Dr. Gershenson, who gave me my best experience at the U of M. With one cherished exception, my math and physics professors at the U of M, understandably acting at the behest of the U of M administration, herded the vast majority of my classmates through college, requiring of them nothing that can reasonably be considered math or science proficiency, gifting them A's and B's. Rarely was any distinction made between the most competent student and the least competent student so far as grading was concerned. At least that was the case outside of fields of study such as computer science and true engineering programs. I was a math education major, which is many giant steps down from such engineering programs. Here is my Dr. Gershenson story: When I mentioned to a peer that I was taking an advanced math class (topics such as groups, rings, fields, cosets, mod-transforms..) from Dr. Gershenson, she said, "Get out of that class!!" She then told me that she had gotten him for one of her math classes and that she, along with most of the other students, had abandoned the class after learning from him that there would be no curve. Rather, he would be holding them to a pre-set standard, and they saw "F" written on the wall. I ignored her advice. I was smitten with Dr. Gershenson. This was by far the most difficult class I ever took. Dr. Gershenson filled the blackboards in that classroom with hierglyphics a few times every session. The ten of us who stuck around for the class (twenty-five had abandoned it) filled our notebooks during those sessions. I even began bringing a voice-recorder to review things he'd said. There were pop-quizzes, which I did fair-to-poor on. And then there was a take-home final, which we had one week to complete. It consisted of seven problems. I was unable to fathom what two of the problems were even about. I simply couldn't understand the questions. So I went to see Dr. Gershenson. On the door to his office, there was a sign saying that he was a student career advisor, which kind of struck me as significant. I didn't dare ask Dr. Gershenson to explain both of the mysteriously worded questions, so I picked just one of them. I told him that I didn't understand the question on problem four. What happened next was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Dr. Gershenson looked at me in the most penetrating, caring manner I'd ever been looked at. He looked like he wanted to reach inside me and turn dials to get me to understand. He deeply wanted me to succeed. He asked me a question. I answered it. He asked me another question, which I answered.. then the lights went on in my head. Suddenly I understood the question. He was so emotional that his eyes were moist. After I left his office, I understood why he was a student career advisor. I'd never felt such warmth coming from a person. I ended up solving 5 1/2 of the seven problems on the test, placing me in a tie for highest score. And I swear I could have solved 6 1/2 if only I'd also asked Dr. Gershenson to illuminate the other mysteriously worded problem. Also, in truth (in my mind), I had the highest score, as I was the only one to solve problem number seven, a full two-page solution involving intermediate results; i.e. -- I had to develop a new theorem which I then used to prove the theorem in question. It was a problem Dr. Gershenson had expected no-one to solve! My two-page solution, along with my commentary explaining and justifying my operations, looked just like something out of an advanced math text book. I could hardly believe it was generated by me. It was by far the most satisfying experience of my college days. It's what a university experience is supposed to be.
And of what practical value was that math to a prospective high school math teacher? I would just say it produced some math maturity, along with inadvertent cross-training -- a handy thing for a math teacher. I loved all my professors, and every one of them was very competent. I can hardly blame them for abiding by standards which the U of M administrators undoubtedly set. It is a mystery as to how Dr. Gershenson managed to buck the system and remain in good standing. And Dr. Gershenson awarded no A's to anyone in that class. At least one other person besides myself received a B. Those pop-quizzes were brutal. That was my best story from the U of M. If you're a glutten for punishment and want to read the other five stories, they are included in the original essay: stories <-- back to pampered life <-- back to home |