Friday, August 19, 2011

Why Teaching is Essential According to the Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman via Mick Trick and Scenes of Princeton

The new academic year is approaching and there is a sparkle in the air.

During the summer, academics are engaged in many activities but they do most of their teaching during the school year.

Professor Mike Trick of CMU, a fellow blogger in OR, has a fabulous post on the meaning of teaching by none other than Professor Richard Feynman, the renowned Nobel Laureate in physics, whose books are a must read, including his Surely, you must be joking, Mr. Feynman!

My favorite part of the riposte, with which I fully concur, is: The questions of the students are often the source of new research. They often ask profound questions that I’ve thought about at times and then given up on, so to speak, for a while. It wouldn’t do me any harm to think about them again and see if I can go any further now. The students may not be able to see the thing I want to answer, or the subtleties I want to think about, but they remind me of a problem by asking questions in the neighborhood of that problem. It’s not so easy to remind yourself of these things.

So I find that teaching and the students keep life going, and I would never accept any position in which somebody has invented a happy situation for me where I don’t have to teach. Never.

You may read Mike Trick's full post here with longer quotes from Feynman. It certainly will put educators in a spirit for tackling all the surprises and new experiences that each new academic year brings. Thanks, Mike, and thank you, Richard Feynman, now in the heavens!

And since Richard Feynman, in his piece on reflections on teaching, is musing about his time at Princeton in the 1940s, above, I have posted photos of Princeton University, which we recently visited on another college trip chaining tour. The dark classroom above is where Einstein (another physicist who needs no introduction) lectured and where the information session took place. Our tour guide was fabulous and was originally from central Massachusetts and attended a public high school.

For more on summer college tours, you can read the article in The New York Times, after which my comment appears, followed by a comment from none other than Dr. Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, the former President of both the University of Hartford and George Washington University, who did wonderful things for both of these academic institutions.