How to Make Calculus Students Believe They Know Calculus When They Don’t

(Or any other subject for that matter)  Here is how to do it.

Step One:  Teach at a selective (or, better yet, highly selective) school.  That way the students start off feeling they are specially gifted.  (They may be brilliant but calculus is hard for most people; that is, the real thing is hard.  “Hard” simply means it takes work and study to understand it and get good at it.  And it is worth the work for many, many reasons.)

Step Two:  Make sure that they understand that you, the professor, are an outstanding mathematician.

Step Three:  Never tell them anything really hard.  If you do, they won’t understand it right away.  Thus, many of them will think it’s you, not the calculus.  They will say, “That prof. can’t explain anything.”

Step Four:  Reinforce that calculus is easy because they are smart and you explain it really well because you, the professor, are such a brilliant mathematician and teacher.   (They want to believe all these things.)

Now, for the icing on the cake.  Tell them that a representative of the math profession has determined that they have learned calculus really well.  Who is that representative.  It is you, of course!  You get to make up and grade the test that proves you did a great job of teaching!

But when you go  home and look at yourself in the mirror, ask yourself if David Reisman was talking about you when he wrote,

“…the “wants” of students to which competing institutions, departments, and individual faculty members cater are quite different from the “needs” of students…advantage can still be taken of [students] by unscrupulous instructors and institutions..Like any other interest group, the student estate often does not grasp its own interests, and those who speak in its name are not always its friends…”

Believe it or not, many professors fit this description and don’t even know it.  They think, “That’s just what you have to do these days.  Its not my fault.”

(Disclaimer:  When I say “student”, I mean typical undergraduate.  What follows certainly doesn’t work with all undergraduates.  Also, I’m not casting blame on the students.)

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