by Patrick Appel

Pivoting off the experience of this Cal State professor, a reader writes:

Years ago (in about '81 and '82) I tutored introductory physics to engineering students in the "women and minorities" program at UC Berkeley.  Many of these young people came from backgrounds I can't even imagine, and had to show a level of grit and perseverance that still astonishes me.  I remember two of my students who came from very tough areas - one in Richmond and one in Oakland.  They would often fail classes and have to retake them.  I can remember seeing the look on the face of the young man from Richmond when he would get the report that he failed a class.  Crestfallen doesn't begin to cover it - my heart still aches from the memory.  But then he would summon up all of the courage that took him out of the environment he grew up in and I would watch his face transform as he girded himself for taking the class again.

The young man from Oakland had gone to Castlemont High, which was not on anybody's list of top-performing college prep schools.  He told me about going back along with a classmate to visit.  They were the first people from the school to go to college in a long, long time and they were invited to come talk to the students.  He had graduated from Castlemont with straight-A's, and so had naturally assumed that he was ready to go on to college.  Then he arrived at Cal and took his first freshman math courses, and discovered that he didn't know things that were just assumed to be standard knowledge - he used quadratic equations as an example.  Something that the rest of us routinely learned in 9th grade and he'd never heard of.

So on that visit back to Castlemont he talked to his math teacher and asked her why she had given him those A's without him learning something so basic.  He told me her answer was that it should have been his responsibility to find that information and learn it.

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