Engines of Our Ingenuity

No. 2513
OUR TEACHERS

by Andrew Boyd

Today, remembering our teachers. The University of Houston’s College of Engineering presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.

I recently travelled to Ohio and the school where I completed my undergraduate studies. It was a special trip. I was visiting … a teacher.

Not just any teacher, but a professor who’d had a huge impact on my life. He introduced me to my chosen profession, encouraged me to go to graduate school, and I couldn’t be happier. The visit was a way to say “thank you.”

photograph of teachers eating cake with balloons tied to their chair

The influence teachers have on us is amazing when you stop to think about it. The elementary school teachers who praise our young answers. The high school teachers who somehow manage to look past our adolescence and inspire us. When I was taught basic logic in middle school, the teacher told me it would be one of the most important things I’d ever learn. I wasn’t sure at the time, but now I am. I’m sorry he’s not still around so I can tell him.

teacher helping a student

Good teachers aren’t always the most likable. In college, I was introduced to economics by a professor whose name was spelled “P,” “i,” “r,” “o,” “n.” On the first day of class, he pushed the lectern three feet deep into front row of chairs. People scrambled to get out of the way. “The name’s Bob Puron,” he said. “Not Piron. Puron. Like in piranha.” I remained on the edge of my seat for the entire semester. And the course opened my mind. Not just to economics, but to abstraction and rational argument. In that class, and in my four years as an undergraduate, I was transformed. In high school I learned facts; in college, I learned how to think.

And that’s the beauty of a good education. Facts are important. What’s the capital of Texas. What’s three times seven. But just as important are the whys. Why did Voltaire write what he did? Why do democrats and republicans see the world so differently? Our nation's founders counted on an educated population. That’s why we have public schools. But critical, rational thought is far more than a civic duty — it makes us better people.

And it all starts with teachers. The most important are parents. Children learn from our every action. It’s quite a responsibility.

image of teacher writing on the chalkboard

But after our parents come our school teachers — especially those who touched us in some special way. Teaching can be fun, but any teacher will tell you it’s also a lot of work. And they didn’t choose the profession to get rich — at least, not monetarily. Their riches spring from the lives they’ve influenced — the creative minds they’ve nurtured. I look back fondly at the many teachers who’ve helped shape who I am. I hope you do, too. And don’t be afraid to go back and tell them, “thank you.”

I’m Andy Boyd at the University of Houston, where we’re interested in the way inventive minds work.

(Theme music)


The picture Celebrating a teacher is by E. A. Boyd. Pictured are Professor Samuel Goldberg of Oberlin College and former students Imelda Powers and Lesley Kromer. The pictures Helping a student and Golf great Phil Michelson are from the web site of the U. S. Department of Education, http://www.ed.gov/index.jhtml. The picture of the teacher at the blackboard is from Wikimedia Commons.

picture Golf great Phil Michelson teaching a young golfer



The Engines of Our Ingenuity is Copyright © 1988-2009 by John H. Lienhard.