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Professors Lack Drive to Teach Well

Regarding the editorial "Teaching by the Rules" [Sept. 12]: It was the same way at the California Institute of Technology 40 years ago. Each professor taught as if he were the only one on campus. Although the professors were excellent engineers and scientists, most had no teaching ability at all.

Two exceptions were Richard P. Feynman '39 and Linus Pauling. But I would venture to say that, in spite of their outstanding classroom ability, even those two never spent a minute studying or even thinking about teaching technique.

Grade school and high school teachers have to go to college to learn how to teach. But anyone with a doctorate can teach at Caltech or MIT or any other school of higher learning. The result is that college students are overloaded and subjected to a disorganized hodgepodge of information thrown at them by rambling professors.

I remember one incident in graduate school at Caltech. The course was in tensor analysis. It was scheduled to be taught in the mechanical engineering building. The professor was in the aeronautics department. Eight or 10 mechanical engineering students assembled in the mechanical engineering room the first day, and the professor didn't show up. Ten minutes into the hour, an aeronautics student came into the room and told us that the class was being held in the aeronautics building.

The professor didn't stop talking as the mechanical engineering students walked in and sat down at the back of the room. Finally, one mechanical engineering student raised his hand. The professor turned around slowly and said, "Yes?"

"Sir, why are we here?" asked the mechanical engineering student.

The professor replied, "Take that up with the philosophy department."

There was no philosophy department.

Chuck Bodeen

Caltech '56