Kerry Temple ’74 | January 28, 2021
Math was a mystery, never more so than in fall 1970. Freshman calculus. Mr. Peebles was the teacher. He would execute formulae on the chalkboard — his back to us — effortlessly computing, transmuting, unpacking their numeric secrets in an elegant, clinical metamorphosis. It all seemed logical and reasonable as he performed the dance of x and y, variables and integrals. But the goods in his brain did not transfer into mine. Put chalk or pencil in my hand and the formula stared back at me with the same opacity that I encounter when looking under the hood of a car at an engine gone bad.
So it was during that first exam. I scanned the four sheets of problems and diddled long enough that my early exit would not seem abrupt. I remember walking through the large room in which four sections of first-year mathematicians — heads bowed, pencils scratching out equations — calculated on.
A few days later Mr. Peebles scolded us for our dismal performance. “This is college,” he announced, “and if you don’t shape up and get serious, you won’t make it here. In fact,” he added, “you can be certain that one in three of you will fail this course. So just look on each side of you. One of you three will not make it. Count on that.”
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