Another Reminiscence from My Ec 10 Teacher, Mary O'Keeffe

In 1977-78, I taught my first very class as a section-leader for Ec 10 (intro economics) at Harvard. There were 30 sections of Ec 10, but I taught one of the two “math sections” of that class, designed for students taking the minimum co-requisite of multivariable calculus or higher levels classes. (The other math section was taught by Larry Summers. Random chance divided which students each of us got since virtually all sections of the class met at noon M-W-F.)

Two very memorable students stand out in my head from that first class. One is now a very famous journalist, a writer and TV media pundit/personality, who shall remain nameless, because back then he was comping for the Crimson (i.e. Harvard-speak for freshmen competing to prove themselves as reporters for the student newspaper so they would be accepted as a member of their permanent staff)–this meant he spent many late nights in the Crimson offices. As a result, he was primarily memorable for frequently falling asleep in the back of my classroom, despite the noon meeting hour of the class. One day I had requested a Harvard videographer to tape my class (so I could improve my teaching) and I remember greeting this student at the door jokingly asking that–at least today–he attempt to stay awake in the class–so he would not be captured for posterity sleeping through the class. What I did not realize until seconds later was that it was “Parents Day,” a time when parents could visit and attend classes with their Harvard freshmen, and his horror-stricken parents were right behind him. Anyway, aforesaid student later made the Crimson staff, graduated, and went on to distinction in law school and journalism.

The other student who stands out in my head was the polar opposite of the aforementioned nameless student. He always arrived very bright-eyed and eager to absorb all he could of what little I had to offer at the time. He sat in the front row of the classroom, right under my nose, wearing a brightly colored jacket (my memory says it was royal blue with his name in vivid gold embroidery: Miles Kimball, but Christopher Chabris has taught me enough about the tricks that memory plays that I could be wrong. Maybe it was a red jacket with white embroidery? Anyway, it was distinctive and I can still see it in my mind’s eye today, as well as his sparkling engaged eyes.) 

I was Miles’ teacher then, but reading this last post on his blog makes me wish that I myself had had the good fortune to have a professor like him early in my own development–one who blended math so beautifully with economics as well as music. I teach public finance, not macroeconomics, but logarithms are important everywhere in economics, yet the word all too frequently makes the eyes glaze over (especially if one has been up late comping for the Crimson–or partying–or working on assignments for other classes.)

This post [“The Logarithmic Harmony of Percent Changes and Growth Rates”] from Miles’ blog is so awesome that I am tagging it to share with my students in Eco 339 Public Finance as well as my mathy students in Albany Area Math Circle and Math Prize for Girls.

[Note: Mary’s memory is good: my brother Chris had that royal blue running jacket made in Korea, where he served as a Mormon missionary. You may remember Chris from the post “Big Brother Speaks: Christian Kimball on Mitt Romney,”]