April 22nd, 2020


An interview of me from 1961

From the March 1961 Dalton Bulletin.
Dalton is a private school in New York City and I taught 7th and 8th grade science there in 1960-1961, I went there 1st through 8th grade, the high school was girls only then, now co-ed.

“The children are the tyrants, not servants of their households. They contradict their parents, gobble up dainties at the table and tyrannize over their teachers.” That could have been said by Dr. Conant, Emily Post, or a member of the PTA. But it wasn’t. It was Socrates. I was curious whether our youngest teacher, John Gintell, age twenty-two, Seventh and Eight Grade Science, found this condition to obtain at Dalton.

“I can sympathize with Socrates –and Mrs. Socrates, too, even though I seem to recall she was somewhat of a tyrant herself. Yes, children go off on tangents sometimes, but Science interests them, and they are catching the spirit of discovery. They love the atom and the space theories – you should hear the turbulence in the class when we argue about the expanding universe and the cosmic egg.”

“I’m not trying to make scientists of everybody, but I want them to understand the basic concepts and not just memorize a collection of facts. And as these children grow, they need scientific knowledge to be solid citizens – even to read intelligently.”

“Now that you’re working toward your doctorate,” I asked Mr. Gintell, “ how do you feel about pure research opposed to teaching?”

“I’m glad you asked me, because there is growing recognition of the conflict between research and teaching. In the universities, the Nobel laureates in science only want to work in the rarefied atmosphere of the graduate school, and continue their own work in the laboratory. It may even be questionable whether they do make the best teachers. Ordinary teachers are expected to make their contributions to research and publishing or risk losing their jobs. The values seem to have become confused.”

“Last year I was graduated from M.I.T., and the work I did there helps me every day in bringing science to life for my students. But now, in graduate school at Columbia, I find that we are getting away from people and into the realm of the totally abstract. It’s interesting, - Dr. Glaser, who just won the Nobel prize for Physics is switching to bio-physics, which has to do with heredity, because he wants to get back to people again.”

“Another thing that is stimulating about teaching the young ones is showing the difference of what is scientific and what is science. We were discussing astronomy, and astrology was brought up. I tried to show them that in astrology, although one may start from an invalid assumption (that the positions of the stars determine our lives), the rest of the computation is scientific. I want to teach them that ‘accuracy’ is relative. Math is accurate; and if they get a sold grounding in that department, they’ll be about to understand the difference.”

“What do your friends think about your being a teacher?” I wanted to know.

“Well my parents are delighted - they’re glad I’m going on to get my doctorate in Physics. None of my friends seem think of me as ‘something less than all of a man’ because I like children and can work with them. I was a counselor at Camp Killooleet last summer, and that was a wonderful experience. I think, too, that if more really qualified young scientists go into teaching we can make Science a part of the humanities, and scientists seem more human.”