Sunday, June 5, 2011

Placing out

I'll never forget my first exposure to Jerry. It was orientation week in 1984, and a number of us were in the Concourse lounge debating whether to place out of first semester calculus and physics. Some people had taken AP classes in high school and had scored high enough on the AP exams to take credit for first semester classes. Jerry, and other Concourse advisors, insisted that we not place out of these classes because nearly EVERYTHING we were going to learn at M.I.T. had foundations in these subjects. It was imperative that we have solid understanding of calculus and physics. 

Jerry pointed out that there were two possibilities. The first was we already knew everything in these subjects and these classes would be easy for us. "Lord knows," he said. "You could stand to have some easy classes your first year at M.I.T." The second was that we DIDN'T know everything, and it would therefore be a very good thing that we took the classes to get that solid foundation.

One girl was not to be dissuaded. She was adamant about skipping the classes.

"Why do you want to place out of them?" Jerry asked.

"Because then maybe I could get started on my other classes and then graduate early and save my parents some money," the girl replied.

Jerry leaned back in his chair with a contemplative expression on his face. "Think of your parents," he responded as he took a long drag on his cigarette. "As a natural resource, to be used to the fullest extent possible."

I elected not to place out of those subjects.

--Joel Simansky

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