Creators of Environment Essay

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Creators of Environment Author(s): Myron A. Coler Reviewed work(s): Source: Leonardo, Vol. 20, No. 4, 20th Anniversary Special Issue: Art of the Future: The Future of Art (1987), pp. 309-313 Published by: The MIT Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 21/02/2013 22:54
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Myron A. Coler
Abstract-The author'soriginal 1959 essay examines the effects of environmenton the learning process. The importantrole of teachers in encouragingself-motivationin studentsis stressed, as is the need for an integratedcurriculumwhich avoids duplicationof material from one course to another. A society that providesits childrenoptimumlearningconditionsfrom an early age will reap significant benefits as the talents of its members will be most fully developed. In a 1986 postscript the author reevaluates his original points in light of experience gained in the interveningyears.

As an undergraduate at Columbia I had occasion to tutor a classmate under most unusual circumstances. We were friends and there were no financial considerations involved so that the more formal and orthodox approaches could be disregarded and personal "leveling" was possible. Frankly, I was as much motivated by curiosity as the desire to help a friend. The young man was a sophomore who, despite the fact that he had flunked elementary high-school algebra, had been awarded a four-year scholarship pointed towards journalism, with the understanding that he was to remove the condition by taking the subject over in University Extension at night. At the time we met he had managed to fail algebra twice more in University Extension and was well on the way to failing for the third time. It is an understatement to say that he was concerned about the future of his scholarship. My curiosity was first aroused by the fact that a person of such general competence and promise should be having all this trouble with so elementary a subject. Curiosity was compounded by the fact that the usual explanations and alibis encountered by a tutor were completely absent. He was a calm and conscientious person. He did not take refuge in panic reactions-there was no terror of "freezing" on an exam. He did not seek to obscure the situation with criticisms of his teacher, textbooks, and the general subject. Nor did he seem to feel it incumbent upon him to call
Myron A. Coler (inventor, industrialist, educator), 1 Washington Square Village, New York, NY 10012, U.S.A. "Creatorsof Environment"was originally published in Teaching and Learning (1959). Reprinted by permission of the Ethical Culture Schools of New York City.

attention to his many other manifest abilities. However, his resistance to algebra was truly remarkable. By way of example, after painfully establishing that
= X2 + 2xy + y2, he greeted the (x + y)2

problem of expanding (a + b)2 as an unrelated phenomenon. Standard tutoring techniques and devices were impotent. My pride as a tutor was hurt. I could not believe that I could have gauged a man so poorly in this area. So I decided to try something quite different. At the time I happened to be reading Eric Temple Bell's Men of Mathematics-a highly interesting collection of