by Lars Peter Hansen, PhD
My brother Roger [web host for TRW] is doing considerable work in the northern region of the Navajo Nation, located near the Four Corners of the southwestern USA. He asked if could talk to students there. I decided to add such a visit to my recent travel schedule. Of course this experience was very different from many of the recent experiences that I have had with visits, talks and seminars over the last year and half. [Lars was a Nobel Laureate in Economics in 2013.]
Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to talk to students in three grade schools: Adams Elementary School in Logan, Utah, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, and most recently Montezuma Creek Elementary School. I enjoyed very much all three visits, but each one had a different character. I appreciated the principal at Adams Elementary School who reached out to me, and I was particularly impressed by his commitment to the school.
The teachers at Adams Elementary School and the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools had talked to their students in advance of my visit, and encouraged their students to think of interesting questions in preparation for the visit. What impressed me about the teachers at Montezuma Creek Elementary School is their commitment to helping their students start thinking about their longer-term future. One of the teachers specifically asked me to talk about the advantages that I saw to getting education beyond high school.
Both teachers at Montezuma Creek Elementary were happy to pitch in during my presentation by providing ways I could better communicate with their students. My talk was about uncertainty and the challenges it poses in decision-making. I had help and advice from Amy Boonstra, the Managing Director of Programs and Outreach at the Becker-Friedman Institute. Given the material that I presented, examples are essential, and the teachers added some that were very helpful to their students. Overall, the elementary students were very upbeat and energetic, and the two teachers were very engaged.
I also talked to some mathematics classes at Whitehorse High School in Montezuma Creek. Here I felt I was less effective in my messaging. This was my first time talking to high school students in many years. I remember one Navajo student stayed a bit after class and asked two questions. One was about how long it took to complete my research that led to my award [Nobel Prize]. Then she asked me an additional question and prefaced it with “please do not take this the wrong way, but why did you chose to come talk to us?” This question got me thinking afterwards. It was clearly asked by a student who was both paying attention and thinking independently. Overall, my experience at Whitehorse left me with an even greater appreciation for high school teachers who are truly successful in having an impact on their students and broadening their horizons.
Note: for background on Lars’ visit to Navajo schools click here.