Feedback – A Short Story

“Are we moving again?’


“Will we have to change our name?”

“No, but we will.  I don’t want to take any chances.”

“Who found out?”

“No one.  Brian’s dad was getting suspicious though.”

“The engineer?”

“Yes.  Three weeks on geometric series seemed a bit much to him.”

“What did you say?”

“I told him that a detailed knowledge of series would be important to Brian’s future and left it at that.”

“What did you see?”

“Brian, at twenty-three, in a biology lab musing over a spreadsheet.”

“He would have got it anyway.”

“I only know what I see.”

“Is Brian why we came here?”

“No, I picked Coalville High School out of a hat.  The only criterion – at least two states from Emerytown High School.”

“Which was two states from Bellman, which was two states from Lofton, which was…”

“Yes.  We have to keep moving.”

“Will we ever stop?  Will you ever stop seeing?’

“It is not under my control.”

“Then stop teaching.”

“I can’t.  You know that.  Jacob will need to be good at fractions to make sergeant.  Little Ellen will become chief financial officer because she understands nonlinear models.  Sam will bond with his son over a quadratic equation.  Austin keeps his job because he learned to do his homework.  Sheryl will remember that one word of encouragement when she asks for a promotion.  Estelle will need to understand standard error when she is diagnosed with cancer.  Each child will need something different.  That’s what we work on.”

“I know, but if no one has found out, why do we have to move?”

“I don’t cover the state standards.  I don’t drill all the children all the time on all the material.  My grading seems arbitrary.  Who would want me teaching their children?  If a school district renewed my contract, it would be malfeasance.”

“When are we leaving?”

“After graduation.”

“Where are we going?”

“Westfield, Idaho.”

“You know already?”

“Remember Alice Sutter?  One of my first?”

“Yes.  That must have been thirty years ago.”

“Twenty-eight.  She’s forty-two now and in Westfield, Idaho.”

“You found her on the internet?”



“She has a thirteen year old daughter – a math prodigy.”

“What happens?  What did you see twenty-eight years ago?”

“Alice’s child is going to be in a precalculus class two grade levels beyond her peers.  It will not go well at first.  The other kids will seem smarter and, of course, treat her as a social outcast.  Alice, sensing her daughter’s love of mathematics, will push her to persevere despite her own  math phobia.  The girl will go to Princeton and become an important mathematician.”

“Twenty eight years ago, what did you do?”

“I showed Alice that studying mathematics can be a joy and obsession for others if not for her.  I had her write a paper on female mathematicians instead of solving radical equations.”

“Because of what you saw?”


“And that is why we are going to Idaho?”

“Yes.  I want to see if what I saw was true – if I really am making a difference.”

“I has been so hard – not knowing.  We have been through so much – so much upheaval, so much uncertainty, so much vilification.  And now we will know why?”

“I hope so.”


About jrh794

I am a sixty-five year old math instructor at Southern Oregon University. I taught at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed California for twenty-six years. Prior to that I worked as a computer programmer, carpenter and in various other jobs. I graduated from Rice University in 1967 and have a MS in Operations Research from Stanford. In the past I have hand-built a stone house and taken long solo bicycle tours. Now I ride my mountain bike and play golf for recreation.
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