How I Got Motivated, Educated, and Obtained Finances for College

By El Penski
Written 2009, Modified 2011

I am writing this to help parents and educators understand how to motivate young people to take education more seriously. While, as a child, I had a lot of imagination compared to my friends, I still looked to adults as role models. Most of my teachers were very diligent and seemed to like teaching, but they did not seem to be enthusiastic about the subjects they taught. Thus, I never took most teachers as role models because they seemed not to be having fun. Many teachers actually talked down various disciplines and did not transmit any excitement they had for the disciplines. On the other hand, my parents were enthusiastic readers and talked about what they read although my father had a 6th grade education and my mother had completed the 10th grade. As result, I learned that exciting things were to be read, and I loved to read, especially history. Early on, I became addicted to non-fiction books. My father was a carpenter who liked to design and build all sorts of things. I liked to design and build things. My older brother taught me to love sports and competition.

After I completed the 8th grade, my father told me I could quit school and get a job, if I wanted. I do not know if he was serious, but it made me start thinking seriously about what I was going to do with my life.

Currently, America is producing too few scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. I believe teachers, parents, professors, and citizens have to work harder at transmitting the fun and excitement of those disciplines to young people. A recent example of that belief is Professor Li-Huei Tsai who was inspired to go into scientific research by the lectures of Howard Temin.* I have encountered many such examples during my life. Scientific research can be described as solving important puzzles, unearthing nature's secrets, and playing cards with the crazy, ancient Greek Gods, all at once.

No one had gotten me interested in math although my older brother had tried. I recall in the 8th grade math class, a teacher who told us that if she caught us not doing our homework five times, we would fail. She caught me in the next five days with no home work completed. I passed anyway with a "C" grade. Nobody ever discussed college with me until the ninth grade. That year the guidance councelor told me that I might make it through college, but I had no aptitude for math. A few years later, the same person suggested that I should major in math in college.

In between, I had discovered for myself the importance of math from my reading, and once motivated, I became a math whiz.

When I was in the 9th grade I talked to my parents about college. They told me that they could not afford it so I knew I had to settle down and get good grades and win a scholarship. Until I was in college, I felt that I was trying to do something that was impossible, but I decided I would benefit from trying. I had a lot of catching up to do. My reading started shifting away from my random interests toward my school work. I appreciated that Catonsville High School was there to help me to learn, and I decided humiliating remarks by teachers, other skeptics and my many scoffing negative friends were not going to stop me. Instinctively and stubbornly, I accepted the many challenges. Parents and educators should recognize that to be a good student, a child has to rebel against most of his peers, popular media, popular culture, and in some cases against parents and some educators.

I started working summers full-time: two summers as a carpenter’s helper and two summers as a substitute for people on vacation in a big A&P bakery near the intersection Franklin Street and Franklintown Road in West Baltimore that supplied the Middle Atlantic Region. The work in the bakery was a lot of swing shift, union, late night work. I got a lot of small burns from the massive ovens. The only thing I liked about the job was the pay and coming home at sunrise when everybody else was getting ready for work. Both jobs paid well for a temporary youngster, were very strenuous, and were not much fun, but I saved every penny and learned how to run a production line and a lot of cuss words from my coworkers. By the time I started college, I had worked three summers. To this day, everything I have seen indicates that hard grunt jobs for youth are an essential part of education.

I applied to Johns Hopkins University and Franklin and Marshall Colleges, and I was offered partial tuition scholarships at both. I recall no college recruiters coming to Catonsville High School except Donald B. Partridge** from Philadelphia Textile Institute (PTI), now Philadelphia University. Mr. Partridge worked with Mr. John J. Burger, an employee of W. J. Dickey and Sons Inc. of Oella. They offered me a full tuition and fees Scholarship from the Shenandoah Valley Textile Executives Association. I accepted, and I did well.

While I was at PTI, I worked one summer at the A&P Bakery and two summers and, during the year, in the chemistry laboratories at PTI. In my senior year, I also helped with teaching in the Physics laboratory, graded papers, and had other jobs. At PTI we had the usual academic subjects, but we studied more practical subjects too. I carried an average of 22 credits per semester for four years. I was always a practical person, and I found that the practical subjects helped me with the more theoretical subject matter. I got straight "A"s in all my subjects except Business Management and Marketing. I had a problem that a lot of people have. While I tried to study those subjects, it seemed that I felt subconsciously that those subjects were worthless bunkum, and to this day, I have an inability for studying or listening to such bull. When the business crisis occurred in 2008 because thousands of business experts and managers bought trillions of dollars of worthless securities and mortgages, it confirmed to me that my problem was probably a justified reaction of my inner workings. From such observations, I believe if we are to solve mankind's major problems, many disciplines such as education, economic development, global racism, social protection, bureaucracy optimization, political processes, news dissemination, and predicting of disasters of several types need to be studied with more scientific approaches. I believe that there are basic blocks to progress in such areas that we do not understand. For example, we have to understand how evil ambitious people find ways to confuse us and divide us to gain political, military, and economic advantages.
*   Mone, G., The Persistence of Memory, Technology Review, MIT News, MIT, Cambridge, MA, May/June 2009, page M20.
** Donald B. Partridge was the President of the College from 1977 to 1984.

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