How I Teach Calculus: A Comedy (Income Inequality)

This lesson got touchy real fast:

However, discussion of the video led to some really great and even-tempered questions.

Getting to those questions is the art of teaching. Most people view teaching as either robotic or soap-boxian. It’s neither. Teaching is presenting someone a stem and asking them to believe that their mind has equal value to others’, which means that their questions are worth investigating, reporting, and clearing up.

This could have easily become a rant about how selfish rich people are, or how lazy poor people are. Students will only go there if the culture in your classroom assumes that entertainment and suffering through seat time is the soup of the day.

I refuse that.

When a student said, in no uncertain words, that poor people just don’t want jobs; that’s a question in wolf’s clothing.

When another student said that, if he’s being honest, he’d love to be in the 1%. That’s another question worth investigating.

Here’s the list of ways my students will be engaging mathematically into the disaster that is income inequality:

  • What do rich people spend their money on? Poor people?
  • What is a mathematical definition of a “fair” economy?
  • What is the average of the income distribution? (integral)
  • How does income level impact the way people buy necessities? (food, rent, nerf guns, etc…)
  • Is there a function that describes the relationship between income and age?
  • Do some people deserve to live in poverty? Is this “deserving” a mathematical quantity to be determined for any one person?
  • Is there any research that shows that socialism really has motivation problems?
  • etc…

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