Ph.D., Scientist, Teacher, Author, and Entrepreneur: Dr. Michael Finnegan
I meet with the convivial Michael Finnegan, Ph.D., Scientist, Teacher, Author, and Entrepreneur and throw him the ice-breaker, “Can gratitude prepare you for the future?” To which he jovially replies, “Yes it can.”
We exchange some ideas about gratitude and mutually agree that gratitude is a shift in perspective that considers a bigger picture, which leads me to ask him why he co-founded www.quantumcamp.com with Ryan Nurmela.
M: The school was started out of some responses I had to previous jobs in teaching where I saw what was going on with the children and the lack of teaching. I had this new job in a pretty rough public school in West Oakland. I saw all the things that pundits say is wrong with education in America. It was no longer an abstract idea. I was in the classroom.
V: I know you have a unique philosophy, which is the DNA of Quantum Camp, a school that teaches advanced concepts to people you wouldn’t expect to receive those concepts – children!
M. The foundational idea is all grand ideas that define science and math today, that define society, at some point were not known. There’s a moment where an idea was discovered and entered into the consciousness of humanity.
The pedagogy or teaching practice of Quantum Camp asks, “what were the series of events that led up to that discovery?” Usually the answer is decades or centuries of experiments, with their failures and successes. We have the children/students redo those experiments. Lo and behold, in the final few days of any course what dawns on them are these grand ideas which they rediscover and now own for themselves. They can sort of go forth with this quiet confidence.
V. Do you find that children’s ability to critically think becomes awakened after taking your courses?
M. Most students are trained to say, “Is this the right answer? Am I doing this right?” The teachers at Quantum Camp will respond, “You tell me. Your data probably has the right answers. Look at your data.” When you force them to look at their own work, that’s when critical thinking starts to happen. They are not looking for the answers elsewhere, from a teacher or smart person or authority that somehow magically knows.
V. You’ve been in the workforce for long time: you know that thinking critically is not a skill a lot of people have. I think that’s really affected our society, our nation. There seems to be a connection between education and the national well-being.
M. Yes. The greatest source of wealth, if you want to relate it to economics, is human capital. If you want to improve the economy of any society, you invest in your people.