Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Helicopter Parent at 30,000 Feet

According to the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, the world record for helicopter altitude is 12,442 meters (approximately 40,820 feet) set by Jean Boulet in AĆ©rodrome d'Istres, France on June 21, 2002. Boulet used a SA 315 Lama helicopter to set the record. The SA 315 is a specialized helicopter designed to fly at high altitudes - most helicopters max out below 20,000 feet.

What do helicopters have to do with parents? Helicopter parents are a little different and don't seem to be affected much by altitude. They're defined by many as parents who constantly hover over their children, stepping in whenever there is a problem at school or sports, music, etc. Speaking from experience - the ability to be constantly connected with our children (computers, cell phones, text messaging, email, etc) has made it extremely tempting for us parents to "hover" and our children to (perhaps) overly rely and depend on us parents.

What does 30,000 feet have to do with all this? A couple of weeks ago on a flight I sat next to an interesting guy right around my age. He had a Tablet PC, a scientific calculator and what looked like photocopied pages from a textbook. Being the nosey person I am I would steal a peek at his screen every once in a while as he flipped through the photocopied pages, wrote and erased equations on the Tablet PC and punched away on the calculator. I figured he was kind of old to be taking a course and thought he might be a teacher or professor. Then I realized he was erasing way too much to be faculty and seemed to be pretty frustrated with operating the calculator. His penmanship was beautiful - another tip he was likely not faculty or a student! :)

What did I do? Being curious - I saw my opening and made my move when I recognized the Snell's Law equation on the Tablet PC. Breaking the ice, I asked him if he was taking a course and was amazed at his response. He told me he was an "extremely successful" architect and he was helping his son out by doing his college physics homework. The kid was an undergraduate at a well know university, majoring in pre-med. He told me physics was a "useless" course that his son was required to take for his major. He also told me the kid needed to get a good grade in the class to get into medical school. Much of the work was homework/take-home type assignments and, again (he kept saying it), he was "just helping his kid out".

What exactly was he doing? He was hand writing the solutions on the Tablet PC using the electronic ink feature in Word. Saving the hand written assignments as Word documents, he would email them to his son who would then rewrite (he claimed) the assignments and pass them in to his professor.

He did not ask what kind of work I do and I did not offer. I did tell him I thought that what he was doing was cheating, not fair to the other students in the class, etc. He could not have cared less about my opinion.

How was he doing? I could see that all three of the problems he had completed were wrong - his answers made no sense. From what I could tell (those calculator symbols are small when you are trying to sneak a peek) he had the calculator in radian mode when it should have been in degree mode. I could see his blood pressure rising as he struggled with the calculator.

I did not say a word but would have loved to see the look on his face when Dad got his grade for that assignment back.


Mark Viquesney said...

My uncle was a medical doctor - who also had doctorates in physics, chemistry, and, obviously, as a medical doctor. He told me that physics really helped him out as a medical doctor. There is usually a purpose to every required course. The son will never learn that purpose, and he will never be a great doctor. Were you itching to say something about him doing the problems wrong - but not telling him what it was?

Gordon... said...

It's probably the teacher in me - I almost grabbed the calculator from him but held back!

Anonymous said...

My husband is a doctor. His undergrad is in physics. Strangely enough, I remember my mom doing my brother's special projects in elementary school. She never once did anything for me. I was a very motivated, nerdy student, while my brother was off in the clouds. He dropped out of college. I ended up with two masters degress.

Anonymous said...

Simply said - I hope I don't ever get this M.D. as my doctor in the future. Any advanced professional who doesn't understand basic physics is in trouble. These people end up being the ones who want Creationism taught in our public schools because they can't grasp basic science.

Onymous said...

That's quite a leap from 'grasping basic physics' to 'wanting Creationism to be taught in our public schools', don't you think? I have spent fourteen years as a college professor and have had to deal with helicopter parents and other such disturbing issues, and I have yet to find a situation where a student's learning was really 'helped' by a helicopter parent, not to mention that FERPA has also complicated matters. But for an educated person like ANONYMOUS to make such stereotypes is in poor taste, and it does nothing to further this exchange of information/ideas.

Jean-Marie said...

This helicopter thing may be touted as a new phenomenon, but my dad tells me the story of when he had to take a correspondence course in electrical engineering. This must have been in '54 or '55, and my grandmother actually did the work for him.

I'm not sure what this says. My dad went on to get his PhD and then an M.D. He was a great doctor, and he certainly never did any of my homework for me, but it always made me think more highly of my grandmother. She was a single mother who basically figured out electrical engineering material with no college degree at all!