Elsie Begle Interview, Part 3 of 3

  • Roberts: This is David Roberts continuing the interview with Mrs. Elsie Begle. This is tape 2, side A. You were talking about Bill Chinn, and you sayhe still has quite a large amount of material related to Begle: Oh, he has a lot. I don't think he's ever thrown anything away. He taught at City College, I think, in San Francisco. But no, he was a wonderfulfriend and Ed was also lucky in the women that worked for him. He had Dorothy Brink, well Phyllis in New Haven was absolutely wonderful, but Dorothy Brink was too. She was, he hired her when wefirst came out here, and she had been an airline stewardess. She was wonderful and she's still a very good friend. She and her husband bought a house, I was a realtor for some twenty years, butthey bought a house along Southwest Hills, and then Rod retired and they decided to move to Washington state, and they don't like it, or not Washington, they moved to southern California,somebody else, and I had a note from her that they were coming back and would get in touch with me. I don't think they like southern California. Then he had a Russian woman, well, Zaga, which Idon't think she was Russian, maybe she was Hungarian. Zaga Sventitsky who was the bookkeeper and they were just the most wonderful, loyal, devoted, and John Wagner, have you heard of JohnWagner? Roberts: No, I haven't. Begle: Well, I guess he's dead now too. But Ed did hire him to help. He was in mathematics. I don't know whether he had a degree in mathematics, I thinkmaybe mathematics education. And he was a Texan. Ed brought him here to help for a couple of years, and then he went to Michigan State. But I'm pretty sure he's dead. As most everybody is. Roberts: Towards the end of his life how did Ed feel about how things were going in math education? Begle: Depressed, I think. He was disappointed that, I think too, one of the things that he was not happy about was the world of computers. He felt thatcomputers were engineering gadgets, but I think he wouldn't be happy at all with the way the world is run by computers now. Although I will say that one of the things that was mostcontroversial, he had a program in base 2. That really got the parents in Palo Alto in a total dither. I remember one father who was a friend of my brother's who lived in town, called me up andraked me over the coals. Fortunately I could defend it to some extent. But as Ed had said to me, he said the world of computers is built on a base 2 system, and that's why people should knowit. Roberts: Did Ed have to respond to complaints from parents very much? Begle: He, I think he was forbidding enough that very few people, the people he did have a hard time with were legislators at county and state level. Hedidn't have any trouble with national ones, because he had National Science Foundation behind him. But Sacramento was a nightmare because the legislators were pretty stupid mathematically. Roberts: Now, as I understand it the National Science Foundation supported much of SMSG, Begle: Right. Roberts: and that support essentially ended in the early 1970s. Begle: Let me see. We went to a meeting or went to Europe, trying to think when that was, when SMSG officially ended. Let's see he died in 1975, I think itwas perhaps 1973 or 1974. I remember it was in England. It was fun. I think Ed's strongest allies were state superintendents of mathematics. There were particularly strong ones in variousplaces. Glenadine Gibb was one, and Isabelle Rucker in Virginia was wonderful, she was the state supervisor. But as I said, I think they are dead. So it was the really the mathematicssupervisors at the state level who were helpful. But he never was really, I mean one of the reasons for coming to California is it was egalitarian. He thought New England was so Roberts: Yes, well in connection with that I wonder if you, before the tape started you told me an interesting anecdote about Ed interviewing that student,the prospective student at Yale. Begle: Oh yes, yes, yes. That put him off. See Yale has a, or had then, and I suppose have even more now, visiting committees, who would advise or recommendor reject students from their community. Now this boy was from a working class family in Bridgeport. But he was very bright. And the Yale alumni who was there was the one who said, "Tut, simplynot Yale material." And that really galled Ed. But that was pretty typical. And it was true, I think Ed ran into that at the other end from the pure mathematicians who thought that schoolmathematics was a second class citizenship. Roberts: Now some people have criticized the SMSG and the new math for concentrating too much on gifted students. Begle: For not printing what? Roberts: For concentrating too much on gifted students. Begle: Well, I think that's because the materials appeal to the gifted students. That's certainly, it was meant to be all across the boards in Ed's view. Butyou can't escape the fact that gifted students will make use of gifted materials. That was certainly true of some of the private schools in the East who latched onto it. But certainly, no, Edwas an egalitarian. It would not have. But certainly there's no point in keeping the level for the average student, then you had to be incentives to the brighter kids. Go ahead, ask me. Roberts: Well I guess I'm about at the end here. What do you think that Ed Begle would like to be remembered for? Begle: Well I think for what his goals were in mathematics education. And sure it didn't come out to what he really would have liked. But I think his goalswere, and to that extent the number of people who reached higher levels or went on. What he wanted, for instance with Jeremy Kilpatrick and Jim Wilson, was to train people who, to go out and,so I think he'd like to be remembered for that. Roberts: Well if there's nothing else you'd like to add, we'll just let this stop.