• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: “Hello!”

The "public good" and creating a course.

February 11, 2016

I am finding my sabbatical leave to be both exhilarating and isolating, as reflected in my label “hello from the other side” on e-mails I send to my colleagues.

In my efforts to help write a second edition to a textbook on the economics of nonprofit organizations, I am spending a lot of time writing about the idea of a “public good.” Often produced by governments (as in the case of national defense), such goods, which more than one person can consume at the same time and which others cannot be excluded from, are sometimes produced by nonprofit organizations.

As I progressed in writing, I realized that I needed to learn more about game theory, as funding of nonprofit organizations can be thought of using game theoretic methods. Since no stand-alone course in Game Theory was offered to me during my years as an economics student (we did learn some in other courses, but not as a unified set of theories,) I realized I needed to take a detour from writing to learn more about the topic.

My initial attempt to find articles and text books on the subject left me feeling that I was missing something, and would need to know more before I could intelligently speak in the language of game theory. Surfing the web, I found a site that offered videotaped lectures of a class on game theory that had been recorded at Yale in 2007. I have since learned that the professor in the videos is now the Provost at that university, which does not surprise me, as he was an excellent teacher. Knowing that just watching a few videos would not solve my problem, I sat down with paper (the unused side of first drafts of revised chapters) and a pencil and began to “take” the course. It did not escape me that my attempt to talk about public goods was being facilitated by the professor, Professor Ben Polak, who, in recording his lectures, had himself created a “public good” for all the world’s benefit.

My enjoyment in viewing the course in game theory had me wondering, for a moment, if I should do something similar for my Statistics or Calculus courses. Recalling that I gave up my “appropriate” professor uniform when my daughter came home and made almost daily dry cleaning too expensive, I immediately rejected that idea. That was, until I was approached by the Accelerated Nursing program that wants to create hybrid courses for their students; would I be willing to videotape my statistics course and create a hybrid using the videos? It will have to be with me wearing kakis and sweaters, but I agreed to take on the challenge. I doubt, however, that they will get posted on the web.

As I thought of this project, I realized that this might not be the first time I create a “public good” for the world to share, for I feel that efforts in raising children also meet that criteria. As I see my daughter grow up, I am often struck by the amazing person she is growing into, am humbled that I have been part of that process, and find that each day I am more amazed. I see her interact with younger cousins, and realize that nurturing comes naturally to her. I see her gain independence and maturity in her work and her interactions with her friends. I laugh with her about our private jokes, and struggle to solve fun “brain teaser” problems that she brings home from school. I see her make almost impossible baskets as she helps her team win basketball games. And I watch as she participates in purchasing gifts for less well-off families at Christmas and helps pack food baskets for a hunger center. No, the world may not learn a lot of statistics should I post my videos, but I am leaving the world something much more valuable.

Once, years ago, someone asked me to describe what future I saw for my daughter. Even in the midst of teenage angst, my answer then is the same now as it was then. As I said of the little girl with a head filled with curls, I see her as “a blessing for the world.”


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