Michael’s current tutoring subjects are listed at the left. You
can read more about
Michael’s qualifications in specific subjects below.
College awakened my interest in Economics, as any true understanding of history, my primary interest, required economic knowledge. Deep study of European, or American history for that matter, soon reveals that most of the economic arguments made by our politicians today are old ones. It also reveals that most politicians have a dreadful understanding of both economics and economic history.
Modern economics has reverted largely to what is called the "Neo-classical" model developed in the 19th century. Some of the assumptions of that model are once again subject to some pretty serious challenges, but understanding how markets work under perfect competition or in conditions of monopoly and oligopoly is incredibly useful.
Micro-economics, with its emphasis on the firm or individual product markets, is the foundation of modern business practice and is a massively studied, data-tested branch of the discipline that is defensibly a "science"--in contrast to the macro-arguments of economics. Macro theories, although well-founded in the world we know and in past experiences, are still essentially theoretical and full of knowledge under constant threat of revision.
For most students, both the unfamiliarity of the language and the typical x-and-y graph equilibrium model of the discipline rapidly get easier once an initial understanding is developed. That is to say, it gets much, much easier as one gets the basic concepts and terms down. Never fear that you cannot understand economics! And when most frustrated, perhaps recall the words of Pres. Harry
"When you want three opinions on a subject, ask two economists."
My background is very broadly-based in the humanities, as I found time to explore my interest in all the liberal arts as classically understood (except music, which I have come to love and appreciate to a far greater extent after graduating college --yes, this was one of the seven liberal arts!)
Success in English is critically important, as our ability to swiftly and accurately understand information is developed most successfully in the study of literature. And it is through stories that we best exercise and strengthen our ability to communicate- and learning how to decode, to analyze and construct stories is one of the greatest pleasures of education.
Most commonly students grow weary or baffled by the (initially) alien language and settings of much of the great literature of a past that is profoundly foreign to them. And the life-experiences that help the adult reader relate to the narratives of love, marriage, ambition, status, faith and self-knowledge in Tolstoy, Hardy, Fitzgerald or Wharton's worlds are still mostly to come for young students, as they make a way in the world & build adult lives.
Helping students look beyond the strangeness of the unfamiliar worlds depicted in these authors' works and find ways for them to understand the elemental human motives and emotions that underpin the action of these great writers' characters is a wonderful challenge, and one I enjoy. As unfamiliar as much of what they encounter in these stories is, there are always elemental human experiences that all of us can understand embedded in these works. Once students begin to identify with a given character or situation, they will find ways to let go of bafflement and let their natural curiosity emerge, their confidence in self-expression blossom, and their ability to construct arguments steadily develop. With me, they will develop the tools to express themselves well, and the confidence that they can succeed in this vital subject.
Eh bien! Foreign language study, for so long deadly dry and taught on the page rather than through the mouth and ears, is actually becoming rather fun. Most beginning Anglophone (English-speaking) students have their greatest trouble in conceptualizing grammar--what they do naturally and unconsciously in the native tongue becomes a big puzzle at first in an unfamiliar one.
The other initial difficulty with French is the pronunciation (those devilish French vowels!), and the difficulty in getting students to speak at all, as they are all too aware how incorrectly they enunciate. But we must speak away, errors and all, to progress.
The really good news today is the incredible wealth of oral material, learning tools and technology online. We can listen to French radio, in real time, to songs, news, fashion and culture--or watch video material on how to cook French cuisine, for that matter!
Despite the steady retreat of French as a language of international politics and diplomacy, it is still one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, and French art, literature and philosophy remain of vital importance in understanding the origins and core beliefs of our present-day civilization.
For all but the most advanced high school students, I am well-prepared to help them break free of their learning blocks, and get them to see a new language as a wonderful code, sometimes a game, sometimes a great tool, and one of the most pleasurable forms of knowledge we can acquire. Alors, abandonnez-vous vos peurs, renoncez-vous votre timidite', et partirons-nous en voyage dans le monde de la culture francaise et francophone! The only thing to fear is fear itself.
Grammar can seem bewildering to the neophyte student. After all, doesn't the average person speak to others and then is understood without difficulty, most of the time? What's the fuss? Why these obscure and arcane terms, like "predicate"?
Well, of course, what's on the page doesn't come to us along with the intonation, facial expressions, context and other non-verbal cues that we communicate with just as much as ( & sometimes more than! ) we do with words. Grammar is the universal code that clarifies and specifies, so that written communication can be decoded and made more precise by people of different backgrounds and dialects everywhere (although never mathematically and perfectly clear--language always retains certain ambiguities, & happily so for writers of fiction and poetry).
On an advanced level, grammar can blend into style, as the rules of parallel construction, for example, turn clunky sentences into elegant ones. Grammar as a subject was one of the original, essential seven Liberal Arts and was learned in parallel with Rhetoric: to be a great and persuasive public speaker, one learned grammar in depth, as the skilled communicator relied on patterns of speaking that persuaded and produced (at least the appearance of) logical certainty.
So, let's not sigh and grit our teeth as we approach the subject. Instead, let's find the wit and bite of words when marshaled into impeccable, elegant order and employ them with the confidence and flair of a Cicero or a Elizabeth I--or at least with comfort and clarity.
As a child I was an extraordinarily precocious reader: by 5th grade I read at a High School senior's level. By seventh grade I had reached a college level when tested for reading and was able to take the SAT & scored 710 on the verbal section of the test.
All of this early development came naturally because I was constantly reading. It is extremely difficult as an adult to find the time to follow one's interests this way. And in high school, too, there are many distractions--and many responsibilities-- if not as much as when an adult, enough to make reading a book a week nearly impossible for many students.
This does not mean we can't significantly improve our abilities. We can. With regular vocabulary building & a consistent effort to write ( and revise that writing), And development of good techniques of breaking down difficult texts and almost instantly summarizing arguments by building context, we can improve comprehension and learn to communicate more elegantly, concisely and clearly. There is no skill more universal nor more rewarding.
Success on the reading section of the SAT is, like the rest of the test, all about time management, applying techniques of breaking down the passages and eliminating answers that you know are wrong. Once you have identified and answered the easy questions, you will have a method for tackling the moderately hard questions, and then choosing between the best two or three options for questions you know you don't have time to puzzle out as if you had hours to spare.
A. GRE Verbal score: 770.
B. My first job was as a textbook editor.
C. I love language. Essay follows:
Grammar and punctuation are strong points for me now, despite some early difficulties. When I was in the middle grades (5th, 6th, 7th), somehow I heard & absorbed my teachers' critiques despite my rather high opinion of my 12-year-old self; that along with some inner voice determined to surpass expectations, impelled me to do something about those red marks on assignments. SAT "Writing" tests these fundamentals as much or more than actual writing.
I chose (without prompting) to study Latin over a three year period (during two summer Gifted programs and for one full High School year). The idea was to learn grammar thoroughly and get a good base for further Romance Language study. Not only did this work, thoroughly, but it helped me write better, though today I barely remember what "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres" means (sorry, Caesar. I'll review when I next plan to invade Gaul.) How did this come to be?
Latin, with its inflected words (words whose endings change) and casual diction (fairly flexible and initially random-appearing word order, I should specify) is a puzzle box for beginners, each word identified by its inflected grammatical function rather than position in the sequence of the sentence (or "syntax.")
Facing such a radically different language system forces students to recognize the basic structure of our own language that otherwise remains invisible to us (because we absorbed it, sponge-like, at pre-schooler age when we hadn't learned how to write more than the alphabet, if that). That making of the automatic and implicit visible to ourselves is the first step in learning not just grammar but how to write well.
Learning Latin also gives students a huge leg up with vocabulary. The PSAT & SAT (& GRE) revel in using the more uncommon words in that immense store of signifiers known as the English language (last time I checked there were at least 500,000 commonly accepted words in our language, 6 to 8 times the lexicographers' count of French words, for example). Mirabile dictu, we could say. But how else can this conscious habit of evaluating & shaping this immense language of ours be learned?
The essence of grammar and of writing is structure. We learn much or most of our language by imitation, eavesdropping on adults and in direct conversation with peers and grown-ups, and unfortunately what is said casually is usually imperfect grammatically. Context and body language and other cues make any confusion temporary and rare enough, usually; but once written down, the ambiguities and awkwardness of this un-revisable, of-the-moment speech are apparent and make us wince. But that twinge of embarrassment must be overcome. The ultimate and only way to learn how to be a better writer is to learn how to be one's own best (and merciless) editor. "Writing is revising."
Because writing is about expression AND precision; we have to return to the thoughts we just recently expressed on paper (quickly or, more often, with agonizing difficulty) and try to see those words through others' eyes. We must look not just at our meaning, but for the misunderstandings that may easily arise. We must re-order and prune, and sometimes decorate (oddly, by reduction rather than addition most of the time) our writing to make it understood. And we must strive to make our writing move steadily forward in a way that, at its best, gives the reader a subtle pleasure they usually can't quite explain.
We can't (and I don't) expect High School students to write essays that could appear in The New Yorker, created, shaped and re-edited dozens of times by professionals. But we can break down the steps that make writing work, and help instill in the student the habits of revising, re-shaping and making as lucid as we can (and must) the thoughts we struggle simply to get on the blank page.
Oddly enough, I do enjoy helping others do this (after all, I didn't have to break my head getting those first thoughts on to that intimidating blank page or computer screen, did I?). And I will do my best to dispel the pain of the effort as we go along, a pain that every writer, even the Scott Fitzgeralds & Alice Walkers & William Shakespeares of our rich language all constantly, fitfully, grudgingly, endured. And what students do learn with me they will use forever, be it blogging, texting, emailing, reading or otherwise expressing their own unique voices, in whatever manner they chose, over the long arc of life.
Just in the past 25 years, a long anticipated revolution has finally succeeded in altering introductory History curricula from the great Western rise--from Greco-Roman foundations to European predominance & the U.S. inheritance of both Western power and Western culture, to a much more inclusive, comparative approach. And as I have grown older, I have read more and more about that broader non-Western world and come to know so much more about Asia, Africa and Latin America. Wonderful books like Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs & Steel" have begun to redraw a picture of the world, free from stale, limiting cultural biases & excessively rigid 19th century theories. And this comparative approach has shed new light on the still-critical and now globalized Western inheritance.
While this makes for a harder beginning for the complete newbie to history, it also means that patterns from the past can be linked to today's very concrete issues of the economy, jobs, globalization, the spread of technology and the spread of social change (and resistance to such) that make up the news today. History matters more than ever (as we are learning, ever so painfully, from our involvement in Afghanistan).
I absolutely love showing students how old patterns from the past still form the world they are about to go out and experience. Nowadays, so many of them--vastly more than when I was an undergraduate--go out and sample that big yet ever-closer world, travelling to parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, China and Latin America during or right after college--or even before! If they haven't yet had that kind of life-changing opportunity, with patience & enthusiasm, the classroom material that can seem dry and remote in a text will come alive. When a student is given the tools to think critically about what has happened, is happening today and is likely to happen tomorrow, that student's mind is permanently broadened. I hope you will give me the opportunity to share this passion to know the grand, long story of the human experience and kindle your child's interest in the origins of all that we have been--and therefore can be.