Andrew Lo: My School labelled Me 'Retarded' Until My Third Grade Teacher Changed My Life

Andrew Lo

Photo: Smith Business School via YouTUbe

How do you become one of the 100 most influential people in the world?Have a great third-grade teacher.

That’s the takeaway from Andrew Lo’s op-ed on the Freakonomics blog.

In the wake of National Teacher Appreciation Week, Lo penned an homage to his 1968 homeroom teacher at P.S. 13 in Queens, Mrs. Ficalora.

The turning point came when she appointed Lo “Class Scientist.”

“For whatever reason, Mrs. Ficalora saw something in me that caused her to give me time each day to work on simple experiments by myself, like making a galvanometer out of a lemon, a compass, and copper wire, or creating parallel and series circuits with a battery, a light bulb, and a switch….44 years later, I can still taste that thrill of discovery as I recall the details of each of those experiments.”

Lo then discusses, in terrifying detail, what school had been like prior to that moment.

“What makes this story so remarkable is that throughout my early childhood. I had ongoing learning difficulties, particularly in mathematics. I struggled to learn the multiplication table, and no matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t remember 6 times 7 or 7 times 8…In second grade, my mother received a note from my teacher informing her that I might be “retarded”—the term of art from more primitive times—and could use some extra help.”

 But by believing Lo was full of potential, Lo was able to see potential in himself.

“This is why being appointed Class Scientist was so important to me at the time. Although it was a title and function Mrs. Ficalora created out of thin air, it gave me a much-needed boost of confidence that was based on specific accomplishments, not just empty praise that even a third-grader can see through. It also spurred me to set new goals for myself each week as I tried to outdo my previous presentations to my classmates because, after all, as Class Scientist I had to produce! Despite my learning issues, I blossomed in Mrs. Ficalora’s class, and I believe this experience was the seed that eventually flowered into my current academic career.”

Lo is now one of the most important innovators in finance today.

We strongly recommend reading the whole essay, as it speaks to a number of other issues in the education debate. 

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