Instead of calling it homework, Noureddine El Alam likes to describe the nightly assignments his students do as practicing “due diligence.” When his students pause to reflect on his choice of words, he explains that in the financial world, an investor would do their due diligence before investing in a company. There are a few giggles in the classroom at this suggestion, to which Noureddine reminds his students that “words are powerful.” Consider for instance the Department of Defense (formerly known as the Department of War) and Life Insurance (formerly known as Death Insurance). These euphemisms are more palatable to the public and potentially obfuscate the true intent. “Insurance companies were not making money because no wanted to buy death insurance. However, once the companies realized that they should substitute life, they became profitable and took off. Similarly, no one wants to be reminded of war, particularly during a time of peace.”
I first met Noureddine when I was in my late 20s and participated in an early-career teacher conference called the Klingenstein Summer Institute through Columbia University’s Teachers College. Held on the campus of the Lawrenceville School near Princeton University, KSI is an opportunity for newly-minted teachers at independent schools to come together in fellowship, learn about educational philosophies, and discuss pedagogy. Noureddine was the master teacher in my mathematics curriculum group and I found his Jaime Escalante style of teaching about teaching to be deeply engaging. I spent many hours thinking about my own teaching philosophy and with Noureddine’s guidance, found a way to rededicate my life to educating young people. After stints as department chair at both the Pacific Ridge School and Sage Hill School, Noureddine picked up and moved to Andover this year.
Noureddine is teaching a course this winter called Financial Literacy. It is a math 630 seminar course, which in the parlance of Phillips Academy is reserved for students who have exhausted the standard curriculum which starts with Algebra and terminates in Multivariable Calculus. Past seminar topics include Non-Euclidean Geometry, Complex Analysis, Real Analysis, Differential Equations, and Graph Theory, to name just a few. Unlike previous 630 courses, Noureddine set the entry point at trigonometry so as to include as many interested students as possible. This is the first time at Andover that financial literacy is being taught as a stand-alone course. Many educators across the country have drawn awareness to the need for financial education. There is even a report card available that allows you to see how your state is doing relative to others.
The course is modeled after a course he taught first at Sage Hill School and then at Pacific Ridge School. Noureddine has always felt the need to educate students about how they view money and sees teaching finance as a way to meet students where they are at, give them a real-world sense of how mathematics can apply, and help them see how consequential and important a decision like investing early can be.
The parents at Pacific Ridge latched on right away to the financial literacy course. Students quickly followed and soon Noureddine was teaching two sections or forty students and had to turn many interested students away. Designed as a full year course, Noureddine built extensive requirements and project-based components into the syllabus.