It was ninth grade, my first year back in public school after four years of homeschooling. My parents had made special arrangements for me to attend a school where several teachers were members of our church. Naturally, they also arranged for me to take the classes they were teaching. So, Mrs. Hinkle for choir, Mr. Torbert for history, and Mr. Calloway for general science.
The science class was probably a poor placement. Other kids at my academic level were taking chemistry in ninth grade, but my mom was nervous about her record as a homeschool science teacher, and Mr. Calloway was considered one of the best science teachers in the state. But the thing he won awards for was his ability to inspire at-risk students. I wasn’t exactly at risk; a lot of the information we covered was stuff I already knew. But I did learn a thing.
So the story that sticks out the most involves an airplane. What we can agree on is that unequal air pressure on the wings keeps the plane up. In eighth grade, reading my science book at home, I learned that the air flows faster over the top of the wings. The bottom of the wing is flat, so the air flows straight across. The top of the wing is convex, so that air has to flow vertically as well as laterally, in order to conserve motion as the plane passes through. That extra distance creates a vacuum and pulls the airplane up.
Mr. Calloway got it backwards, lecturing a class of thirty mildly uninterested fourteen and fifteen year olds. He said that the air under the wing flows faster, creating a high pressure system. Either way, the pressure is lower on top of the wing, and the plane goes up, but I caught the teacher in a quibble. So I thought I’d let him know.
It didn’t go quite the way I’d thought. The teacher held his ground and just repeated himself, as if the problem was my lack of understanding. So I started to explain the difference between what he was saying, and what I understood. But there was this look in his eyes.
Fortunately, I realized pretty quick that the conversation was no longer about science. It was now about me running his class. He might have been wrong, but I was now wronger.
So I shut up, and I never did verify on which side of the wing the air flows faster. But I remember that event every time I’m in a military briefing, and some bright young Soldier takes a moment to contradict his commander.