A physics teacher begs for his subject back

June 8, 2007 | General | By: Mark VandeWettering

It’s no secret that I believe that primary and secondary education in this country is basically abysmal, with minor pockets of competency and occasional bright flashes. We do a terrible job of educating children, particularly in mathematics and science. In my bleaker, more skeptical moments, I believe that primary and secondary schools may in fact do more to damage children than to educate them.

I’m now forty three years old, and I must admit: I have a fairly eclectic set of interests. But underlying most of my interests is a desire to actually know what’s really going on. Take for example hybrid cars. I bought my SUV back in 1998, when I was hauling more people around, and when gas was $1.20 a gallon or so. My car is beginning to show its age, and I’m thinking of replacing it. So, I ask myself, what would be the best environmental choice to replace it? The car I bought for my son is a Civic which gets 30 or so MPG. A Prius might net me 45MPG or so. My Expedition gets 15. So, what is my best, most reasonable choice?

It’s a difficult question to answer, but a quantifiable one, if one is willing to dig and think. Maybe I won’t even come up with the right answer, but the answer will at least be rational: I will have more than just my kneejerk reaction to justify it. Sadly, most people don’t ask these kinds of questions. In fact, most people don’t even understand how you might go about asking these questions.

Well, that’s a garbled, rambling introduction, but I’ll pass you off to an open letter by Wellington Grey. Apparently the UK Department of Education has revised science standards, and not for the better. Grey is a physicist, but the new standards cover biology and chemistry as well. His basic complaint is that in an effort to make students understand how science works, they have abstracted away everything that actually shows you how science works.

An open letter to the AQA board and the UK Department for Education

There is an educational philosophy which is popular in this country that says that it is important for students to have positive learning experiences. This doesn’t sound like a bad idea, but it has become one. Let’s face it, for most people, becoming educated is hard, and hard things are often not the positive experience that you might think they are, at least not every day, and not all at once. In an effort to “remain positive”, standards have been set ridiculously low. It is a mockery of education.

Education is neither hard, nor easy. It is simply necessary. If it comes easy for a child, they are fortunate, and should be challenged even more. If it is hard, we should not abandon them, but should redouble our efforts to teach them. But in both cases, the goal is to educate, not to pander. The positive outcome for all students is that they should feel confident that they have obtained a reasonable education: one that allows them to understand the world around them.

Oh well, there’s my rant of the day.

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Comment from grey
Time 6/8/2007 at 11:11 am

Thank you for linking to my site.


Comment from metamerist
Time 6/9/2007 at 4:36 pm

You’ve probably read Feynman’s experiences with textbooks and the California Curriculum Commission, but I’ll leave a link anyhow.


His commentary was insightful.

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