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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Teaching in the Public Schools Fails to Promote Scientific Literacy!

My first exposure to the formal study of physics was in high school in 1959 -- you know, back in the good ol’ days when American public education was just absolutely wonderful! My absolutely worst teacher was my physics teacher, who insisted we think of electric current as flowing from positive to negative, despite the fact that electron flow was from negative to positive. We were burdened, it seemed, with the task studying science in order to maintain a tradition that asserted what seemed to us to be a factual falsehood! Not so much confusing as bizarre, a pointless ritual!

In college, my freshman honors physics course was “taught” by a person of research repute, who filled the blackboards with equations and explained nothing. In special “recitation” sessions, physics grad students attempted to make connections among the notes we had copied in order to give the material a semblance of coherence. Those were the good ol’ days of high quality instruction and scholarship.

The Houston and Texas News of April 11, 2009 quoted Nobel Prize winning physicist Leon Lederman as saying, “We’re not doing well. Meaningless testing is a bad thing. If we want scientific literacy, then we want teachers to teach the beauty of science, the fun in it, the humor in it, and to bring examples of modern science into the classroom.”

No doubt. But are there enough physics teachers in high schools who know how to teach it this way? Are there even enough physics teachers in American colleges who know how, much less care, to teach it this way?

And what about the “meaningless testing,” the standard regurgitation, that has become a nationally recognized standard, as it were, for determining scientific knowledge acquired by high school students? Is there any wiggle room for inspired teaching to be crammed into already overcrowded high school curriculum?

To examine these issues further, see Establishing Nationally Recognized Educational Standards

Cordially
EGR