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[Phys-l] Goals for HS Science (was Physics First Revisited)

Jack Uretsky questioned whether it is appropriate to teach physics as
though every student should aspire to become a physicist.

Well I hope it's appropriate. I also hope the English teachers are
teaching the same way, the math teachers are doing the same thing, the
music teachers are doing the same, etc.

It seems to me the K-12-education goal is often viewed as simply
preparing HS graduates to be reasonably responsible citizens.
Therefore, graduates only need sufficient math or science (or whatever)
to muddle through life at a level a little higher than ignorant.

I want way more than that. I want the K-12 system to open doors for all
students to enter all professions. This is clearly not 100% possible
because there is going to be variation in student aptitude throughout
the system even if the curriculum is correct, delivered well, and the
student responds appropriately.

But why not have the goal that the _average_ HS graduate still has the
door open to pursue physics in college, or chemistry, or English, or
math, or music, etc. Should a person's career opportunities already be
greatly limited by the courses they took or didn't take in high school.
Nationwide, about 100% of HS graduates take biology, but only about 50%
take chemistry, and only about 20% take physics. Why not 100% chemistry
and 100% physics? And why can't these courses be taught at the level
that the students still have the physics-career door open to them when
they graduate from high school.

At the risk of being a crusty old-timer who is out of touch with
reality, I want to assert that this is the way I viewed my high-school
preparation. I have to admit that I graduated from high school in 1968,
and my school did have a college-prep curriculum, a business curriculum,
and a vocational curriculum. I wish it only had the college-prep.
Maybe that's unrealistic, but back to my point...

My English teachers told me I could pursue a career in writing if I
wanted to. They encouraged me to do that. My choir director told me I
could pursue a career in singing or choral education if I wanted to. My
band director said I would pursue a career in instrumental music if I
wanted to. My math teachers told me I could become a mathematician if I
wanted to. My shop teacher told me I could become a draftsman or even
an engineer. And yes, by chemistry teacher told me I could become a
chemist, and my physics teacher told me I could become a physicist.

Yes, I was a good student. But I wasn't the only good student in my
school. And I know my teachers told other students similar things (and
I know there were students who were not told these things). But here is
the major point... I clearly viewed my teachers behaving toward me as if
I were interested in a career in their field, and this is the way I
believe they taught their courses, and I greatly thank them for this.
They were wonderful teachers. I was very fortunate.

When I arrived at college I was a pretty confused individual in the
sense that I felt all careers were open to me, and I did not know which
career I wanted. We should welcome that kind of confusion.

Michael D. Edmiston, Ph.D.
Professor of Chemistry and Physics
Bluffton University
Bluffton, OH 45817