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Re: [Phys-L] Economist Kern Alexander Explains the ProblemwithSchool Choice

All of which is why LAB WORK is so important. You don't get the perfect graphs, you don't necessarily get the predictions. Even 'cook book' confirm the value labs can be instructive as they seldom produce zero discrepancy results (we had plenty of 10-25% discrepancies in last week's calorimetry lab). Using such exercises to get at the limitations of experiment and/or the value of multiple trials is again instructive. This problem of TRUTH is also a good reason for using a semi-historic approach (not the full, real history--too messy and time consuming) but maybe an Aristotle to Newton to Einstein type of approach that emphasizes how scientific thought evolves with time. Spending a few minutes on Caloric Theory and its demise again shows this point. So even with 'series of facts' textbooks, science can easily be taught showing all the warts.


Richard W. Tarara
Professor of Physics
Saint Mary's College
Notre Dame, Indiana

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From: "John Clement" <>
Sent: Monday, February 04, 2013 2:20 PM
To: <>
Subject: Re: [Phys-L] Economist Kern Alexander Explains the ProblemwithSchool Choice

It has been my experience that science is taught as TRUTH. Look at the
conventional books which are used in over 90% of the classes. It just
presents science as a series of facts. Students are told Newton's laws
first. They memorize them. It starts with the teacher asking what makes
things falls. And then they tell students it is "GRAVITY". So here they
are presented with a piece of mystical magic called gravity which makes
things fall. When I left my HS job, the next teacher just taught out of a
coventional book and taught it as received truth. He didn't even know how
to use the computer based lab equipment because he asked me for the password
to the computers half way through the school year. There was no password.

PER and other research based methods have only penetrated a fraction of
schools, so most are still teaching science and math by the conventional
method. Of course science works by consensus. Once you have enough
evidence we tend to treat the models as facts, but they are only models
underpinned by facts. Students who doubt evolution because a given fossil
seems to support X and refute Y are making the mistake that you need a set
of data points to paint a full picture. Now certainly there are simple
things like did dinosaurs have skin like reptiles. A single fossil showing
a dinosaur with feathers is enough to draw a conclusion. But the fossil
record as a whole is used to support evolution. Students have gotten so
accustomed to the idea that data is perfect that they then draw erroneous
conslusions. Part of this can be laid at the doorstep of math where
students do not interact with "real" data. But part of it is the way the
books are constructed showing beautiful graphs (often erroneous) with
perfect data points. Just look at temperature vs heat in almost any chem or
physics textbook to find a badly constructed graph.

MDs are always taught by lecture and given facts because the teacher think
that any other method will not allow full coverage. I took a number of
engineering courses, and they were generally taught the same way. Also the
physics courses and math courses were taught that way. But anyone who does
research immediately begins to get the picture that science is messy, and
that the textbook picture of science is false. Very few scientists doubt
things like the big band or evolution, but I have seen a number of engineers
and MDs who reject the scientific attitude. So my conclusion that it is the
dogmatic teaching is reasonable. I suspect that part of the support of
dogmatic science teaching stems from people who see religion as black and
white, so science must also be black and white. Remember the TX Rep party
rejected the idea of teaching critical thinking because it would lead
students to question their upbringing.

I am positive that of the current crop of politicians who question science
were basically taught science by the usual black and white method. Only a
fraction of current students are seeing science in a more realistic fashion.

John M. Clement
Houston, TX

This is the only portion of JC's comments that I would take
any issue with (see below).

I believe the opposite is true... It is not that teachers
teach science as "truth"... it is that teachers teach science
(if they do at all, but that's a topic separate from this
reply) as what it is... messy and changeable. Students are
brought up to regard things as "black and white" their
religion is inalterable; politics nowadays is us or them.
So how can science be understood when it changes every time
some scientist discovers something that contradicts what was
supposedly set in stone years ago? Listen to conversations
in classrooms and on tv... "Why do you "believe" in evolution
when Dr. X just found a fossil that goes against Dr. Y's
theory?" "You scientists don't know what's true... so why
should any of it be true?"
As if "truth" is inalterable and if anything is found not to
have happened the way one scientist said it did then the
whole thing is false.

On Feb 4, 2013, at 1:10 PM, John Clement wrote:

> Part of the
> anti-science attitude stems from how schools teach science
and math as
> if it were a received TRUTH, rather than something we
designed based
> on observation and logical thought.
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