Ok, for full disclosure I teach physics but I wasn’t offended. I was more surprised. How much of what we teach is replicated “in real life?” Do I expect my physics students to solve kinematic equations or calculate the electric force between two charged particles after they leave high school? No, I don’t. I don’t think that’s the point.
Physics is about explaining the natural world. Everything around us acts and behaves in accordance of the rules of mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity, and magnetism. Students in my high school attended a program today discussing the dangers of distracted driving. During the presentation statistics were given concerning the forces involved in a crash – I hope my physics students understood the dangers more completely because they understood the underlying principles.
We all want better cell phone reception, faster internet, cheaper gasoline, better health care, etc. Don’t ALL students deserve to understand the fundamental principles that concern these issues? Isn’t gaining an understanding of fundamental principles the essence of all of the subjects we teach in school?
If it’s about needing “it” in real life:
Who needs to understand poetry?
Who needs to give speeches?
Who needs to write five paragraph essays?
Who writes research papers?
Who performs in a play?
Who needs to recite the preamble to the constitution?
Who needs to solve a quadratic equation?
I say nobody – and everyone.
Everyone needs to appreciate the arts. We should all appreciate poetry, short stories, novels, plays and music. Our lives are richer because of it.
Everyone should be able to speak in front of others and be able to express their thoughts or defend a position.
Everyone needs to be able to make their thinking available to others through writing. We should all be able to gather and organize our thoughts then present them in writing.
We should all be willing to express ourselves in front of others. We should have the self confidence necessary to play and interact with others.
We should all think about the events that shaped our nation. We should all learn how the events of the past can inform us about the world we live in today.
We should all see mathematical relationships between the factors around us.
Ok….rant over. It now occurs to me that it isn’t about what students will need “in real life.” Maybe this parent is really just concerned with grades. If a class is challenging maybe we shouldn’t take it. We justify our decision to avoid rigor because “we don’t need it in real life.” Is this another way of choosing the easiest path to good grades and better class rank?
Is the problem that as educators we do a terrible job of showing students what is exciting about our content? In the 1950’s garages were full of folks building and tinkering and learning at home. Folks seemed to understand that education and technology was the key to raising the standard of living of our nation. How did we lose that passion for learning and tinkering? Did we test it out of the kids? Has the success of science and technology bred apathy? Has the complexity of our world made understanding seem impossible?
Is any of this a real problem or do I just need to lighten up? I worry that too many students and adults are not intellectually curious. Should we only learn those things we will use every day in real life? How do we know what we need to know until we have sampled all there is to know?
What do you think? Are these valid concerns or do I just need to have a beer and watch some TV?