Real-World Physics and Objectively Pro-Injustice "News"

Over at Quantum Progress there was a recent series of guest posts about a social-justice-in-physics curriculum used by high school teacher Moses Rifkin. I sort of glanced at it, said "Huh, that's sort of interesting," and moved on, but this got picked up by some right-wing sites, and exploded. To the point where the awful people on Fox's awful morning show did a segment hating on it.

The angle of attack is, of course, that this is wasting time that ought to be spent on teaching physics. And, you know, I applaud Fox News's sudden concern for the teaching of physics-- if they'd like to have me on to explain quantum mechanics to their audience, with or without Emmy, I'd be happy to do that. Call me, guys.

But really, this is a stupid complaint. If you were talking about a college class, then maybe-- I'm not likely to adopt this because in a good term, I might see a particular group of students 30 times (40 if it's a class where I also do the labs). Spending six classes on social justice would be 20% of my curriculum, and I can't afford that-- I don't get to spend six classes on conservation of energy. But in a high school class that meets something like 150 times over the course of a school year, that's just 4% of the class. I would bet money that most high-school classes fritter away more than 4% of their time on stuff that's vastly less useful.

And if you actually read what Rifkin wrote, rather than simply flipping out after reading the phrase "social justice," this isn't a wasted set of hippie-dippy classes where folks just share feelings. He's got them doing Internet research, reading and analyzing articles, and parsing statistics. You know, doing science. Which is the real point of science classes, or ought to be.

Most important, of course, is that this is teaching students about how the world really works, and how science is done in the real world. Which isn't just shiny happy fun times playing with lasers; maybe it kind of sucks to have to learn that, but, you know, life is tough. Get a helmet.

So, you know, good for Moses Rifkin, and good for his students. And the counter on the big "Hours since last stupid and awful segment" sign at Fox gets flipped back to zero.

(What would be awesome is for one of the MSNBC shows to have Rifkin on to talk about his work. If I had the power to affect their booking, though, I would be a regular guest. So I'll settle for giving him what positive promotion I can here...)

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Unless they use decimal places, or suffer lengthy power failure, that sign is always at zero.

By William Hendrixson (not verified) on 19 Feb 2015 #permalink

You notice I said "Hours" not "Days"... But yes, I think they use fractions.

So is it OK for high school instructors generally to teach their off-topic political opinions in their natural science classes (blended in with some science content, which could easily be done by anybody with any sort of opinions). Or is it just OK for the people you agree with?

How is this different than indoctrination?

Do you have no concept of professionalism at all?

Do you make random remarks about your political opinions in your own classes?

Do you sneer at political figures you disagree with as many instructors do?

At the end of the Fox segment, Katherine Timpf says, "How about teaching them physics in physics class, because you do need that, too, especially to go on to college."

But is that even true? In high school, depending on the district, you're required to take some number of years of science. So there are going to be a lot of kids taking high school physics simply because they're required to. In college, however, most students aren't going to study physics, or even go into a STEM field.

If you're not going to study science, how useful is it to know the physics of pulling a block across an incline plane? How much more useful is it, instead, to learn about what physics is, how physics is done, and how physicists think? And in that vein, it seems perfectly fitting that students be taught about some of the societal issues surrounding physics/science in America, because the calculus-free physics equations they're being spoon fed aren't going to do them a lick of good in their Communications degree.

By Ori Vandewalle (not verified) on 19 Feb 2015 #permalink

For what it's worth, the guy teaches at a private school. (I doubt he could get away with this curriculum in a public one.)

By Matt McIrvin (not verified) on 19 Feb 2015 #permalink

"as many instructors do"

Assertion with no supporting evidence. Worthless.

And, Hank, I get the feeling you made your comment without bothering to learn what was being discussed, just like the folks at fox. Is that true?

I sneer at clueless talking heads who have no idea at all about the challenges of succeeding in a challenging field like science or engineering when you face prejudices based on race, ethnic origin, or big blond hair.

Seriously, I wonder just how comfortable Elisabeth Hasselbeck would be walking into a physics classroom for a few weeks at the start of the semester, wondering what students will think about whether she belongs and if they will let her join a study group. As comfortable as a man of the same age who decided to train for a new career? Could that reduce her chance of success or increase her odds of giving up?

By CCPhysicist (not verified) on 26 Feb 2015 #permalink