Saturday, February 07, 2009

Troubling trend in teacher training

Skeptical Teacher Matt sounds a warning about the upcoming population of prospective teachers. There's a disturbing imbalance emerging.
...the problem is a double whammy - not only are there too many people going into teaching the humanities, but there is a lack of qualified teachers for core scientific & technical subjects such as math, physics, and chemistry!
Make no mistake. English is the single most important subject taught in high school. Math comes in second place. Physics is down the list a bit. Nonetheless, I agree with Matt in the concerns that surround this impending oversupply/undersupply. The United States stands to lose its leadership role in science and technology. Meanwhile the US is a uniquely hospitable environment nurturing the growth of antiscience in all its forms: from creationism to homeopathy to all manner of psychic woo woo.

So who should we concede our leadership role to? China? India? In reality we won't need to choose. The lead will simply be taken from us. The silver lining? We'll be able to read and write about it, and chronicle and analyze the transition.

1 comment:

Tom Woosnam said...

Greetings, Dean.

Re Matt's post and this comment of his in particular:

"Many U.S. college students choose not to major in science/math because “it isn’t an easy major” or “it’s too much work” compared with other subjects. In all my years of college & graduate school, I cannot tell you how many times I heard fellow students make those sorts of comments. This reflects a fundamental problem - intellectual laziness coupled with a profound lack of work ethic. But why?"

I do not agree that it's necessarily intellectual laziness and a profound lack of work ethic. Many of these kids made very smart decisions for themselves when they saw how much work it would be to major in physics and how much money (& respect) their friends got (used to get?) when they majored in business/economics. I honestly can't think of a good argument I'd give to someone on the fence: "Major in physics so you can work twice as hard as your college friends for half the salary but know you are saving the country through your sacrifice." ???

But there's more. I have had many *excellent*, intellectually gifted, hard working students go to top colleges fully intending to major in physics only to be turned off very quickly by the arrogance of the physics dpts. Not all dpts, mind you, but many. The academic attitude is "We only want the best. We'll throw impossible problem sets at you until we weed out the intellectually weak and the remainder will be allowed to join our oh so superior talent pool."

My take is that you can divide kids into three unequal groups - call them red green and blue. The red kids will major in physics/math/engineering come hell or high water. They are teacher-proof and their passion for their subject was formed in the womb. Get out of their way.

Green is the group which for obvious reasons everyone agrees should never be scientists. They are our humanities kids for (some of?) whom there is a place in our society.

It's the blues we are really talking about in these discussions - bright, talented, motivated kids who could go into physics if the support were there. But all too often it is not. And even if it were, those kids would still bump up against what we all know - physics *is* hard because it requires an intuition that is not easily taught (if it can be taught at all) and has to be nurtured.

I don't have a solution to this problem but until I can answer the fence question I posed above I will not blame "intellectual laziness coupled with a profound lack of work ethic" on students who get far less sleep than I did at school because they work one hell of a lot harder than I did. And I worked hard.

Opposing views gladly welcomed.