Quite independently, Clifford discusses the very same issue - physics at British schools.
2005 is the international year of physics, so let me offer you some "optimistic" news - namely news about the intellectually degenerating British society.
The number of British pupils who took physics dropped by 40 percent in the last 20 years. In the last 10 years, the number of UK physics departments dropped by 30 percent. And the situation will become even worse as the current generation of teachers will retire and be replaced by mostly female young teachers who usually don't like physics, Alexandra Blair predicts in The Times.
Female science teachers who dominate among teachers heavily prefer biology (60% of biology students are female) over physics (20% of physics students are female), the findings published by University of Buckingham also show. Also, in
- GCSE (British high school exams)
they have abandoned Newton, Einstein, the periodic table, and hard sciences in general - and replaced them with soft "sciences" such as "benefits of healthy eating and benefits of genetic engineering" which occured because one science is enough according to the new rules and the sentence "healthy eating is healthy" is apparently another science just like physics.
The modified curriculum in 1988 may be blamed for all these changes. Responsible scientists at Harvard and elsewhere must ask whether the changes being prepared for the Harvard curriculum are really going in a different direction than the disastrous British changes in 1988. Recall that the new curriculum proposed for Harvard also allows the students to avoid hard sciences altogether and pick only 3 pieces of soft stuff that has been added to the same group as "science and technology" in the proposed distributional requirements.
Most of them will probably choose the subjects Apples are healthy, Global warming is a threat, and Sexes are equal, as soon as the corresponding "scientific" courses are listed (and maybe they already are listed). ;-)
Back to Great Britain. More generally, pupils tend to study subjects that fit their aptitudes which unfortunately but not surprisingly means that they are refocusing from sciences as well as languages and geography to
such as religious indoctrination, gyms, and citizenship that require minimal talents and minimal effort. Well, soft subjects have been soaring for quite some time. It's also becoming a standard that
in your exam is enough for the A* "superman" grade. Then it can't be surprising that the grades are getting better despite a gradual collapse of the intellectual skills of the British students. If it makes you happier, it is not just physics and sciences that evaporate; foreign languages such as French and German dropped by 15 percent in one year.
This may be a beginning of another medieval, postmodern era in which people know how to act as journalists, but they have no idea what to write about; they believe that healthy eating is important, but they have no idea about the existence of cells; they believe that global warming is dangerous but they have no idea about physics of the atmosphere; they believe that the sexes don't differ in their intellectual passions at all and it is consistent with all of their knowledge of science and history because they have no idea who Einstein, Newton, Darwin, and maybe even Mozart were.
A special clarification for Rhiannon: the previous sentence does not quite argue that the very existence of the great male scientists *proves* something. But still, the existence of a certain "signal" that does not seem to disappear, even after a century of equal opportunities, indicates that the simplest and most "symmetric" theories about the intellectual passions are likely to contradict the available data. And what I wanted to say is that it is much easier to ignore this signal for someone who is ignorant about science and its history. Please treat these statements of mine rationally and as cold and unemotional statistical assertions. Happy Thanksgiving.