Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Britain: secondary school physics replaced by stupidity

Wellington Grey, a teacher of physics, wants his subject back. According to a new curriculum, teenagers are learning something very different than the quantitative and precise science that physics used to be. The new subject has four main parts:
  1. The Vague
  2. The Stupid
  3. The Political
  4. The Non-Scientific

In the vague segment of the new "physics", teachers are only instructed to "discuss advantages and disadvantages of everything" but it is not specified what kind of advantages and disadvantages they mean. Suddenly, an exam question asks why blacks have a lower risk of skin cancer from getting a suntan. It is very unlikely that according to the vague prescriptions, the teacher would teach the kids what they need to answer this question.

In the stupid part of the exam, we see many questions like the following:

  • Why would radio stations broadcast digital signals rather than analogue signals?

You can check whether you would pass the exam. The correct answer is

  • Can be processed by computer / ipod.

It is important that it is an ipod and not a Zune, for example :-), and that you spell it with a lowercase "p". How many people got the right answer?

Another exam question contains a page from newspapers that says "children under the age of nine shouldn't use cell phones". The question is: "Below which age it is recommended for children not to use cell phones?" :-) No, it is not a reading comprehension question from a primary school English lesson. It is a "physics" question at the secondary school.

In the political part of "physics", teenagers are asked zillions of political questions such as "Why must we develop renewable energy sources?" It's obvious that these questions have no place in physics exams.

Moreover, children are led to constantly find holes in scientific experiments but they never learn how to guarantee and figure out that an experiment is reliable or at least as reliable as possible. It's been already demonstrated that this kind of education transforms scientifically minded individuals to those who say: "It's not possible to know anything, so why bother?" Distrust of scientific evidence combined with debates where style and presentation is what matters will lead society astray, Grey argues.

The non-scientific portion of the new "physics" exam confirms that children are only taught how to read newspapers, not science itself. I personally find the last question of the January exam extraordinarily silly. Here it is:

Electricity can also be generated using renewable energy sources. Look at this information from a newspaper report.
  • The energy from burning bio-fuels, such as woodchip and straw, can be used to generate electricity.
  • Plants for bio-fuels use up carbon dioxide as they grow.
  • Farmers get grants to grow plants for bio-fuels.
  • Electricity generated from bio-fuels can be sold at a higher price than electricity generated from burning fossil fuels.
  • Growing plants for bio-fuels offers new opportunities for rural communities.

Suggest why, apart from the declining reserves of fossil fuels, power companies should use more bio-fuels and less fossil fuels to generate electricity.

What is the correct answer? You must answer: adds no net CO2 to the environment, increases profit of power companies, gives chance to grow a new kind of crop, more jobs.

The answer is not in the specifications and can't be deduced from the material given them to study. More importantly, physics wasn't a superficial subject about profits of power companies or jobs in a rural community. Wellington Grey discourages people from becoming a physics teacher unless they want to watch their favorite subject dismantled.

Grey suggests that because rigors of physics have been torn down and replaced with impotent science media studies, he may also want to quit.

The children are led to trust the newspapers and not solid knowledge or the scientific method which is very unfortunate because most journalists these days have already been miseducated in a similar way. Tony Blair has just figured out that journalists are "feral beasts". Breathtakingly stupid and aggressive articles in the newspapers about global warming or uncritical celebrations of crackpots in physics, attacking serious science, are just two among many manifestations of this phenomenon.


Civitas, The Institute for the Study of Civil Society, has published a booklet that also says that the British state school curriculum has been corrupted by political interference. The traditional subject areas have been hijacked to promote fashionable causes such as gender awareness, the environment and anti-racism, while teachers are expected to help to achieve the government's social goals instead of imparting a body of academic knowledge to their students.

Media studies

They explain that all subjects have been affected. In literature, great poets are omitted while third class poets are included according to a political key. Civitas also confirm Grey's statement that the new subject "scientific literacy" is not really about chemistry, physics, and biology but rather about media studies. The children are expected to discuss AGW, GM crops, and whether scientists should be trusted. I have no idea how they can decide whether scientists should be trusted if the children learn no science.

Belief in science, languages, fractions

It's been shown by three studies that the children exposed to this "education" are less likely to trust science or do it. Others talk about a "terrifying absence of proper science". Languages are not taught properly either. Fractions in mathematics are divided to tiny segments in many years and the only thing children remember from the previous segments is that they didn't understand fractions.

History without dates

The new history has no chronology and dates. Children jump from Vikings to Victorians and they don't have to learn about any specific event. British history is particularly affected because its shining moments are not viewed as politically correct.

New geography

Geography becomes a tool to brainwash children about global citizenship, with environmentalism as its main idea. Instead of knowledge and tools to decide for themselves, children are being filled with a new kind of environmental moral codex that the whole world must share.

To stop this scary deterioration, Civitas recommends to
  • depoliticize education: politicians shouldn't view education as a place to make political statements
  • restore the status of knowledge & expose the destructiveness of anti-elitist education
  • accept the ability of children to engage with knowledge and give them a challenging educational environment

Looking at the specifications

When I look at this official document, it seems even worse than I expected. On pages 21-22 out of 85, the content of biology, chemistry, and physics is described. "Biology" has 8 parts:

  • how humans respond to changes; staying healthy; abusing drugs; avoiding infectious diseases; where species live; genetical engineering; extinction; man's impact on environment.

You can see that all of them are the kind of soft topics found in the newspapers, usually related to the environmentalist ideology, but there is no real science in it. By real biology at this level, I mean evolution of life, classification of plants and animals, structure of cells, elementary processes of life, transport of energy in the body, basics of genetics, and a few others.

"Chemistry" is perhaps even worse:

  • how we use rocks to build; metals from rocks; fuels from oil; ethanol from oil; using oil; changes of Earth's atmosphere

Whoops. By science here, I would mean elements of the periodic table, oxidation numbers, inorganic and organic compounds, basic chemical processes, biochemistry. What is sketched above is some ludicrous parody - find six stupid newspaper articles that could be argued to have something remotely in common with chemistry. You end up with oil everywhere.

"Physics" has seven parts and it is almost exclusively about energy production and health, economic & environmental impact of technology:

  • heat transfer; efficient use of energy; electrical devices are useful; how to generate electricity; hazard and use of EM waves; risk and use of radioactivity; origins of Universe

Compare with real physics: mechanics of particles, astronomy, fluid mechanics, forces, gases, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, circuits, voltage, mechanisms inside basic engines and gadgets, sketches of modern physics - quantum physics and relativity. The list above has almost nothing to do with what I mean by physics. It's a stupid list created by vicious imbeciles who want to create many more small imbeciles by osmosis.

And that's the memo.

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