Monday, June 25, 2007

Physics or Social Justice

Almost a year ago I ran a piece entitled Math or Social Justice. That post described the trials and tribulations of someone holding un-PC views in becoming a math teacher.

Recently I ran across a post from a UK physics teacher. His open letter shows what happens when the PC-mindset invades the physics curriculum. The entire post is well worth the read, but here is sample:
The Non-scientific:
Lastly, I present the final question on the January physics exam in its entirety:

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.

The only marks that a pupil can get are for saying:
  • Overall add no carbon dioxide to the environment
  • Power companies make more profit
  • Opportunity to grow new type of crop (growing plants in swamps)
  • More Jobs
None of this material is in the specification, nor can a pupil reliably deduce the answers from the given information. Physics isn’t a pedestrian subject about power companies and increasing their profits, or jobs in a rural community, it’s is about far grander and broader ideas.

My pupils complained that the exam did not test the material they were given to study, and they are largely correct. The information tested was not in the specification given to the teachers, nor in the approved resources suggested by the AQA board. When I asked AQA about the issues with their exam they told me to write a letter of complaint, and this I have done. But, rather than mail it to AQA to sit ignored on a desk, I am making it public in the hope that more attention can be brought to this problem.

At the high school level, science classes should lay a strong foundation so that the future student will be able to reason and research topics of importance. The Social Justice curriculum is much less concerned with laying a strong foundation in science then it is in co-opting the classroom discussion so that students come to the “right” conclusions NOW. In the case above, the process was so poorly thought out that the real agenda became obvious, but that may not always be the case. Educators should be wary of the intrusion of politics disguised as science (or religion disguised as science) into the classroom.


Grey said...

Thank you for linking to my site.


Darren said...

I've written much on this topic, specifically math and social justice. My compilation of social justice posts is at
while my best post on Math and Social Justice specifically can be found at

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CrypticLife said...

Thanks for this, Dr. P.

My third-grade son is quite interested in science, so I've added your blog to my subscription list.

We worry about the quality of science education he'll receive in his NJ public school. Admittedly he's at the elementary level, but most of it seems to be just vocabulary so far. What makes me think he'll be good at science is the quality of the questions he asks. They build on the knowledge he has and show an understanding of controlling for extraneous conditions. I think he has the talent and interest to go to BCA (Bergen County Academies -- this isn't just parental hubris; I have another son I'm fairly sure wouldn't be going there), and want to give him as good an opportunity to do so as possible.

I came here from d-ed reckoning, where you'd left a comment on physics education indicating there were some clearly favored methods. I'll be looking for them on the web, but if there are any posts here on your blog that would be particularly relevant please let me know.

Thank you,


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