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Re: Don't Slow Down

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Posted by Richard Ruquist on March 4, 2001 16:23:12 UTC

After my Star Wars career, I tried teaching for a few years. It was the hardest job I ever had. And since I had a PhD, they could not hire me. So I did it for $10 per hour.

The teacher evaluations you are getting are a product of capitalism and supply and demand. In this country, if you are not in a high-ranking university, you are a product that has to be sold. The students are the buyers and you are the sales force and PR team besides being the product. The buyers of course want to cheapen the product. If thay have cheaper alternatives, they will choose them.

So you have two courses of action. One is to teach courses that nobody else teaches. Then you have a monopoly and can charge anything you want in terms of difficult mathematics and homework.

If you are unable to arrange for a monopoly, then youhave no choice but to cheapen your product to match your competitors if you want to stay in the market.

Please remember that assuming you are not in a high ranking university, your students will not be doing physics or mathematics after they graduate. So again yoiu have two options.

One, you can teach skills that such students will find useful after graduation, like computer skills, or you could slant the math and physics in that direction. For example, I am in software testing. The basic principles are not so different from physics experiments. But it's a field that requires little up front learning and that most any college graduate can get a job in. My team consists of history and psych majors as well as teachers and former physicists, but no engineers or chemists. There are still jobs in thosae fields.

The alternative is to distill out the important principles that would appear to be exotic to the student. That is the Harvard approach to teaching its humanities majors. Again for example, according to Feymann no one understands quantum mechanics. Teach that to your students in all its ramifications and suddenly theyt can converse with the leading scientists on the same level. There are many things in science and math like Godels theorem that can be taught as culture rather than skill learning. I am afraid that the skills of math and physics are obsolete on today's market, but the cultural significance of math and physics are still marketable. So teaching it as culture on the surface will make your courses very popular. Then you can sneak in the skills without even identifying them.

So I would make up a class schedule that lists the outstanding problems in physics, in order of priority, emphasizing what aspects of the problems are not understood. The topics on this forum are a good indication of where the interest is. Black holes, dark matter and energy, the age of the universe, Big Bang, inflation(really simple math here), Supersymmetry, mirror matter, the Muon, etc., and of course my farvorite, consciousness. Give them a background that will allow them to understand the newspaper, especially the science sections like in the NY Times.

For homework give them on-line readingmaterial so you bring computer usage into the course. Give them the addresses of all the important on-line sources of physics. Its all culture, but it's the coming culture. Couple all that scientific culture with your Russian background and the probable fact that you know more physics than anybody else at your school, and youwill develop a mythological presence with the students. They will think you are a genius who knows all there is to know about physics and math, and who can put them on the forefront of the most current ideas in those fields with hardly any work on their part. In turn they will appear to be geniuses for knowing the latest stuff with their peers.

That is an approach that works in all walks of life except actual physics and math research. Especially in the computer industry, where everyone is so specialized that someone with a little math and physics culture is given the benefit of the doubt as to the persons inherent intelligance. What sells on amarket where skills requirements are constantly changing, is inherent intelligence. Or rather the appearance of inherent intelligence. And what you know is the only way to judge a person's intelligence. So you get a leg up if you are aware of the problems of math and science and can discuss them coherently. Even in school, students will benefit from such knowledge in the inevitable all night discussions.

So give the students something they can use immediately and make yourself very marketable.

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