Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Academic Balance

  1. Jan 27, 2005 #1
    I was just walking home from class and was thinking about the imbalance of what is taught in schools and colleges. I'll be graduating in May and I realized how focused the united states and other countries (I think) are towards math and science. However, when I look back at my college and high school life the courses that were of the most use and had the most impact were the few on psychology and philosophy. I know brainiacs who can solve complex math equations or program a linux component. Yet they have no idea about why someone acts a certain way, why they feel something or how they should live their life. Obviously I don't want to stereotype, because there are alot of well balanced people. However there is such a drive in the states and other countries to force math and science at the expense what I consider just as important subjects like psychology and philosophy. I would think that if you go into a rough neighborhood school and start teaching psychology and philosophy that it will end up changing people and their view on life. Equations and physics doesn't help kids on crack or with messed up parents, because it doesn't relate to them. I don't think their will ever really be balance because science and math make money and money is business and business is becoming life. Just my thoughts.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 27, 2005 #2
    I used to envy those types of kids, the ones who are really awesome at math and just sit around programming and thinking about math all day. But then I realized what they're missing out on--for example, literature. Not many things can compare to the experience of reading Dostoevsky's The Brother's Karamazov, or James Joyce's The Dubliners. Or just talking about a good piece of art by Monet or Friedrich.

    I'm a double major in Economics and Mathematics, and take a few humanities courses on the side. I know how awesome math is, and it thrills me when we do new things in class. I also love proving theorems and just being totally engrossed in math for hours on end. But I also know what it's like to just do the things I mentioned above. It's a good "escape".

    That's what I enjoy about economics (at least, more upper-level economics). It uses numbers to explain human behavior. How cool is that? Game theory is especially cool.

    I agree, though; it is too bad that this balance can't be pursued by more people.
  4. Jan 27, 2005 #3


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I take it you're referring to high school, not college. In college, breadth of knowledge is more emphasized (hence the complaints you see around here from the math/science students about having to take liberal arts classes).

    I think some of the problem has arisen from reduced school budgets. There used to be quite a variety of classes offered in high school, different tracks for students with different objectives/abilities, and required "electives." (Yes, that's an oxymoron.) It comes down to a political issue. Do you go into a school in a poor district, that can barely afford to offer the basic classes it offers, and tell them you know most of their students will never go to college, so don't bother with college prep and focus on psychology instead? You'd have the ACLU knocking down the doors arguing you aren't even giving the kids a chance to go to college.

    I don't really think there is any more emphasis on math and science than there is on English and history. Though, I tend to think the way those are taught at the high school level could be revised considerably. I know I didn't really appreciate any of those "great works of literature" until I was an adult. They just aren't that accessible to high school students because they deal with a lot of adult issues. And too often history is taught as an endless list of names, dates and places. To incorporate more about sociological issues and how they relate to the events would make it more interesting. I know I've always enjoyed trying to think about how people actually lived in the past, and much less about the name of the general who got the blame for a particular battle being lost.

    Not every kid needs calculus. While I think every student who plans to go to college should be taught it, for those who don't, focusing on simpler, and more practical math, such as how to balance a checkbook, prepare a household budget, and comparison shop for the best price per unit rather than just the cheapest package of something, would likely be better received and more useful.

    I'd love to see a major overhaul of or educational system. I think there is room to eliminate outdated courses and combine some subjects in a way that would be more interesting to students and more applicable to them. For example, that simple math for balancing checkbooks, etc, should be incorporated into Home Ec classes. Students really don't need to know how to sew their own clothes or bake cookies, but balancing checkbooks, understanding nutritional labels on foods, learning about babysitting/parenting, those would all be useful.

    If classes weren't all taught in complete isolation from other subjects, so much more could be accomplished. Another popular class among those not planning to attend college (as well as many who are) is auto shop. Why just teach them how to pull apart an engine and put it back together? Give them some cost lists, have them figure out how much they're spending on parts, have them figure out how much time they are spending on the work, and using a fictitious wage, calculate their labor costs on the project.

    Likewise, in math class, they could calculate whether it's cheaper to buy a clunker of a car and factor in all the repair costs vs a car that starts out with a higher initial cost, but has lower mileage and needs less repairs in the same 5 year period of ownership. Which one really costs more? These are real life applications that will really help a poor person break the poverty cycle by learning to be a smarter consumer. It's sure more useful to them than integrating area under the curve for a graph that has no meaning to them.

    But, schools and school funding is determined on test scores. There's no room for an innovative curriculum that could actually be beneficial, because then they aren't prepped to pass those standardized skill tests.

    I think we also fail to emphasize the right things in high school courses, including the science courses. For example, in biology, why on earth are students required to memorize the kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species for 100 different organisms? I am a biologist, and have never had anyone point a gun to my head and demand that information, nor could I name all those organisms anymore (I would forget it from year to year between teaching it just like my students did, though with more years of doing it, more stuck in my head).

    On the other hand, I think absolutely every high school student should learn something about political science. They will all be voters, and how can they be informed voters if they don't know how the system works?

    Have I rambled and ranted long enough? I guess so.
  5. Jan 27, 2005 #4
    I would say that every educated, voting citizen should know basic economics and statistics, which aren't taught at the high school level.

    Also - going back to the original post, I don't really think that focusing on math and science is a problem. No matter what subject you teach, I don't think most students care at the high school level because they're not intellectuals. Ask the average American what their favorite books and mags are, and they certainly won't be Dostoyevsky and the New Yorker.
  6. Jan 27, 2005 #5
    Interesting reading, especially since I'm one of those who would like to focus more on science and math after going to a media-emphasized high school. Some of the best teachers I had where in history, philosophy and languages. They really knew their subjects and made the students suffer one "ahaa"-experience after another. Languages are actually valued highly in all finnish schools, partly because finland is a bilingual country (you must take courses in "the second domestic language") and partly because you must learn english as your second mother tongue, if you intend to study further.

    Regarding those subjects taught together, we didn't have exactly that, but we did have a simulated UN meeting, with TV crews, representatives from countries, banks, labour organizations, etc. - all played by students. We had to study pretty thick piles of background information, everything from nature effects of coal companies, to their business plans, to the political struggle of their control. Btw. I played the rebel leader and ended the meeting by marching my militia into town, after making a deal with an american company to buy the coal company! :biggrin: Point being, even if the subjects are taught separately, they can be incorporated through this kind of bigger projects.

    Before I ramble away entirely, the point I intended to make in the beginning was that from my experience the balance should swing in the opposite direction. Most of my family and friends can have a conversation of pretty much any subject, but when it comes to bone out the exact reasoning or expressing physics in equations, it becomes "irrelevant details". But even if I didn't do equations for breakfast, sci and tech is overall quite valued in finland. That is however more than can be said about sweden; it's quite easy to get into pure science subjects in swedish universities, but extremely hard in psychology and architecture.

    So, yeah, I agree that a balance is important and that it is often forgotten, but I think the way it should swing is pretty much in the eye of the beholder.
  7. Jan 27, 2005 #6
    I totally agree with this! It is so baffling that we are taught biology and physics in high school yet we are not taught "life" skills at all. I was fortunate to goto some very good schools and yet I was completely unprepared to file my own taxes, manage bank accounts, negociate a car and now a I graduate I am in a bit of a panic because I have to figure out how to approach a loan officer, manage stocks and worry about a retirement plan. Non of which was taught or even mentioned in any class.
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2005
  8. Jan 27, 2005 #7
    Maybe it's supposed to be the job of parents to teach these sorts of things?
  9. Jan 27, 2005 #8
    Maybe, but with the amount of disfunctional families and poor parents maybe it can't and I guess that is a sad in itself.
  10. Jan 27, 2005 #9


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I think that's the whole problem, and why it's so hard for someone growing up in poverty to break out. If their parents don't know how to manage a bank account and never had a spare penny to invest, how could they teach their kids these things?

    My high school did incorporate some of those things into some classes, but they would usually be one section of an elective class, so few students got any of that, and none all of it. I can't even remember which class it was, maybe one of the social studies classes, where students invested in a mock stock market. They had to learn to follow stocks, keep track of their earnings, and all just for pretend. There was another class that did the whole treat an egg like a baby thing, which had the objective of certifying kids as babysitters (my sister took that one...teachers really should consider the effects of older siblings on egg-babies when assigning that project...I was always threatening to hard boil it or make scrambled eggs or just see how far I could drop it before it broke :biggrin:).

    Anyway, when you have to deal with budget cuts and can't offer as much variety of courses, I think it then becomes time to find ways to be more efficient at teaching a variety of topics that will allow the students to survive in the real world.
  11. Jan 27, 2005 #10
    I agree. There are a few classmates who I know of that are awesome in all subjects (including calc and are diverse in english)... but they don't seem to want to learn anything out of school (paradoxical eh?). I myself am fascinated by everything around me and will go to whatever lengths to read about my interests. However, whenever I try to start up a conversation that involves any type of science or philosophy to the aformentioned classmates, I get nothing but stares, even though they are the top of the top. I thirst for conversation throughout the day but I have no one to talk to, so I end up rambling to myself the entire time. Frustrating. :grumpy: To me, it seems like they are living for their GPA and little else. A status title is all that seems to define their life. A little diversity would go a long way.

    Our school does have a better english and social studies program than a science program.. which is unfortunately lacking in many places (the only exception being chemistry).
  12. Jan 28, 2005 #11

    You're both wrong--well not really but still. I write code all day, physics simulations mostly, read dostoevsky, nietzsche, love bach, play saxophone in the wind orchestra, love a good philosophy or psychology discussion. Unfortunately most people are incapable of such discussions. The only intellectual stimulation i get is my work, and conversations with the professor who is supervising it for me. I have yet to meet anyone capable of discussing anything truly interesting(in person). edit: i mean peers when i say that.

    I disagree completely about a math and science "orientation" in the education system. If anything, its the opposite. Mainstream culture as a whole shuns math and science, well to be perfectly correct shuns anything remotely intellectual. Which also inculde dostoevsky and kafka, and nietzsche, bach, freud, wittgenstein, boas or any other of many scholars.

    I know exactly how you feel motai. its gotten to the point where i jsut avoid people now, i've really become a hell of a recluse lately--no one i've met has anything interesting to say really. They are the same people who in high school were living for their gpa, and personally i'm sick of putting up with them.

    I'm going to try to stop ranting now, but i'm sure i'll be back.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2005
  13. Jan 28, 2005 #12
    I agree very much with this. And then I ask myself, is a university education only for academically/intellectually oriented people? As it is, most decent jobs require a bachelor or masters degree, so I think many get their university education just to get a decent job, decent car, decent house and lawn, etc. - not because they are fascinated in a particular subject or intellectual stimulation in general. In a way, I think mainstream culture is becoming more educated and the line between intellectuals and non-intellectuals is becoming more blurred than before. This surely poses challenges for universities, that now has to educate both the to-be professors and the ones just getting an entry ticket into the well payed job-market.

    Yeah, and personally I would very much like more intellectual discussion and less party-planning, which is also why I enjoy PF. :smile:
  14. Jan 28, 2005 #13
    In NZ, these courses are available in high school. :biggrin:
    Althougth NZ history is not compulsary :yuck:
  15. Jan 28, 2005 #14


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Didnt you guys ever see 2 dudes getting high? The kinda philosophy and psychology they 'discuss' ? :rofl:
  16. Jan 28, 2005 #15
    NO, the line between average and psuedo-intellectual is becoming more and more blurred, they like to think that they are intellectual.

    I don't mind party planning, its the utter and complete lack of any corresponding intellectual conversation that is disheartening.
  17. Jan 28, 2005 #16
    these courses are also taught at the high school level in India.. :)
  18. Jan 30, 2005 #17
    A very educated and insightful one. Well-written and concise. Cheers!
  19. Jan 30, 2005 #18

    Join Date: Nov 2003
    Location: Here There and Everywhere
    Posts: 401
    Read my Journal Quote:
    Originally Posted by Moonbear
    Have I rambled and ranted long enough? I guess so.

    A very educated and insightful one. Well-written and concise. Cheers!
    "A very educated and insightful one. Well-written and concise"
    guess what? ramble ramble ramble!!!!!
    A very educated and insightful one. Well-written and concise
    what a reply!!! education
  20. Jan 30, 2005 #19
    I'm taking the high road and biting my tongue on this :cool:
  21. Jan 30, 2005 #20


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    That's probably the best response.

    So, what was the "well written and concise" part, my post, or my realization that I was rambling and ranting? :biggrin: :rofl:
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook