Physicsal Education

There is something to physics, after all. It’s not just a mystical web of mathematical equations used to describe the nature of matter and energy and the interaction between them.

It’s actually an elegant framework for understanding the universe and not quite as complex as I once thought. But it’s still too complex for me to fully comprehend. Well, to be honest, I can comprehend only bits and pieces of it. But as I gradually and occasionally learn more about physics, I am astonished at its majesty. It’s the same with mathematics, another subject for which I had never felt love, but much fear. I sometimes curse my education for failing to adequately inform me, or to persuade me, about the value of the more difficult subjects.

While I was in school, I allowed myself to veer away from the “hard” subjects because I found myself unable to grasp them easily. I had to work at understanding math and chemistry. Instead of being forced to confront my laziness and dedicate the necessary time and mental energy to learn those subjects, I was permitted to drift toward and focus on subjects I found easy: English, social studies, geography, and the like.  Even in college, the liberal arts path I followed had few requirements in the way of mathematics or science. College was, like high school, easy. I gravitated toward subjects that were interesting to me and easy for me to learn. I steered away from math, science, and physics.

Looking back on my education, I wonder how different my life would have been had I been required to work—hard—to learn the “hard” subjects. While generally content with my liberal arts education, I think my understanding of the world would be richer had I worked harder to learn things I found difficult to comprehend. Instead, my education encouraged me to explore a world of thought and ideas in which an appreciation of language, rather than an understanding of the physical world, was the currency of success. For me, that was always easy. I wish I’d taken at least a few forays down a more difficult path.

Were I to be given the task of redesigning education, from pre-school through the baccalaureate level, I would insist that kids who display an interest in and facility with language be allowed to follow that path, but that they also be required to develop at least a fundamental working knowledge of science and mathematics. Physics would be a required subject in high school.  On the other hand, kids that gravitate toward science and mathematics would be permitted to indulge their interests, but they would be required to understand the structure and beauty of language and the importance of understanding the ways in which human interactions, both individual and societal, shape the world.  I suppose I consider such a process requisite for one to have a truly well-rounded education.

But I don’t have the task of redesigning education, except for myself. And so, on occasion, I will venture into the worlds of chemistry and mathematics and physics and even engineering so I can better understand and appreciate this world in which I live.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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