Educational Malpractice

According to the New York Times, Scarsdale High School has decided to get rid of their Advanced Placement classes, including AP Physics, replacing them with a new curriculum that cost “$40,000 to bring in 25 professors from Harvard, Yale, New York University and other top colleges.”

“We have the luxury of being able to move beyond the A.P.,” John Klemme, Scarsdale’s principal, said in a recent interview. “If people called it a gold curriculum in the past, I refer to this version as the platinum curriculum.”

What’s the change in this new “platinum curriculum” as far as physics is concerned?

Physics students now study string theory — a hot topic in some college courses that is absent from the Advanced Placement exam.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

55 Responses to Educational Malpractice

  1. somebody says:

    Sorry Pawl, I cannot concede that easily that I am misinterpreting you. Here is an exact quote from from your previous message:

    “To begin with, it is very rare in physics that fundamental theory can make much progress without experimental input. We simply are not clever enough to anticipate what nature will do most of the time. Moreover, it is very rare to be able to successfully guess what will go on many orders of magnitude from what has been experimentally investigated.”

    So yes, you were against high energy theory, not merely string theory, as I claimed. Your whole message was predicated on the deep pessimism that we are probably not smart enough, so it is unlikely that we will understand the (remaining) mysteries of the universe. This argument has been valid and compelling for most of history, but curious people who are not intimidated by the unknown usually find a way around. Is this going to happen this time as well? I don’t know. But I am not going to bet on the mediocrity of humans like you do. Experiments are hard, yes, but there might be possible experiments which we are missing because our theory is not well-developed. People could have probably done the Aharonov-Bohm experiment in the early 1900’s. But they didn’t. Why? Because there was no way anyone could have thought about it before quantum mechanics.

    The bigger point, as I said before, is that experiment and theory can interact in many ways.

    The reason why I did not dissect your claims point by point is because it didn’t seem like a useful thing to do. So instead I took a few of your more interesting points and responded to them. The overwheleming impression I got from your message is that you have opinions about things you are not very familiar with (sorry, I am honestly not trying to put you down, but I fear this is relevant to our discussion!). Not just when you talk about the “hype” regarding finiteness of string perturbation theory, but also when you say how research should be diversified. In principle the latter sounds like a good idea, but I really do not know of a much better way to run the scientific process in HEP, than the way it is currently. Not that the current one is perfect, but I suspect any artificial redistribution of the limited resources is only bound to make it worse.

  2. Pawl says:

    Dear Somebody,

    Your response is becoming unproductive and rude: to say you will not answer my points because of your “impression” I don’t know what I’m talking about.

    I am completely baffled as to how you interpret the paragraph you quote as me being against high-energy theory. (However you manage to do this, it reflects what is in your own mind and not what I have written.)

    There is no point in continuing unless you are willing to answer my points, and to try to understand what I have written.

  3. Peter Woit says:


    You are just ignoring real issues and making up straw men to attack. Pointing out the difficulties associated with trying to do theoretical physics without experimental input is not exactly saying something controversial, nor is it “against particle theory”. Despite the impression one might get sometimes from hep-th, much of particle theory is very much involved with the question of what might or might not be seen at experiments that are being done now, or will be in progress soon (e.g. the LHC).

    Not all particle theory needs to be so directly related to experiment, but anyone who works on scientific questions divorced from the discipline of contact with experiment (I include myself here) needs to be very aware that they are out on a limb and think carefully about what this means. Group-think, hype-mongering, and an unwillingness to admit failure are a very real problem here.

    As to “artificial redistribution of the limited resources”, my point of view is that that’s exactly what string theorists have been trying to achieve, by attacking anyone who points out the failure of the string theory unification program in hopes of avoiding the conventional implications of that failure for the the distribution of resources. This tactic is no longer working so well.

  4. somebody says:

    Peter: “Pointing out the difficulties associated with trying to do theoretical physics without experimental input is not exactly saying something controversial, nor is it “against particle theory”. ”

    That was not the claim, and this is a strawman. Nobody disputed the difficulties. The question is when do you decide that a research program is fruitless.

    Your second paragraph I agree with, but not the third.

    Peter: “As to “artificial redistribution of the limited resources”, my point of view is that that’s exactly what string theorists have been trying to achieve, by attacking anyone who points out the failure of the string theory…”

    You have a book written, you are invested in this thing, your name is built on the anti-string campaign. So I am not sure that the anonymous string theorist who is trying to while away a weekend in sickbed is the one with an agenda to protect. Scientists usually are passionate about what they think they know. I didn’t realize that I was defending my funding when doing the blogospheric dogfights against random people who think ignorance is a point of view.

    Again, you are translating what is really a scientific debate into a sociological thing.

  5. TCO says:

    There is nothing stopping teachers from doing some extra material along with AP, other than the capability and background of the students (which is unlikely to be quite college level in all respects). however my teacher in AP chem did particle in a box, point group symmetry and solid sphere packings. All of which I think are extra. She still had time to spend half the class talking about school politics and how to behave at football games. We loved her! And lots got 5s.

    Ap Physics is a whole nother kettle of fish. My school did not have it. We had PSSC phsycis (science emphasis, but pre-calc) and had HPP physics (liberal arts slanted). I had taken PSSC and Calc BC and so took the AP exam anyhow. I placed out of one semester of mechanics (I had to horse up with rotational mechanics, but the eqyations are very analagous to straight line stuff…and calc based problems had already been touched on within the calculus class.) I tried to cram the E&M, but it was too tough. got a 4 on mechanics and a 2 on E&M.

    In service academy, where I went, the entire student body had to take ‘zoics and it was nominally in the sophomore year so that differential and integral calc were done before the start. And during the second semester (E&M), multivariable calc had just been covered and diff EQs were being covered. This seemed to work.

    Physics majors and EEs took a harder 3 semester curriculum in place of that Halliday and Resnick style (think it was actually Giamoato or somehting like that) curriculum.

    AP or any advanced class should be more for that mass of engineering students than for the ‘zoics majors. They will be otrutued enough with classical E&M as they go through.

Comments are closed.