Obvious, but not intuitive

Frank Noschese and Rhett Allain have a good on-going discussion on the Khan Academy's  work with physics. Some excerpts:

Science is obvious, but it's not intuitive. Obvious in the sense that we can observe what we observe, even as our brains refuse to accept it.

Intuition kept us alive for thousands of generations. There may be real survival value in accepting cultural illusions, even when they conflict with our empirical data. The concept of god(s) long preceded our worship of data.

We forget this at our peril. We did not survive as the simians we are by applying logic; we survived through intuition. We feel we are right, even when we're not.

The past three years, I have started class the same way. I climb up on a lab table, holding a paper clip in one hand, an old edition of the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics in the other. I feel the heaviness of the ancient book, over 2000 pages being pulled towards the Earth. I barely feel the paper clip.

The kids (predictably) assert that the book will hit the ground first. I know in my gut that the book will hit first.
They both hit the floor simultaneously. I am surprised, as I always am. Obvious. But not intuitive.

Even after hundreds of trials, I still  feel cognitive dissonance. I'm an odd duck--I like cognitive dissonance.

The visceral trumps the cerebral in our culture. One of the ironies of Achieve.org pushing for their new science standards is that their preamble eschews reason:

"There is no doubt that science—and science education—is central to the lives of all Americans."
No, not true. Not even close. But it feels right.

Science is at the heart of the United States’ ability to compete and lead, which of course means that all students—whether they become technicians in a lab, PhD researchers or simply consumers—must all have a solid K-12 science education.
Science matters, but not because of some abstract flag-waving piece of jingoistic nonsense. The second half of the sentence is a non sequitur--unless our being "simple consumers" both requires a solid science education (I would argue otherwise) and leads to the heart of America's "ability to compete and lead."

Science also drives innovation, which in turn drives the economy.
Science certainly drives some innovation, and some innovation has some effect on the economy, but we're still bound to the earth, to the air, to the water more than we are bound to the kind of abstract economy the Achieve.org folks appear to worship.

If we're teaching children science simply because we're holding them accountable for the success of our economy, we are guilty of abusing our children.

Just a few hours ago a pod of dolphins snorted just a few feet from our kayaks.

Nowhere in the preamble does Achieve.org speak of the wonders of this natural world, of the joys of discovery, of our human need to lift up stones to see what lives underneath.

If I do my job well, that is, if I teach a child science, she will scoff at the premises Achieve.org holds as sacrosanct. If I do it really well, she will scoff at any premises I hold sacrosanct.

Is there no joy in Mudville?
Photo by Leslie--looks like a shot of Nessie, true, but we were both too excited to take a straight shot.

Blog Archive