It Is Time For a Change In the Way We Teach Physics

I am one of the holders of a very unpopular belief that physics is wonderful. Most high school students would disagree with me, but that is only because the physics taught in high school is nowhere near as cool as what is really happening in the world of physics. In fact, every high school physics course only teaches physics that was discovered before 1865.

You know what else happened in 1865? The Civil War.

Einstein, arguably the greatest contributor to modern physics, wouldn’t be born for another 20 years, and his papers on relativity wouldn’t be published for another 45 years.

Newtonian mechanics is outdated and is only relevant when students don’t want to do complex calculus. It is a great way to teach the fundamentals of physics, but for our students to truly have an appreciation for the beauty of the universe, our schools need to start teaching modern physics.

In the last 150 years, physics has seen some of the most amazing and paradigm shifting discoveries in every field of science, like General and Special Relativity, quarks, photons, the Higgs Boson, and gravitational lensing to name a few. None of these discoveries are taught in schools.

That’s like high school history courses not teaching about the two World Wars, the Cold War, the Great Depression, JFK, or 9/11.

Why is all of this important?

The US was heavily involved in the creation of nuclear weapons, GPS, cell phones, electronics, and televisions, but current high school students have absolutely no idea how any of these developments work.

The current mindset is one that says “but most high school students hate math, and we can’t explain all of these without higher level math.” Nonsense. I’ve been explaining complex physics relatively simply without math for a few months now on this very blog.

Learning about how all of the new physics developments changed the world can help the US develop the next generation of inventors, physicists, and world changers. How can we expect to be relevant in the next century of scientific discovery and development if our students don’t know what happened in the last century?


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