meep (meep) wrote,

Read the whole thing

Though the original post was about postmodernism's impact on university English departments and the required curriculum for English majors, this post relating the rot in physics departments has nothing to do with postmodernism - and has everything to do with careerism and specialization. From my experience, most physics profs are crappy teachers and aren't expected to be good. Like all profs, they prefer to teach grad students in their particular specialization, and even there, they can't really teach a survey course. Yes, I majored in physics, and I took a general relativity class as an elective. I learned about the Standard high school. I never took anything on it in college.

But the takeaway message is really on point:
In this eventuality, education in physics will have to be obtained from some source other than a university. Judging from the disappearance of Shakespeare from the English departments at American universities (Toulon does not require a course in Shakespeare for an undergraduate degree in English) this corruption of education is probably universal across all disciplines. If so, then all advanced education will have to be obtained outside of the university. If this is the case, then why should universities exist at all?
In this age of OpenCourseWare, Wikipedia, the Gutenberg Project, and on and on....what is the purpose of universities? Just to hand out certificates that you know a very narrow area of knowledge?

For majors that have nothing to do with jobs outside of the academy, there is little pressure to change the "core" curriculum except the professors' own preferences. Interestingly, I'm in a profession now that has a series of exams you have to pass -- and it has its own "core" and "electives". We complain how often the exam system is changed, but it has to because the marketplace changes. The exams now are nothing like those of 50 years ago -- there are scads of insurance products and fixed-income assets to invest in that didn't exist 20 years ago, much less 50. They used to have exams in calculus and even one on English grammar (I guess as a barrier to entry, because I really don't see the pertinence). But now, they just assume you have calculus (as you'd be hard-pressed to finish the prelim exams without any calculus), because they need to spend time on financial economics and stochastic simulation (among other things).

Seriously, it's hard for me to get worked up over physics majors not getting general relativity or the Standard Model. Because they're not actually that difficult to pick up later, and, more importantly =it=does=not=matter=. The knowledge is not lost. These things in the "true core" are not that esoteric, and are out there for those sufficiently interested and intelligent. Yes, there is a danger for the university to be seen as not as essential to the pursuit of knowledge, but that's life. "Creative destruction" as the phrase goes.

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