A physics double standard

Though students learn the basics of most fields, there is a lack of modern physics taught in high schools.
By
  • Daily Editorial Board
November 19, 2012

In U.S. high schools, students aren’t learning modern physics. The majority of high school and introductory college physics courses focus heavily on important discoveries before the 20th century.

Many students have a basic access to most fields after leaving high school, yet most lack a grasp of what scientists are working on today in physics labs across the country. If a physics class is even required — for many schools, a student has to decide between studying biology or physics, among other science fields — students are not being exposed to relevant theories in modern physics.

While one could argue that modern physics is a lofty field for students in high school to grasp, there are numerous fields in physics that do not require advanced math requirements, such as cosmology. Furthermore, many students complain about a lack of real-life applications of the math they do learn, while physics is applied mathematics.

Without access to the ideas behind the most exciting discoveries scientists are finding today, we can’t expect students to pursue these fields. We expect other departments to modernize, even in high school. In a course on biology, you learn its modern applications in microbiology and industry-related research, yet when high school students take physics, they are not leaving with a general knowledge of the fields physics is developing in or what our country’s leading researchers are working on.

Though the number has risen historically, only about 25 percent of high school students have taken a physics course before they leave high school, according to a 2005 study from the American Institute of Physics. More options for physics, as well as more support for a strong physics requirement, are still needed.

By not allowing students to scholastically work within modern physics, we’re stopping innovation before it can even begin.

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