Public Education

I heard a call to a talk show late last night (sorry, I don’t know who’s show).  The caller had this great, revolutionary idea– instead of using gasoline or fuel oil, we should use a computer program to move the pistons in an engine.  Engines are computer-controlled to some degree already you see, so why not go all the way?  He said he’d been thinking about this for a long time and it had been bugging him– why, it’s so obvious.


If a person can think that, what can’t be believed?  It is said that Kim Il of North Korea hit some fantastic score in golf the first time out, that when he was born a new star appeared in the sky to mark the event, and that he doesn’t urinate or deficate.


Yes; public education has a purpose, and to some degree it’s working.


The host set him straight, recommending a book; “Physics for Future Presidents” I think it was.  How about just plain old, basic physics?  That would be nice, but all Democrats and most Republicans would always lose if we knew that it’s impossible to get something from nothing.

12 thoughts on “Public Education

  1. Wow. Computers are so Awesome, they can do anything!

    You have seen the “Free Energy” stuff, right?

    I had a similar experience where a guy explained that he was going to power an electric car with water. Use the (initially charged) batteries to separate the hydrogen and oxygen, burn the hydrogen to run the car and charge the batteries. He figured he could drive across the country on the initially charged batteries, and water. Hydrogen is awesome, too!

  2. Reading the quote, I couldn’t help but think of this from Jericho–for those who missed the show, it was about the residents of a small town in Kansas after a massive nuclear attack on the US followed by an EMP.

    My mother still whispers, “All we have to do is get the Internet back!” whenever she hears something this insanely ignorant.

  3. ChrisTE; Hydrogen is awesome. Most of the universe is powered by hydrogen fusion. Why oh why can’t our civilization be powered by it? Oh wait; it is. Photosynthesis, the weather, the coal that came from photosynthesis…even our fission power, the theory goes, comes from star power that created the uranium in a super nova… That is pretty awesome. Reality is far more awesome than any silly fantasies, no?

    Though when I was a young boy I “invented” a perpetual motion machine (only in my head of course) before I’d hear of the term “perpetual motion”. It consisted of a wheel mounted on a horizontal axle, like a Ferris wheel. On the circumference of the wheel were mounted several passive levers, pivoting at the wheel circumference. You start the wheel rotating and that’s all it takes. As each lever comes over the top of the wheel, gravity causes it to unfold and stop fully extended radially. That puts the weight of the levers on the downhill side of the wheel farther out from the center of the wheel, and as the levers rotate up the other side, they naturally pivot inward again, so on the upward side their weight is much closer to the center of the wheel. There’d always be more torque at the downhill side of the wheel. Of course it would work. I could imagine this thing rotating along, “powered” by gravity alone, “flip flip flip flip flip…” It was beautiful in its elegance. Then again I could imagine flying like Peter Pan and meeting pixies in the woods. IN reality of course, just a plain wheel would continue to rotate for a longer time after you gave it the initial spin, without the friction from all those lever pivots.

    Reality is disappointing only if you have the wrong vision, or image of it. U = I – R “(your level of) Unhappiness equals the difference between Image and Reality”. That’s why the left is so angry.

  4. 10000

    Xkcd’s point requires *admitting* ignorance but the concept still holds as regards those who are not *aware* of their ignorance. There might be hope for the caller — if he takes the host’s advice and reads and *understands* a “basic” physics book. But I think the much more important knowledge would about *how* do you *know* that what you think you “know” is in fact *true*.

    As Mark Twain is reputed to have said: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

    A collection of “facts” may pass for an education but without an understanding of the conditions that make them true (or false), and of how those facts relate to each other, the “education” is a mere illusion.

  5. A little education can be an eye-opener.

    A while back, I was teaching a class. A HS bio class. A bit more than 30 kids. I gave as a homework assignment a link on my school/class site that they were to click on, and read the section (a couple of paragraphs) about a particular topic related to what we were working on. Next day, I started class, and got a blanker look than normal. Someone said “the link didn’t work.” I knew for sure it did. Someone else said “well, the link went to a page, but the information wasn’t there.” I knew for sure it was. Someone said “well, it’s a long page, and I couldn’t find it to read it.” Ah, I though. I brought up my home page on the overhead, clicked on the unit we were working on, made sure everyone saw the unit and the specific link, they all said “yah, yah, we saw that, but…” I clicked on the assignment link, and the page came up as it should. Most people said, “yah, yah, we saw that, but there isn’t anything on our subject THERE.” I scrolled down, and a few people made noises of surprise that they were expected to look down through more than two screens of text. I hit “CTRL+F”, typed in the topic word, hit enter, and the classroom exploded. Gasps and expostulations of “what the…” from all around. Almost everyone in the room was wondering what sort of magic I had just performed. Long story short, only two people in the class appeared to know about the FIND function (CTRL+F or command+F on a Mac, or in a menu), even though computer applications and literacy was a required course they had all taken. None of them thought it was fair that I expected them to remember stuff from a previous class, and use it in mine. Even thought it’s something they have had access to in nearly every program and operating system since before they were born. And they were people who got offended that I made them memorize and learn stuff because they could just look it up on the web, even the guy who was writing a report on assisted suicide who didn’t mention Dr Kevorkian, even when I told him it would be a *really good idea* to read up on “Dr Death.”

    Of the people who made it to the end of the year, only about half passed. Of that half, all but a (small) handful were Ds.

    They had little education, and it really opened my eyes.

  6. I had a similar experience where a guy explained that he was going to power an electric car with water. Use the (initially charged) batteries to separate the hydrogen and oxygen, burn the hydrogen to run the car and charge the batteries. He figured he could drive across the country on the initially charged batteries, and water. Hydrogen is awesome, too!

    Well, that’s just a poor design. He should have made it recover the water produced by burning the hydrogen and channel that to the fuel tank. Then he’d have an unlimited fuel supply, too!

    *facepalm*

  7. When my daughter was in 4th grade she built a perpetual motion machine – modeling it after a Renaissance design – and entered it into a city wide science fair.

    She got 2nd place for 4th graders, mostly I think for her chutzpah in actually entering a “perpetual motion” machine in a real science fair. That, and the judges could play with it.

  8. “How is something known to be true?” is perhaps the most important thing kids need to learn in all their years of school.

    I made sure my kids knew several ways to answer to that question, and how to use those answers in life.

    If I do nothing else for them ever, I think I will have been a good parent, giving them that.

  9. Rolf; your students in the example above had been in the system too long before you got to them– they’d already had the natural desire and love for learning beaten out of them.

  10. Lyle: Yup. That district had a policy of “social promotion” through 8th grade, so that regardless of performance, they moved on with their cohort. They learned that there was no benefit (to them, personally) to studying, and a high cost (less time with their friends and X-Box). It was a 10th grade class, and half of them were still freshmen by credit, a few had earned ZERO credits the previous year. They were just responding to the incentives they were exposed to. Hmmm.. Might have to write up a blurb on education… and perhaps the school system, too.

  11. Mikee, the machine and “how do you know something to be true” might be too explosive for a science project in a private leftist school, but I think it might be funny if I could convince my leftist brother and his stalinist wife to enter one in my nephew’s science fair (in about 4-5 years)
    Can you share an actual picture?

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