Adult Learning and Basic Science

Like I told my last wife, I said "Honey, I never drive faster than I can see. Besides, it's all in the reflexes.
Jack Burton, Big Trouble in Little China

I had the experience, not so long ago, of explaining some rudimentary astronomy to an adult learner.

In fact, catching this person up to Copernicus, I was able to convince them that the earth moved around the sun, rather than vice versa. In addition, I was able to explain how it could be nighttime in one part of the world when it was daytime in another.

The explanation of time zones seemed to satisfy some of this learner's on-going questions - time zones being something that we all come up against in the modern world no matter what our understanding of geography or physics. I'm not sure how meaningful it was to explain that it is the earth, not the sun, that moves in the heavens. After all, what difference does it make?

What difference does it make? That's a fundamental question, I think.

We can choose to be scandalized that an adult Canadian with no apparent mental disabilities should think the sun really does rise in the east and set in the west (and then remain oddly out of sight until the next morning). But before we get too excited, we might ask, "What difference does it make?"

Struggling through Magueilo's Faster Than the Speed of Light, I've reached some of the theoretical and mathematical work Einstein was doing around 1906 - 1911. That is to say, I've reached the place mathematics, astronomy and physics were a century ago. And, frankly, I don't get it.

Which is okay, right? I mean, what difference does it make?

Actually, in my case it does make a difference. I've accepted the responsibility for helping others through enough maths and science to pass a GED test or maybe gain entrance to a first year college program. I owe it to my learners and my employer (when I can find one) to have a good understanding of basic science.

Well, then. What's "basic" mean?

I don't know that either.

I meet learners, every year, who think we've landed humans on Mars but, perversely, also think the moon landings were faked. (This is some of that untapped potential of television, I am sure. *sarcasm* ) I'd be lying if I said the amateur historian in me didn't get a little vexed at that. But the struggling science student in me understands it completely. Who the heck knows what those crazy scientists have or haven't done. How will we ever catch up to them? And what difference does it make?

That's how I feel in my sunnier moments, I guess.

Then I reflect on global warming, the likely death of 500 to a 1000 million people over the next 40 years, chronic instability below the 20th parallel, maybe nuclear war in the far east....

You know, our lack of understanding just could be the end of us all.

Come on. I'm a reasonable guy. But I've just experienced some very unreasonable things.... So somebody - I don't care who - tell me what the hell is going on.
Jack Burton, Big Trouble in Little China


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