Monthly Archives: October 2011

trickle down

It’s astonishing to me how long it takes change at the higher levels of academia to trickle down. For example, recently we held a tutorial in my fourth-year undergrad class to talk about an academic journal article. As has been the preferred style for a LONG time in scientific writing, the active first-person voice was used; but when we discussed the paper, several of the students expressed extreme doubt about whether this constituted “proper” academic writing, and wondered if we could even take this dude and all his “I”‘s seriously.

I, too, remember being taught that I should use the passive voice to present research. In grade 12 I had an exceptionally good chemistry teacher who actually cared about science, and kept up on what was going on in his field. He told us to forget about the passive voice. He also told us a lot of interesting stuff about research into protein folding, etc – but I digress. The point is, should it be like this? Should it take SO LONG for what’s current in the field to trickle down to high school – or even to first year classes? I understand that you can’t go ahead and revamp the whole curriculum every year, and I understand – believe me, I understand – that public school teachers aren’t paid well enough to stay on top of every discovery in their field. Nonetheless, I think that all too often what we’re taught in high school is decades out of date. As I’m discovering in a very painful personal way right now, keeping on top of the developments in even a very narrow field can be time-consuming and difficult. But it’s important for education at every level to be relevant. At a time when connectivity and information sharing is so much faster and easier than ever before, we’re cheating students if we don’t at least introduce them to the present-day realities of their subjects.