FEd April 1996 Newsletter - Comments

April 1996



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Comments from the Chair

by Beverly Hartline

The Forum on Education actively promotes visibility for education within the physics community and for physics within the education community. Traditionally, the major focus of "physics education" has been to prepare bright young people for careers in a broad range of physics research fields and/or for faculty positions at universities. Many physicists, especially those electing membership in the Forum, identify with a broader personal mission in education, extending variously to include children, teachers, media, and the public, as well as the traditional audience. I believe that one very important role for the Forum, now that it is well established, is to publicize and promote ways the American Physical Society and its members can "educate" the broadest possible population to share our enthusiasm for science in general and physics in particular. An important goal is to achieve a scientifically-literate citizenry, able to handle the complexities and the decisions of the 21st century, and able to understand and appreciate the value of scientific research.

This goal is especially important in the current era of federal deficit reduction and the attendant cutting of federal discretionary spending. In this climate, it will take a major and deliberate investment of effort and energy--by many knowledgeable and committed people--to sustain the health and vitality of science in the United States. Physics is no exception. One thing is certain, and that is that people in a position to make decisions on programs, funding, and priorities will make them for their reasons and based on their knowledge and values. Given that physicists comprise a very small minority of U.S. taxpayers and policy makers, and that most people can barely spell physics--much less appreciate the breadth and depth of its subject matter, benefits, and applicability--we have been very fortunate in the past level of federal investment in the field.

The big challenge will be to garner strong support for science and physics, even as the total federal budget declines. Education is the best tool we have. But it is education with a modified purpose, and a larger and substantially more diverse audience--in age, profession, interest, and educational background--than traditionally enroll in undergraduate and graduate classes. You-- the nearly 4,000 members of the Forum on Education--can each be a leader and activist in this effort.

Working together, and using the Forum to catalyze, promote, and publicize successful initiatives, we can:

  • Help precollege teachers know physics and science as exploration and inquiry instead of facts.
  • Motivate students at all levels to develop skills, pursue socially-acceptable interests, and acquire "scientific literacy."
  • Recognize and publicize the variety of 21st century careers available to well-qualified individuals with an undergraduate physics background.
  • Evolve graduate physics programs to provide experiences applicable to a broad range of careers where professional physicists would bring valuable expertise, perspective, and capabilities.
  • Mobilize work places to greater involvement in education at all levels.
  • Network, coordinate with, and learn "best practice" from each other and from the education efforts of other professional societies focused on physics, teaching, and/or related scientific fields.
  • Increase policy makers' and public servants' knowledge and appreciation of science in general and physics in particular by relating with them on their terms and helping them solve their problems.

With your active participation, the Forum is working to increase the education-related dialog at all professional gatherings of physicists--from the major "Spring" meetings to the more focused Division, Sectional, and Regional meetings. Please send us your ideas and input via the World Wide Web at http://www.research.att.com/~kbl/APS, or via email, phone call, or face-to-face contact with any of your elected Executive Committee. We hope to see you at our annual business meeting Saturday, 4 May 1996, 10:30 a.m., in Room 106, at the Indianapolis APS/AAPT Joint Meeting. Better yet, volunteer to organize an education-oriented session at an upcoming National, Division, or Section Meeting. I sincerely hope to hear ideas and activities from each of you during the coming year, while I serve as Forum Chair. You are the Power of the Forum.