Why Education Ministers should be educated

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Michael Gove is reported as arguing that:

Gove said there had been previous attempts to make science relevant, by linking it to contemporary concerns such as climate change or food scares. But he said: “What [students] need is a rooting in the basic scientific principles, Newton’s laws of thermodynamics and Boyle’s law.”

[…]

We are now seeing with the new exams regulator how we can make GCSEs tougher. Exam boards need to sharpen up their act. We are also saying in GCSEs that you need to award marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar. We need to have stretching exams which compare with the world’s most rigorous.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/jun/18/michael-gove-exams-gcse-schools

Newton’s laws are those of motion and gravity, not thermodynamics. Those of Thermodynamics were first formulated by Lord Kelvin. Gove’s educational background is in English, rather than science, so some glaring errors in a subject he has no experience of are understandable, if unfortunate in the Secretary of State for Education.

Clearly the education offered to Ministers is not as rigorous nor as broad as it could be. Until Ministers are educated sufficiently in basic scientific principles and history they should be cautious in offering views on their teaching.

I trust that Mr Gove will be undertaking remedial education to bring his understanding up to an acceptable minimum standard and in the meantime will refrain from offering his opinions on teaching standards.
A friend of mine on Facebook summed it up very well.

10 points for the first non-scientist who tells me why this is complete bollocks. If you don’t know, please find out. This is like someone saying Donatello painted the Mona Lisa, or Dante wrote Romeo & Juliet, or jumbo jets were invented in the 18th century.
C.P. Snow lamented the fact that there were two cultures
“A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?” – CP Snow.
It seems we haven’t changed much since then. I mean how many people know about the age of the Universe, or how accurate it is. How many know the basics of Chemistry?
Not to mention for instance the wonderful theorems underlying modern Computer Science. It would be socially unacceptable for me to not have read Shakespeare. And it is socially unacceptable that an Education minister should comment on the Education system without knowing what he is talking about. This is absolutely unacceptable. And we as Scientists need to take culture more seriously.

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