How junior high school kills scientific curiosity

Rote memorization doesn't cut it for theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. Here's why.

MICHIO KAKU: First of all, we are all born scientists. When we're born, we wonder where we came from. We wonder why the stars shine. We wonder why the sun comes out in the morning. We're born scientists. And then one day, we get the greatest destroyer of scientists known to science. What is the greatest destroyer of scientists? And that is junior high school. Think about it. In junior high school, that's when science is reduced to memorization, memorization of things that are totally irrelevant. Memorize the parts of a flower.

Why? I mean, kids are smart enough to realize that a lot of the junk they have to memorize, they're never going to use again in their life. So why did they have to use it? You see, science is about life. It's about the world. It's about how we live and how we work in the future, not memorizing the parts of a flower. Now, my favorite quote from Einstein is that if a theory cannot be explained to a child, then the theory is probably useless. Now, what does that mean? That means, if a theory is all equations and all memorizing this and memorizing that, it's useless. Because what drives science is principles, concepts. That's what drives science. So when you learn biology, Of all the different kinds of animals, you have to learn about evolution, How it all fits together, how everything can Be summarized in a very simple principle, based on DNA and evolution.

When you learn about physics, ultimately, you'll Learn that there are only two theories in physics, two basic principles in all Of physics Relativity and the quantum principle. That's it, folks. That's the sum total of all of physics summarized in two principles. But that's not the way we teach it. Sometimes I teach physics for medical students. And this is probably the only physics course they're going to get. And I teach it. I look at the book. And I have to teach them about tuning forks, levers, pulleys, friction things that were really cutting edge 300 years ago. These are doctors, going to be doctors. They have to know about MRI machines, X-ray machines, CAT scans. They have to learn about radio medicine, about the latest in cancer research, about gene sequencing. And here I am teaching them about friction and tuning forks and levers.

And I say to myself, these are the doctors that are going to be treating us in the future? What kind of background are they giving us? That's why I think one of the problems that the educational establishment makes is they teach the past. You realize that we do graduate young students from college that are prepared. They're prepared to live in the year 1950. The problem is we don't live in 1950 anymore. But that's how we teach science to young kids. We don't teach them the quantum principle. We don't talk about lasers. We don't talk about microchips. No, we talk about friction and pulleys.

  • What is the greatest destroyer of young scientists? Junior high school, avers physicist Michio Kaku.
  • Why? Because it's during this time when science is reduced to memorization of things that are "totally irrelevant," such as the parts of a flower.
  • Kaku believes all this memorizing detracts from the moving force of science, which is discussing principles and concepts.


Lama Rod Owens – the price of the ticket to freedom

An ordained Lama in a Tibetan Buddhist lineage, Lama Rod grew up a queer, black male within the black Christian church in the American south. Navigating all of these intersecting, evolving identities has led him to a life's work based on compassion for self and others.

Think Again Podcasts
  • "What I'm interested in is deep, systematic change. What I understand now is that real change doesn't happen until change on the inside begins to happen."
  • "Masculinity is not inherently toxic. Patriarchy is toxic. We have to let that energy go so we can stop forcing other people to do emotional labor for us."
Keep reading Show less

For most of history, humans got smarter. That's now reversing.

We were gaining three IQ points per decade for many, many years. Now, that's going backward. Could this explain some of our choices lately?

The Flynn effect appears to be in retrograde. (Credit: Shutterstock/Big Think)
popular

There's a new study out of Norway that indicates our—well, technically, their—IQs are shrinking, to the tune of about seven IQ points per generation.

Keep reading Show less

Lateral thinking: The reason you’ve heard of Nintendo and Marvel

Here's why generalists triumph over specialists in the new era of innovation.

Videos
  • Since the explosion of the knowledge economy in the 1990s, generalist inventors have been making larger and more important contributions than specialists.
  • One theory is that the rise of rapid communication technologies allowed the information created by specialists to be rapidly disseminated, meaning generalists can combine information across disciplines to invent something new.
  • Here, David Epstein explains how Nintendo's Game Boy was a case of "lateral thinking with withered technology." He also relays the findings of a fascinating study that found the common factor of success among comic book authors.
Keep reading Show less