Feynman believed imagination is important in learning about physics. Why is imagination not part of the Common Core State Standards Initiative? Would he smell a rat?

Richard Feynman (if he were alive today), a world renowned physicist, might have some issues with the rigor and amount of standardized testing present in Common Core State Standards Initiative and its claim the standards will make students STEM ready.  Here is his video  explaining Jiggling Atoms”: 


He begins by wondering why some people find science dull and boring, especially kids, but then, why some kids “eat it up”.  At the 30 second mark he says one of the things that makes science very difficult is that it takes a lot of imagination:

It’s very hard to imagine all the crazy things….that things really are like.

Imagination and creativity aren’t exactly hallmarks or contained in the blueprint of the CCSSI.  It’s based on rigor, less fiction reading, and less emphasis on creative writing.  More emphasis is placed on the use of informational text.  We are informed this emphasis will help kids in science and prepare for the global workforce, even as no data or research exists to support these claims.

As you watch Feynman, you see a man passionate about his subject and he makes the subject come alive for the viewer.  His explanation of “jiggling atoms” is not following a script or designed to require kids to “fill in the blank”.  It requires them to use their imagination.   The clip at 4:15 shows his exuberance on his pleasure on thinking about physics in everyday occurrences:

I find myself trying to imagine all kinds of things all the time…I get a kick…out of thinking about these things.  I can’t stop.  I could talk forever.”

Do you think CCSS compliant kids will use their imaginations on how things work, the nature of things, etc in the mandated standardized test requirements?  Is the school more interested in test results and participation than they are in helping to expand students’ imaginations and interests?

He talks about his inquisitiveness as a child.  How can this inquisitiveness be furthered or directed in a common educational system dictated by common aligned curriculum and standardized tests?  It can’t. At 6:46:

All these things you can understand from a lot of pictures (Feynman’s verbal examples).  It’s kind of a lot of fun. Think about it.  I don’t want to take this stuff seriously.  I think we should just have fun imagining and not worrying….there’s no teacher going to ask you about the questions at the end.  Otherwise, it’s a horrible subject. (smile).

Information on Richard Feynman from the BBC:

Richard Feynman, one of America’s most renowned physicists, sits down in an armchair at his Californian home to explain the physics that underpins the world around us. In this first episode, he explores the beauty of the way atoms interact with each other and reveals why fires feel hot.

Feynman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 (jointly with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga). He received the prize for his work on quantum electrodynamics, a theory that describes the interaction between light and matter.

Information from his daughter from Discover Magazine:

Of my father’s many skills, this willingness to play the fool—and to let me think he could be outfoxed by my clever thinking—was the one that shaped my childhood more than any other. This is also the key, in my mind, to his success as a teacher. Never condescending, he had a knack for breaking problems down to a seemingly simplistic level and then allowing his students to be the geniuses who figured out the solutions.

These memories and more came flooding back to me when I began sorting through twelve filing-cabinet drawers of papers from the Caltech Archives. As I delved into his correspondence, I was completely captivated. In his written work my father is articulate, insightful, considerate, humble, funny, and charming.

These letters are testimony to his skill and desire to be plainly understood—and, of course, to his passion and curiosity about the world. Again, his own words, written to a young student seeking advice, explain it best: “You cannot develop a personality with physics alone, the rest of life must be worked in.”

Does a nationalized curriculum and standardization of educational assessments create “passion and curiosity about the world” necessary to become excellent in STEM subjects or any other area of a student’s life? How do you think a student possessing the capability of Richard Feynman’s level of scientific knowledge and curiosity develop under Common Core standards?

He seems as if Feynman encountered the resistance of certain experts when testifying about the Challenger disaster in 1986.  Just as Drs. James Milgram and Sandra Stotsky have testified to the ambiguity and lack of research, data, and transparency in the CCSSI development, adoption and implementation, Dr. Feynman revealed the truth about the Challenger explosion in a straightforward manner:

Public intellectual
Feynman became the pivotal player on the team investigating the Challenger space shuttle disaster. A simple experiment cut through a great deal of ambiguous testimony. He placed a piece of an O-ring (a gasket in the shuttle booster rockets) in ice water to simulate the temperatures on the day of  Challenger’s launch. The material became brittle, dramatically demonstrating the cause of the accident. In a letter to the chairman of the investigation, Feynman explained his findings: “The large number of negative observations are a result of the appalling condition the NASA shuttle program has gotten into.”

Feynman to Gweneth and Michelle Feynman, February 12, 1986
The following was written during Feynman’s stint on the commission investigating the Challenger space shuttle accident.

You, Gweneth, were quite right–I have a unique qualification–I am completely free, and there are no levers that can used to influence me–and I am reasonably straight-forward and honest. There are exceedingly powerful political forces and consequences involved here. . . . I disregard them all and proceed with apparent naive and single-minded purpose to one end, first why, physically the shuttle failed, leaving to later the question of why humans made apparently bad decisions when they did. . . .

Tomorrow at 6:15 we go by special airplane (two planes) to Kennedy Space Center to be “briefed.” . . . My guess is that I will be allowed to do this overwhelmed with data and details, with the hope that so buried with all attention on technical details I can be occupied, so they have time to soften up dangerous witnesses etc. But it won’t work because (1) I do technical information exchange and understanding much faster than they imagine, and (2) I already smell certain rats that I will not forget because I just love the smell of rats for it is the spoor of exciting adventure. . . .(MEW bolded)


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