It is my belief that the primary purpose of education is to teach individuals how to think in a manner which is in accordance with reality (rational thought). This entails teaching the rules of inductive and deductive reasoning, as far as they are known, and providing progressively more complex situations for the student to practice the application of these rules. Once rational thought is mastered, it can be used to address all of the problems that arise in life, regardless of their nature.
The actual content of the learning is secondary, but it is still extremely important to education. It is only by thinking about specific things that one can learn to think, and some subjects are more suited to this purpose than others. Complex problems, if encountered too soon, may lead only to frustration and a feeling that thought is useless.
Thus, it is desirable to first study very limited problems, whose context and scope are explicitly defined. Once simple problems have been conquered, complexity can be increased in a controlled fashion, until it approaches that of real problems. This fosters confidence in the human mind and its ability to deal with reality.
Physics and mathematics are well suited to this approach, and this is their value in education. The scope of problems can be controlled and the difficulty can be increased gradually. Real problems, on the other hand, tend to be complex from the beginning, and can serve more to thwart developing reason than to foster it.
Therefore, instruction should emphasize explicitly the methods
which are involved in understanding problems and their solutions. Since
no single set of methods is appropriate for every problem, this must be
repeated in many different contexts. Eventually the student will develop
intuition for which methods are likely be useful in a particular
Aside from the usefulness of math and physics in intellectual development, I find these subjects interesting in themselves, and my teaching and research interests lean naturally in this direction. Most fascinating to me are the concepts introduced in relativity and quantum mechanics, which are difficult to reconcile with notions obtained from common experience. These subjects provide a wealth of opportunity for independent creative thought to both beginning and experienced researchers.