District Administration - May 2008 - (Page 26)

Book Excerpt Walter Isaacson on the Einstein Myth A recent biographer shares some of Einstein’s views on education. ECENTLY, I HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO HEAR WALTER ISAACSON SPEAK about the life and legacy of Albert Einstein. Isaacson is the president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, former chairman of CNN and former managing editor of Time. He is also the author of the recent best seller Einstein: His Life and Universe. I was struck by Isaacson’s insight into Einstein’s impact on contemporary education. Paradoxically, Einstein’s iconic image and eccentric personality made the great scientist seem accessible while simultaneously leading laypeople to conclude that science was inaccessible to them. The Einstein myth suggests that science is “hard,” that scientists are unlike us and do their work outside the mainstream of society. Einstein’s own education and personal views on learning contradict such conventional wisdom. Isaacson details the role Einstein’s attendance in a school built upon the principles of Pestalozzi played in the great scientist’s development. Pestalozzi (1746–1827), a major figure in the history of experiential education, advocated play, freedom, spontaneity and direct observation as central to learning. While many suggest that our current educational system is out of balance and we confront seemingly insurmountable challenges, Einstein’s life, as presented by Walter Isaacson, offers some timely perspective. – Gary Stager, senior editor At a time when there is a new emphasis, a useful asset for responsible citizenry. What science teaches us, very significantly, is the in the face of global competition, on science correlation between factual evidence and and math education, we should also note general theories, something well illustrated the other part of Einstein’s answer. “Critical comments by students should be taken in in Einstein’s life. In addition, an appreciation for the a friendly spirit,” he said. “Accumulation of glories of science is a joyful trait for a good material should not stifle the student’s insociety. It helps us remain in touch with that dependence.” A society’s competitive advanchildlike capacity for wonder, about such or- tage will come not from how well its schools dinary things as falling apples and elevators, teach the multiplication and periodic tables, that characterizes Einstein and other great but from how well they stimulate imagination and creativity. theoretical physicists. Therein lies the key, I think, to Einstein’s That is why studying Einstein can be worthwhile. Science is inspiring and noble, brilliance and the lessons of his life. As a and its pursuit an enchanting mission, as young student he never did well with rote the sagas of its heroes remind us. Near the learning. And later, as a theorist his success end of his life, Einstein was asked by the came not from the brute strength of his menNew York State Education Department tal processing power but from his imaginawhat schools should emphasize. “In teach- tion and creativity. As he once declared, ing history,” he replied, “there should be “Imagination is more important than knowlextensive discussion of personalities who edge.” (From Walter Isaacson, Einstein: benefited mankind through independence His Life and Universe [New York: Simon of character and judgment.” Einstein fits & Schuster, 2007], 5-7. Excerpted with permission of the author.) into that category. District Administration R “As a young student, Einstein never did well with rote learning.” — Walter Isaacson For all of his popular appeal and surface accessibility, Einstein also came to symbolize the perception that modern physics was something that ordinary laymen could not comprehend, “the province of priest-like experts,” in the words of Harvard professor Herschbach. It was not always thus. Galileo and Newton were both great geniuses, but their mechanical cause-and-eff ect explanation of the world was something that most thoughtful folks could grasp. In the eighteenth century of Benjamin Franklin and the nineteenth century of Thomas Edison, an educated person could feel some familiarity with science and even dabble in it as an amateur. A popular feel for scientific endeavors should, if possible, be restored, given the needs of the twenty-first century. This does not mean that every literature major should take a watered-down physics course or that a corporate lawyer should stay abreast of quantum mechanics. Rather, it means that an appreciation for the methods of science is 26 May 2008

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of District Administration - May 2008

District Administration - May 2008
Contents
Editor’s Letter
Letters
News Update
Security Update
Curriculum Update
Inside the Law
District Profile
Administrator Profile
Book Excerpt
Addressing Food Allergies
Algebra: Changing the Equation
Stopping MRSA
Resources to Support Disabled Learners
Web Tools: The Second Generation
How Well Does This Web Site Work?
New Products
Speaking Out
Supervisor’s Opinion
Professional Opinion
Leadership Books
Research Center
Calendar of Events
Products Showcase
Understanding the Times

District Administration - May 2008

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