Friday, December 22, 2006

Trent Lott Thinks Learning Physics Is A Waste Of Time

I don't know anything about The Science Network, the Beyond Belief lecture series--none of it. But when a friend sent me a link and told me where to find video of Trent Lott making an idiot of himself, I had to go see. So go to the link, click on Session 8, and cue over to 36:42.

At that point they show a C-SPAN video of Trent Lott answering the question of a young man who asked what course of study a student might follow if he wanted to be a senator. Lott essentially replied that math and physics are a waste of time for anyone not wanting to go into the fields of math and physics. Aspiring lawyers (and lawmakers), according to Lott, would be better off taking classes in music, which is better for the soul.

Please, readers, help me put into words how stupid Lott's comment (and Lott himself?) is. Out of the maelstrom that is my thought process right now, I can say that both lawyers (future judges) and lawmakers should have a good grounding in science--in part so they're not swayed by pseudo-science and babble. I want lawyers and lawmakers who understand math--how many court cases, how many laws, require more than a basic understanding of arithmetic?

I know I have an intelligent argument here, I'm just not making it. I'm in intellectual shock at hearing Lott's words. Help me out.


David Foster said...

A very dumb comment, indeed. It's interesting to observe that while US governmental positions are overwhelmingly dominated by lawyers, the senior governmental positions in China are populated largely by engineers. Neither situation is good--there should be a mix of professional backgrounds in the senior leadership.

Mike Hammer, a renowned management consultant, has argued that aspiring business executive should double-major: one scientific field, and one rigorous humanity. I think his argument is equally applicable to political leadership.

Anonymous said...

Idiotic, yes, but the gray-haired fellow was using Lott’s comments to make his point.

For a man of Trent Lott’s position to make such statements knowing full well that skulls-full-of-mush would applaud is abominable. A senator is supposed to lead. Not pander. When we are supposed to be top-priority bent on raising academic standards even one-tenth of a smidgeon, how could anyone in his right mind say that requiring four years of math in high school is a waste of time? As a society are we committed to raising the education level of teenagers without making any effort at all?

Like you, Darren, I don’t know anything about this series and I’m sure that Senator Lott could complain that he was clipped out of context, wah, wah. But on its own he makes reasonable people cringe. In front of this audience, in response to this particular question, Senator Lott could have made the following points:

1) Aspiring to be a Senator is a worthy goal. But getting there requires a lot of ground work, both in school and out of school.

2) Becoming a Senator is hard work. You’ll make it possible by getting good grades starting now. Proficiency in math at least through the high school is now a requirement for getting and keeping a good job whether you are a senator or the manager of a Taco Bell.

3) The idea that a music class is a pre-req for being a senator should be taken as a joke; if he was going to make such a comment he should have followed up by saying that being well-rounded certainly is a requirement.

4) Identifying with teenagers about the difficulty of math and physics is acceptable. Joking that one shouldn’t even try is not. Sure Algebra II is hard. He could said, “But your parents did it and you’re smarter than they are, right?” Your grandparents did it too. They complained about it being hard but they did not complain about having to take it.

It gets pretty hard when we’re fighting down in the trenches and we have to overcome obstacles such as this. Why didn’t we Republicans elect someone other than Lott as minority leader when we had the chance?

Bob D

Darren said...

As I recall, the Supreme Soviet had people from a variety of fields, and it didn't seem to help them very much. Then again, I don't know how much authority the "Supreme" Soviet had.

Darren said...

"We Republicans" didn't elect Lott minority leader--no one ever called for my vote.

And yes, I caught that the lecturer used the clip of Lott to make the point that we three seem to agree on here, that Lott's comments are, to be charitable, "less than intelligent".

allen said...

On the basis of experience, I don't see how anyone can disagree with the Honorable Trent Lott.

The only president in American history with much of a claim to a technical/scientific background is Jimmy Carter. On the basis of President Carter's record I'd be willing to amend Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution to bar anyone from serving as president who has a technical background.

Just to be safe I'd also prohibit citizens born in Georgia from running for president as well. Can't be too careful.

Come on, he was asked which classes would best serve someone with an interest in politics. Leaving aside the obligatory cheap shots ("if you're a politician it doesn't matter how many classes you've taken, you still won't have any"), what classes would a kid take to help them in a political career?

Not science/technology-related classes. You don't need a degree in physics to understand the scientific method, the sense of it and when someone's trying to pull a fast one. What's that leave that seems worthwhile?

Just for the record, as a card-carrying Repub I didn't care for Trent Lott as Senate Majority chair. He was far too accomodating at a time when conservatives had some momentum. Rather then going for the jugular he was collegial, a pal. In politics, like in much of life, the best time to kick a man is when he's down and the Democrats, especially the left edge of the party, were certainly down after 1994.

Now we have to wait for the Democrats to engineer a big, fat tax increase so the electorate is reminded who's worse in that regard.

Anonymous said...

I don’t know that I can explain the frustration either, but I’ll give it a shot. I guess (well actually I know) I’m just old fashioned. I would expect someone who went through school when Lott did to get this. We USED to value a well-rounded education in this country. The ironic thing is, at a time in history where changes that used to take generations now happen in months, we have devalued this concept. We now want people (kids) to choose a specialty earlier and earlier (majors in high school???). At the same time, depending on which statistics you read, the average person now changes careers (that’s CAREERS, not just jobs) between 5 and 7 times. How are you supposed to be able to that without a well-rounded educational background?

Furthermore, with what we understand about brain science, it just makes sense to exercise different areas of the brain. We know through electrical scans that different areas of the brain become more active for different types of problems. We also know that the more of your brain you use and access, and the more “pathways” you create and can access, the better you will be at problem solving. After all, don’t the educrats all say education is about developing critical thinking skills and problem solving? Well, the best way to develop those skills is to access as much of the brain as possible by studying a wide range of topics.

Therefore, if you want to be an intelligent, critical thinking problem solver, and, you don’t want to fall for every pseudo-science explanation that comes down the pipe, then become a well-rounded student. Study Literature, Math, Science (oh and I mean REAL Math and Science, not the Math and Science for Social Studies majors, which is basically just high school level stuff you should have mastered in 10th grade with a college level number after it), History, Humanities, Economics, Music, Fine Arts, etc., etc., etc. It will make you a better person and by extension, better professional (at whatever profession or professions you end up choosing).

Ok, off the soapbox ☺

Anonymous said...

Trent should know all about wasting time.

Anonymous said...

Allen, Carter was not the only president with a technical/science background. Herbert Hoover was also an engineer (with nearly 20 years in the field before going into politics).

And as president he used this engineering experience to... to... Well, let's just say adding Hoover to the list of tech/sci presidents doesn't invalidate your argument.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

Do they even teach physics in Mississippi?

Ok, cheap shot. Mea culpa.

I think it might be nice if we had MORE lawmakers with some sort of scientific background, although some of the doctors we've had have been a real joke.

And Jefferson was an amateur scientist.