A Teacher of Psychology Discusses Astrophysics

I know very little of astrophysics. Therefore, I will not speak on the subject at all. I understand my thoughts would largely come from a place of extreme ignorance. So I will be silent on the subject. That is what someone should do when they don’t really know what they’re talking about. Sometimes knowing what you don’t know is just as important as knowing what you do know.

I suggest astrophysicists who know little of teaching remain silent on the subject…no matter how many followers you may have. Know what you don’t know.

But please allow me to turn this into a teachable moment for you, the reader…because that’s what teachers do.

What Dr. Tyson has unknowingly demonstrated is a wonderful example of how knowledge is domain specific. Just because you may know something about one area (or domain) of information does not mean you know anything about another area. Dr. Tyson eloquently illustrates this with his above tweet. There is no doubt he is knowledgeable in many domains…but one of these isn’t teaching…obviously.

Many people, whether they be astrophysicists or politicians, seem to forget their knowledge is domain specific. This often results in ridiculously ignorant tweets or ignorant legislation of what and/or how teachers should teach. And as many educators know, ignorance is bliss.

But, I am not writing this for Dr. Tyson (or politicians). He doesn’t care what I have to say and there is about a 0% chance he reads this, owns up to his ignorance, and admits that maybe classroom teachers know more about teaching than someone who is not a classroom teacher.

I’m writing this for teachers.

As much as possible, ignore the ignorance. Here’s my litmus test for whether I should care what someone on twitter or at central office or in the state legislature says about my profession:

Does it impact my instruction? Does it negatively change what I do?

If it doesn’t impact my classroom, I ignore. There will always be another ‘expert’ on education (like Dr. Tyson) spewing ridiculous comments and ideas. There’s no way to defend the profession at every turn. So, to preserve my sanity, I’ve chosen to just laugh off the nonsense, keep my head down, and continue to educate my students. It took me a while to get to this point and I once took everything very personally…but it was a waste of emotion. Nothing ever came of it. It didn’t impact my teaching. Oh well.

If you ever find me on twitter discussing the big bang theory or dark matter or black holes, please know that someone has stolen my account. I would never do that. Knowledge is domain specific. Astrophysics isn’t my domain. Know what you know…but maybe more importantly, know what you don’t know…or enjoy your blissful ignorance.

Feature image by Faik Akmd from Pexels.

3 thoughts on “A Teacher of Psychology Discusses Astrophysics

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  1. For the first time, I’m going to strongly disagree with you. 1. I think it’s important to have dialog with people about teaching even if they are not formally educated on the subject. In fact I think dialog is one of the best ways to teach. And 2. I actually agree with him. There are for sure teachers out there who just blame students for their not learning and don’t introspect or question their own teaching. His language is harsh, and maybe lots of his target audience will just be offended and tune him out, but it doesn’t mean he’s wrong

  2. Way back in the mid-sixties, there was an article on teaching that has always struck me. A quote from this article said- “Poor teaching is supported by the belief that the student doesn’t have the ability.” In that sense I agree with Neil DeGrass Tyson. While he may not know the science behind teaching as you may, he’s not ignorant of it. We are quick to blame the student for failed instruction when we also ned to ask where I went wrong. On of joys of teaching about how people learn and how it shows up in the classroom is to relate these principles to an example they have about why their learning stuck. They hadn’t a clue about the science behind this, but when explained to them, it really highlighted the principle! In medical education where I live, the best example related to this is to ask a student two questions: 1) What was the most memorable lecture that you can recall learning from, and 2) what was the most interesting (challenging, etc.) patient you learned from in medical school. Invariable they struggle with the first, but light up with the second. Not everyone has been a ‘classroom teacher’ but all of us have been a student there and knows good teaching when they encounter it.

  3. Dr.Tyson was “a visiting research scientist and lecturer. ” I think that hints at some classroom experience. So he has some experience to speak on this topic.

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