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Awesome skateboarding physics professor disses math and science education

November 16, 2010

Here’s a really inspiring story for students on so many different levels. It’s about a physics professor who became disillusioned with the education system and decided to devote his energies to improving a Tony Hawk video game.

The Way of Dr. Tae

some great quotes:

It’s a dichotomy he’s embraced since his teenage years. When he first picked up a board as a 14-year-old in Atlanta, he didn’t fit in with the freaks or the geeks.

“In middle school, it was weird that here was this guy who was good at math hanging out with the skate kids,” said Kim, now 35. “I was the nerdy straight-A student that never really fit into the skater image.”

His skateboarding obsession also caused tension between him and his strict Korean immigrant parents, who Kim says believed skateboard ownership would put him on the fast track to becoming a drug addict. “My parents fell into the trap of, ‘all skaters are no good, punk-ass hooligans who are not to be trusted and we don’t want you to fall into that bad crowd,'” he says.

Kim thinks professors and teachers should take a page from skateboarding. Learning how to skate isn’t an easy process, and it’s often not a lot of fun, he says. Behind every successful trick is a period of near-constant failure.

“If I wanted to learn, say, a front-side flip in skateboarding, I’d have to go to a parking lot and the only certainty would be that I’d have to keep going out there and work on it until I figured it out,” says Kim. “I’d change my technique, shuffle my feet or change my balance, until I got it. Once I got it once, I’d practice it over and over until I’d get it consistently.”

“Real-life research is more like skateboarding than something manufactured in a school curriculum. The school is the thing that’s artificial and pathological,” he says. “The persistence and the dedication needed in skateboarding—that’s what we need to be teaching. No one says to a toddler, ‘You have ten weeks to walk, and if you can’t, you get an F and you’re not allowed to try to walk anymore.’ It’s absurd, right? But the same thing is true with math and science education. If you want to learn trig or calculus, it’s set at such a pace in schools that it guarantees that only the absolutely best students will learn it.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 17, 2010 3:56 am

    Is the video worth a watch? Are you going to show it in class?

  2. November 17, 2010 4:00 am

    Yes, the video is pretty good. I don’t think I’ll show it in class, just because it spends some time talking about why college teaching is bad (my kids don’t know/care about this yet), and there’s a few minutes where he’s trying to learn some new skateboarding tricks and drops a few s-bombs. The sequence is awesome, however, since he really gets at learning. The best part, IMO, is where he shows a respiration diagram, and talks about how in HS biology, his job was to memorize whole diagram, without any justification for any step, and then how if you do this, you haven’t learned a damn bit of science.

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