Recently my friend asked me to tutor his kid mathematics, for the kid was having a hard time learning the subject. The subject was a piece of cake for me. So I did.
The kid was a good kid, very smart. However, he was not so smart any more once he opened math books as though he was afraid of something. He often gave irrelevant answers to problems in his homework. I asked him what his teacher covered in lectures. He was clear about lecture contents. His grades were very bad. I told him: “let’s first go over sample solutions in the book and then try to adopt the same methods to the homework problems.” We tried this several times. The kid suddenly found the way and became much more confident in mathematics. His grades improved. My friend thanked me. I didn’t think I deserved it. In fact, I know that I have taught the kid to follow examples only. Who can say it is a good thing if a smart kid increased his confidence because he had learned to follow examples?
When I was in school, I often copied others’ homework. Not because I didn’t understand the teachers’ lectures, but because I was not sure of what to answer and the format. Elementary school mathematics was OK, since the problems were quite straightforward. In high school, I often felt that there were seven or eight solutions to the questions the teachers asked. However, the teachers only acknowledged one or two of them. I couldn’t locate these one or two answers. I often relied on others to start writing answers. My grades were OK because I copied a lot of others’ homework. At that time, the difficulty in starting to write answers was a puzzle to me -- until “bad” students reminded me of this way of copying example problems.
People said that science was similar to a religion. I couldn’t agree with them more. Weren’t those professors popes? They taught others and forced others to follow their mindset and methods of expression. High school teachers were like reverends. Their mindset was narrower and more inflexible. Not only math, chemistry is the most unconvincing field. My junior high chemistry teacher said that there were only 107 elements in nature. He asked us to memorize the “Periodical Table of the Elements”, treating it as “majestic heavenly secret”. Wasn’t it funny? They should just claim that 107 elements were discovered because we have only found 107 elements. Why claim that only 107 elements exist in nature? The cosmos is immense. How can you be so sure that you know everything? Why is it that things that we have not discovered do not exist? Maybe sometime an object will drop on your doorstep from the cosmos. Can you claim that it is not from nature? No one had a good result after arguing with the teachers. I could only hope that this chemistry could be overturned sometime in the future. Biology classes in senior high were even worse. Evolutionism (Darwinism) was taught as utmost truth. I had doubts, but I thought maybe textbooks did not include the very complex parts of the theory. I came across some university professors in departments of biology and philosophy and had a talk with them. They told me that Darwinism was only a suspect, one out of many suspects. Then I went to ask a prestigious biology professor in my neighborhood. The old professor told me Darwinism was only a guess, but he told me to answer school problems with the contents of the textbooks and lectures. I did not understand the reason, so I challenged my teacher in class. I was almost beat down as a “heretic”. My good grades and good relationships with teachers saved me from potential big troubles. I shut up immediately because I did not want to risk my future. At that time, I had already read about how people in the Pythagorean School threw the person who discovered that square root of number two was an irrational number into a river. It was so overbearing. I thought that stubborn people were so terrible and lamentable. Biology was not my major in college. I did not seek for detailed answers and just took evolutionism for granted. I knew what the old professor who taught evolutionism really thought. When opportunity arises, I will expose the falseness of high school biology classes.
University professors were more lenient than high school teachers. People could say things that they dared not say in high school. However, the religious tint was even more pronounced. This was not to say that kowtowing or incense burning existed. It was to say that whenever we got to know different schools of theories, the differences were usually on the aspect of perspectives of value. While attending college, I rarely thought of the relationships between nature and schools of theories, but was trapped in the teachings and viewpoints of the authors. My mindset when learning mathematics was complete sponge, because it was “science”. How was converting to a religion any different? I switched my major to engineering in graduate school. It was almost like the development of different schools of religion. Established people in different disciplines always talked about different perspectives of value at their gatherings. People with different views on values abstract and imitate the world in different ways and developed different branches – it was that simple. We graduate students were similar to monks who read their scriptures everyday in temples. I forgot my initial idea to overturn chemistry and expose the falseness of high school biology classes.
I thought myself very smart in the past, when I could not understand religion. I was sad only after I found that I was a follower of the religion of science. Those people who believe in Gods or Buddha, their beliefs were based on their choices. However, I was forced to believe in science. Isn’t it pitiful? What they believe can at least offer solutions to where mankind comes and goes and even problems in the immense cosmos and time-space. What I believed only involved building models and solving “practical problems in the nature”. No matter whether they are right or wrong, at least they have had the courage to question and explore for several thousand years. Science did not succeed in proving them wrong. The only theory – evolutionism – that could challenge Gods and Buddha was taught from high school biology classes. I feel so ashamed that I didn’t try my best to expose it. Science even claims to open up people’s horizons. Human beings are so pathetic!
Later on many of my friends and classmates changed their belief in this forceful religion and started thinking and exploring over a wider range. Some found what they truly believed. Some did not find their belief, but quit PhD studies and went after money. They found science too boring. Several, including those who have found their true beliefs, joined “pope” teams in science. Of course, those who have found true beliefs have different means to study science.
Some became reverends in schools. No matter if they truly believe what they promote or are simply forced, I hope they will not exaggerate the level of science. Hopefully, no one is going to treat students the way I was treated in high school. I am grateful to my past schoolteachers. However, I have to make it clear for the benefit of our next generation. Someone may say that what I encountered is not a common problem, that my teachers were not good. I don’t think so. The big cities where I attended school had very good teaching resources. Why were the schoolteachers so overbearing? They were not overbearing personally – they cared a lot about us. Then why were they so self-assured and so overbearing once they were teaching? I am not against my past teachers, but what controlled them and made them so arrogant? What can make them and their successors realize this?
Looking back at the process of my own realization, I know it won’t be a process of just a few days for schoolteachers who are totally into making a living and after high rates of university admission. However, we don’t want others to repeat our mistakes. Smart kids will want to understand a lot of puzzlements. I hope no one will force kids or cheat kids with hypotheses on “current levels”. Or even threaten kids with labels such as “heretic”. Let kids choose what they believe. Science claims to offer people comfortable lives. I do not want to talk about whether that’s true or false here. However, how can science be so overbearing and cheat students just because of this one single point?