Physics education isn't what it was 50 years ago. The most obvious changes have been quantitative: In 1930 in all of the US about 1000 students received bachelors' degrees in physics; about 200, masters' degrees; and about 100, PhDs. In 1980 the corresponding numbers were 4500, 1500 and 1000; and in the peak years around 1970 the figures were about 6000, 2500 and 1500 (see page 52). These large increases, corresponding to a factor of ten or more for graduate degrees, also point to the extent to which physicists have become essential to the technical development of our society and to the increased acceptance (at least in principle) of the idea that every citizen, in today's technological society, ought to have some knowledge of science in general and of physics in particular. Few would go so far as to embrace C.P. Snow's view that no person can be considered truly educated without knowing the second law of thermodynamics. (“My partner doesn't even know the first law,” said Michael Flanders, in mock disgust, in the show “At the Drop of a Hat.”) But many would give vigorous assent to what Henry Perkins said in 1969: “As we are living in a scientific age, physics is just as much of a cultural subject as the older humanities. Not to know something about the basic principles of mechanics, electricity and, at least, to have a smattering of atomic structure stamps the modern man as only half‐educated, just as ignorance of Latin and Greek indicated relative illiteracy to our forefathers.”
Fifty years of physics education
A. P. French; Fifty years of physics education. Physics Today 1 November 1981; 34 (11): 51–62. https://doi.org/10.1063/1.2914364
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