So, you see, they could pass the examinations, and “learn” all this stuff, and not know anything at all, except what they had memorized.
One other thing I could never get them to do was to ask questions. Finally, a student explained it to me: “If I ask you a question during the lecture, afterwards everybody will be telling me, ‘What are you wasting our time for in the class? We’re trying to learn something. And you’re stopping him by asking a question.’” It was a kind of one-upmanship, where nobody knows what’s going on, and they’d put the other one down as if they did know.
They all fake that they know, and if one student admits for a moment that something is confusing by asking a question, the others take a high-handed attitude, acting as if it’s not confusing at all, telling him that he’s wasting their time.
I started out by defining science as an understanding of the behavior of nature. Then I asked, “What is a good reason for teaching science? Of course, no country can consider itself civilized unless…yak, yak, yak.”
“That, of course, is absurd, because why should we feel we have to keep up with another country? We have to do it for a good reason, a sensible reason; not just because other countries do.” Then I talked about the utility of science, and its contribution to the improvement of the human condition, and all that—I really teased them a little bit.
So I tell them that one of the first things to strike me when I came to Brazil was to see elementary school kids in bookstores, buying physics books. There are so many kids learning physics in Brazil, beginning much earlier than kids do in the United States, that it’s amazing you don’t find many physicists in Brazil—why is that? So many kids are working so hard, and nothing comes of it.
Then I gave the analogy of a Greek scholar who loves the Greek language, who knows that in his own country there aren’t many children studying Greek. But he comes to another country, where he is delighted to find everybody studying Greek—even the smaller kids in the elementary schools. He goes to the examination of a student who is coming to get his degree in Greek, and asks him, “What were Socrates’ ideas on the relationship between Truth and Beauty?”—and the student can’t answer. Then he asks the student, “What did Socrates say to Plato in the Third Symposium?” the student lights up and goes, “Brrrrrrrr-up”—he tells you everything, word for word, that Socrates said, in beautiful Greek.
But what Socrates was talking about in the Third Symposium was the relationship between Truth and Beauty!
What this Greek scholar discovers is, the students in another country learn Greek by first learning to pronounce the letters, then the words, and then sentences and paragraphs. They can recite, word for word, what Socrates said, without realizing that those Greek words actually mean something. To the student they are all artificial sounds. Nobody has ever translated them into words the students can understand.
I said, “That’s how it looks to me, when I see you teaching the kids ‘science’ here in Brazil.” (Big blast, right?)引自 O Americano, Outra Vez!这段对巴西教育的反思看起来同样适用于窝
“However,” I said, “I must be wrong. There were two students in my class who did very well, and one of the physicists I know was educated entirely in Brazil. Thus, it must be possible for some people to work their way through the system, bad as it is.”
Then something happened which was totally unexpected for me. One of the students got up and said, “I’m one of the two students whom Mr. Feynman referred to at the end of his talk. I was not educated in Brazil; I was educated in Germany, and I’ve just come to Brazil this year.” The other student who had done well in class had a similar thing to say. And the professor I had mentioned got up and said, “I was educated here in Brazil during the war, when, fortunately, all of the professors had left the university, so I learned everything by reading alone. Therefore I was not really educated under the Brazilian system.” I didn’t expect that. I knew the system was bad, but 100 percent—it was terrible!引自 O Americano, Outra Vez!这段好好笑