My Op-ed piece in today’s paper

If you read my goals for this year, two goals mentioned a motivational speech and an eBook, which probably didn’t make any sense. Well, my opinion piece in The Stamford Advocate (my hometown paper) should clear things up a little.

I’ve finished writing, and will shortly be releasing an eBook called “How To Find Your Passion.”

For now, here’s the opinion piece.

Link to original story or read the article below:

More passion, not more science education

Published: 04:41 p.m., Thursday, January 21, 2010

By Ben Rosenfeld

Anywhere you look, there is talk about how America is falling behind in science and technology. And a lot of pundits say it’s all the fault of education. “We need more education.” “We need better education.” “We need better schools.” The list goes on and on and on.

We don’t need more education; we need more students to develop a passion for science. We have plenty of universities (and primary schools) that teach science, but they teach it in such a boring manner that only those who already want to become a physicist or mechanical engineer get through the drudgery of those lectures and problem sets.

Most of everyone else studies psychology, communications or economics. We can either make “hard science” classes more interesting, which wouldn’t hurt, or we can make sure that by the time students get to a university, they love science so much that they’re willing to get through those hard classes.

I’m not simply making a theoretical argument: I enrolled in a PhD program in Neuroeconomics at a top five university (Caltech), and five weeks into the first semester, when the workload was a lot more intensive than in undergrad, I realized I didn’t have the passion to continue graduate school. I never enjoyed biology and I tried avoiding math as much as possible because I never found it interesting. I wasn’t scared by the work, but I couldn’t force myself to work so hard for something I didn’t love. While I have the passion for figuring out why people do what they do, I was missing the passion for neuroscience and the passion for math.

My two months at Caltech weren’t all for naught, however. Being there helped me realize my passion is comedy. (I’m still studying human behavior: Instead of asking, “Why do people give money to other people?” I’ve started asking, “What makes people laugh?”)

My passion for comedy has helped me tolerate standing in Times Square in zero degree rain and snow passing out comedy flyers for three hours in order to get seven minutes of stage time. Passing out fliers never fazed me, as I viewed it as part of the process that I need to go through to develop as a comic. On the other hand, I viewed math and biology as part of the process to avoid.

When you love doing something, you run through the walls that stand in the way of achieving in that area. But when you don’t love doing that thing, the walls make you turn around and do something different.

In India, China and Japan, science and technology are keys to a “good job,” so even people without much passion for it will throw themselves into it. In America, science and technology aren’t the only (or the best, or easiest) ways for striking it rich (see: Banker, Investment), so you actually have to like science to study it. (This is also why there are so many undergraduate economics majors in this country who hate economics.)

So how do we get someone to be more passionate about science? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s genetic. Maybe it’s determined before a child enters kindergarten. But I have a feeling this isn’t true. I had zero interest in philosophy until I took a philosophy class my senior year of high school. After that class I liked it enough to major in philosophy.

Interest is the reason a seven-year-old can figure out a baseball player’s batting average but doesn’t know how to divide regular numbers. If a teacher makes a subject more interesting, there’s a higher likelihood that a student will start to develop a passion for that subject. We don’t need more education, we need more teachers who know how to make students passionate about science and technology.

Ben Rosenfeld is a New York City comedian and author of the forthcoming e-book “How To Find Your Passion.” Before becoming a Caltech PhD dropout, Ben graduated from Stamford High School in 2002. His e-mail address is ben@bigbencomedy.com.

One Reply to “My Op-ed piece in today’s paper”

  1. Interesting op-ed, but I think closing paragraphs miss the point. You said that you had zero interest in philosophy, until you took a philosophy class. If you didn’t have any experience with philosophy prior to that class, you would not have any idea whether or not philosophy would interest you. However, you also say that you never enjoyed math or science (hard sciences like biology, chemistry and physics), so it’s clear that you did have prior experience with that. This would lead me to the conclusion that it’s important to experience a wide variety of topic material, so we can figure out what we like, not that it is important for teachers to make a subject more interesting.

    While it may be true that if a teacher makes a topic more “interesting” (whatever that means), students may become more engaged in the topic, the teacher may not be the main driver of student interest.

    To add an anecdote of my own, I always enjoyed math and science, but there were many of my fellow students, who were in the same classes as I was, who did not share my interest. Is it the fault of the teacher, who may have no catered to every person’s individual interest? Or, is it because each individual has interests based on their prior experiences (which I admit, teachers may be a part of).

    I’d venture a guess that the people we look up to have a greater impact on what our interests are, than how a teacher may have taught us. The child who knows how to calculate a baseball player’s batting average probably does so because he wants to know how his favorite player is doing, or because his parents love baseball and he wants to be just like them. Maybe if we want to have more mathematicians and scientists, we have to make current mathematicians and scientists have more children?

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