I've seen questions about how to study physics or how physics should be taught being dealt with in a variety of ways. Some get downvoted, some get closed by moderators while others are even answered by moderators. Examples are:
- Should linear algebra and vector calculus from traditional courses be replaced with `geometric algebra`?
- How to learn physics effectively and efficiently
- Why is introductory physics not taught in a more "axiomatic" way?
To me, and no doubt to new users, this is confusing and I think it might hold people back from asking a particular question. As a matter of fact, this meta question was inspired by exactly such an experience: I was thinking about the course on non-linear dynamics I took this semester and how insightful it was. It got me wondering why we spend so much time in our physics curriculum linearizing everything and then hoping to capture the interesting non-linear physics through methods like perturbation theory. Non-linear dynamics should - in my opinion - at least be touched on at the Bachelor level (no idea what that level is called in countries like the US).
So I was on the verge of asking a question on this subject, probing for reasons why linearity is made so important in physics education, while there is no objective reason for nature to behave that way and indeed it rarely does (well I know one reason: we can solve linear problems analytically, non-linear problems are usually too difficult mathematically). But then I stopped and realized my question would probably be closed because it doesn't really have an objective answer.
Now, I understand that it can be hard to distinguish between an acceptable question that cannot have a truly objective answer and a question that is just effectively pointless. It's a fine line to tread. One way to solve the problem is not to tread the line at all and steer away from all such questions. Another way is to define more clearly what is allowed and what isn't. The FAQ section does a good job of this already, but it's arguable that these guidelines are not follow strictly (see the examples above). So perhaps more clarity is needed and that's why I've created this question. I'm sorry for the long intro, but here's the summary of it all: precisely what is the difference between a good education question and a bad one?
Recently some questions have also been migrated to the academia beta, like this one:
Where exactly do we draw the line between their territory and ours?
After considering the answer by Larry Harson and the comments by David Zaslavsky and Manishearth, I have slightly adjusted my thoughts on the subject. (I apologize for making this question even longer, but I think it's necessary to include my own thoughts)
I think questions asking for book recommendations or methods for studying physics should probably be discouraged here. In general, questions specific to one person/situation are already discouraged as "not constructive" so that's consistent. There are other places to ask those questions.
However, a platform should exist for questions on how physics should (not) be taught. Whether or not that platform is Physics.SE remains a tough question to answer in general, but I think most of those questions are on topic. They are definitely questions that need to be asked, because the way physics is taught greatly affects both the amount of people that get interested in physics and the level of understanding that the physicists of tomorrow have. In a very significant way, it defines the direction we take in our investigation of the physical world. So for that reason, I certainly don't think we can disallow those questions in general.
On the other hand, (the most important) questions about how physics should be taught would probably spark debates, which is a good thing by itself but unfitting of this site's format. Therefore, the acceptable questions are probably
- not purely hypothetical: "should"-questions like "Should we do B?".
- but instead argumentably comparative: "why"-questions like "Why is A preferred over B?". (not "Why don't we do B?" since that's just a hypothetical question in disguise)
Then there are still intermediary cases with questions like "Is it realistic/useful to teach some elementary quantum mechanics at the high-school level?". This can be answered with some level of objectivity by teachers, but it doesn't really have a 'right' answer. Then again, the "why"-questions I mentioned earlier don't necessarily have one either, they're just (slightly?) less subjective than the "should"-questions.
So is a clear and consistent distinction between good and bad education questions even possible? And if my above assessment constitutes a reasonable distinction, what to do with the intermediary cases?