Why Teach Chemistry?
The academic value of chemistry lies in two areas: as an intellectual discipline and for its content as it relates to human problems. Under some circumstances these two seem inseparable, but careful consideration shows they can be discussed independently with benefit. The content of chemistry is the obvious subject to be stressed when teaching chemistry majors as well as other science majors. Many sciences have recognized the importance of a sound knowledge of some of the important principles to their students. Thus, modern discussions of biology, geology, and some aspects of astronomy and physics as well as many of the engineering disciplines start with an assumed elementary knowledge of chemistry and its principles. In some cases, students are expected to acquire a knowledge of chemistry at the level of physical chemistry; a knowledge a t the level of organic chemistry is a common expectation for students in the health professions and allied health curricula. In one sense, chemistry stands a t the crossroads of many disciplines because activities that deal with the material world must be concerned with the materials involved-their persistence or stability, the interactions between substances, the way they change under a given set of conditions. Such questions are of interest whether the materials involved are blood constituents, single crystals for semiconductors, luminous nebulae, house paints, artists' materials, or rocks. A knowledge of chemistry will very likely prove useful to students whose major interests lie in such areas where the content of chemistry as well as the thought
processes involved are important tools. As an intellectual discinline. . .chemistrv is an excellent vehicle for developing a variety of important skills. I t can serve as the basis for helnine a student come to erios . with understanding his intell&tu~labilities (or deficiencies) and organizational skills. For the average student, chemistry appears to be a unique experience because it stresses both quantitative and qualitative thought processes. In the study of chemistry, it rapidly should become apparent to the student that he must develop the ability to separate subiects that need to be remembered from those which are hest understood through the logical application of principles. Confusing subjects which fall into one of these classes with those of the other invariably leads to a morass of personal mental perplexity. The study of chemistrv often makes students face for the first time the problemsof passing into formal operational thought processes in the Piagetian sense. All this is to illustrate the point that the study of chemistry is often where students begin to understand themselves, the wav thev think, and the wav . thev.eo about organizing their intellects.. On the other hand, the non-science oriented student who studies chemistry is probably after something different, as exemplified by the following statement made by such a student who wasasked what he expected to get from his study of chemistry. "I hope to discover what it is you and others like you have learned that can enrich my life, help me with my JJL work, or improve the society of which we are a part."
Volume 57, Number 10, October 1980 1 683