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    Re: Celestial Navigation as a college course
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2010 Apr 13, 15:53 -0700

    P Saffo, you wrote:
    "Back when I was at Harvard, "gut" was slang for an outrageously easy course. One notorious gut (a "roaring gut" in the parlance of the time) was "Boats", J. H. Parry's course on the marine discovery 1450 - 1650. I thus scorned it as not a serious course, which I came to greatly regret when I read his book "The Age of Reconnaissance" some years later. I am sure there is not a member of this list who didn't balance out a term full of tough classes with one or two others they could sail through -- "Boats" would have been a nice counterpoint to organic chemistry! In this instance, I wince at the thought that I passed up the opportunity to hear Parry lecture!"

    I probably over-stated my case in my first post on this. I don't object to celestial navigation as the basis for a college course, but I definitely don't think it should be counted towards fulfilling a "science requirement" under the normal sense of that in a highly selective liberal arts college. It's great as an elective topic, and there's a thousand ways you can go with it. In fact, you're pretty much guaranteed to end up using cel nav only as the BASIS for the course since, by itself, it's just not meaty enough. You couldn't teach *just* celestial navigation and fill out a semester length class. And I don't fault Sadler for teaching the class as "Fun with Positional Astronomy". None of these students would ever use this material in practice on the ocean without a major refresher course. But the principles might stick in their heads for decades. And if it provides them no practical value, at least it may leave them with a true fondness for science generally. And we need more of that in the world!

    You added:
    "And it is always funny to discover what from a brief 4 years sticks with one for the long term. I wouldn't have guessed at the time that I would gain a major life lesson from Astro 99, but "Constant Vigilance" has proved to be a guardian divinity on more than one occasion, helping me steer me away from countless close nicks and on at least one occasion, to divert me from major catastrophe."

    Do tell! But yes, I agree, it's as much the good "character" of teachers that makes them memorable as it is their technical competence.


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