A Preliminary Critique of the Project Physics Course

This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email sftp.publishing@gmail.com

A Preliminary Critique of the Project Physics Course

by Boston SESPA Science Teaching Collective

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 4, No. 5, September 1972, p.34

The Boston Area SESPA Science Teaching Group has been analyzing the Project Physics Course material. They have selected this particular curriculum because it, more than any other, attempts to deal with the social and cultural aspects of physics. To date most of the work has been done analyzing Unit 3: The Triumph of Mechanics.

As well as criticizing the course (when confronted with the statement, “As more and more people left the farms to work in the factories” they state that it is similar to saying, “As more and more blacks left Africa to work on American plantations… “), the group has written an alternate version for some parts of the text, as can be seen below. Anyone interested in further developing this critique and in preparing materials which would provide alternatives to the PPC approach, contact:

Physics Subgroup
SESPA Teaching Group c/o Science for the People
9 Walden Street
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts 02130


Watts invention of the steam engine with separate condenser, so superior to Newcomen ‘s engine, stimulated the development of engines that could do many other kinds of jobs—running machines in factories, driving railway locomotives, steamboats, and so forth. It gave an enormous stimulus to the growth of industry in Europe and America, and thereby helped transform the economic and social structure of Western Civilization.


Watt’s idea of the steam engine with separate  condenser became a practical reality when Matthew Boulton, a  British manufacturer, brought it into production. Because of its increased efficiency over the Newcomen engine, and thus its lower  operating cost, it was quickly empolyed in industry. Soon, in addition to running machines in factories, steam engines were being used to drive locomotives, boats and other means of transportation.

The development of steam power was an important element in the social and economic transformation of the west known as the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution was marked by a rapid expansion of industry and manufacturing and by the creation of a  large industrial working class. Large numbers of factory workers swelled the industrial cities as the Enclosure Acts of the 18th and 19th centuries forced them from the countryside.


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