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Entry from February 10, 2019
Physics for Poets (a science course for non-scientists)

Physics is a subject than many non-scientists find difficult to learn. To encourage non-scientists to learn something about physics, Columbia University developed a physics course that was known by at least 1964 as “Physics for Poets.” The term “poets” was meant to refer to liberal arts majors (and not necessarily only poets). In April 1967, New York University announced a course to be titled “Physics for Poets.” Robert H, March wrote a course book titled Physics for Poets (1970, with subsequent editions).

“Physics for Poets” was soon derided as a non-demanding course where a student could achieve a good grade. “Rocks for Jocks” (Geology 101) is a similar type of college course.

Columbia University Libraries
13 March 1964, Columbia Daily Spectator, pg. 7, col. 4:
On History of Science
To the Editor:
What comes to mind is a subject like physics and the non-scientist introductory course going with it, Physics 1-2, or as it is proverbially known, Physics for Poets.
Martin Krieger ‘64
March 4, 1964

15 November 1964, The Sunday Star-Bulletin & Advertiser (Honolulu, HI), “Use ‘Thinking Cap,’ Says Nobel Winner” by Larry McManus,
Why should a student planning a career far removed from science take a course in elementary physics?

Novel Prize winner Polycarp Kusch thought the question over for a moment.
WITHIN COLUMBIA College, his course for the freshman is known as “Physics for Poets,” as opposed to the physics taught students in engineering and medicine.

Columbia University Libraries
1 March 1966, Columbia Daily Spectator, pg. 1, col. 4:
‘Physics for Poets’ to Add
Optional Laboratory Section

Physics C1001x-1002y, popularly known as “physics for poets,” will add an optional laboratory section open to approximately twenty students in the 1966-67 academic year.

The lab will increase credit for the course from four to five points, according to Professor of Physics Samuel Devons, departmental chairman.

16 April 1967, New York (NY) Times, pg. 39, col. 1:
‘Physics for Poets’ Will Be Offered Next Semester
The physics department at New York University’s Washington Square College will offer a course called Physics for Poets next year to explore the philosophical implications and esthetics of physics.

According to Dr. Morris H. Shamos, the department chairman, the course is an attempt to make the work of scientists relevant to humanists, and though poets figure in the title of the course, it is not being offered exclusively for them.

1 March 1969, Akron (OH) Beacon Journal, “48 Hudson High Students: NYC Is Their Classroom,” pg. B1, col. 1:
AT COLUMBIA University, the visitors will meet Dr. Samuel Devons and hear him tell about a course he teaches on “physics for Poets” and discuss moral obligations of today’s scientists.

9 May 1969, Daily Northwestern (Evanston, IL), “Students organize department councils,” pg. 11, col. 1:
Courses under consideration are bio-physics for poets, and the philosophy of biology. Gilbert (Lawrence I. Gilbert, chairman of the biological sciences department—ed.) said the purpose of the curriculum change is to eliminate the minutiae of biology for non-science majors.

OCLC WorldCat record
Physics for poets
Author: Robert H March
Publisher: New York, N.Y. : McGraw-Hill, 1970.
Edition/Format: Print book : English

OCLC WorldCat record
Instructor’s guide to accompany Physics for Poets
Author: Robert H March
Publisher: New York, McGraw-Hill, 1970.
Edition/Format: Print book : English

26 July 1970, New York (NY) Times, “How to Make a Student Like Science” by Walter Sullivan, sec. 4, pg. 8, col. 1:
When Dr. Gray was teaching at Columbia in the mid 1960’s, general science courses were still the rule for students not majoring in science. Today, however, the trend is strongly toward “physics for poets” and other special courses for future, nonscientific citizens.

Google Books
Language Maven Strikes Again
By William Safire
New York, NY: Doubleday
Pg. 22:
Specific courses were the proverbial Underwater Basketweaving, Rocks for Jocks (or, at Stanford, “Physics for Poets,” an actual course offering), and my favorite, Clapping for Credit ("Introductory Music Appreciation").

Google Books
The Yale Daily News Guide to Succeeding in College
By Shaheena Ahmad
New York, NY: Kaplan Educational Centers: Simon & Schuster
Pg. 69:
Courses like “Rocks for Jocks” (geology for non-majors), “Clapping for Credit” (introductory music), “Physics for Poets,” “Kiddy Chem,” and “Math for Plants” have brightened many a college student’s semester, and, of course, grade point average.

Google Books
Getting Ready for College
By Polly Berent
New York, NY: Random House
Pg. 114:
“You always hear there are these easy courses out there to help raise your grade point average — Rocks for Jocks and Physics for Poets. Don’t waste your time looking.”

Urban Dictionary
physics for poets
Akin to rocks for jocks, this general education class will take the abstract and rigorous subject of physics and make it so easy and watered down that even poets will pass it.
I thought Intro to Physics sounded hard, so I took Physics for Poets instead
#rocks for jocks#liberal arts#college#poetry#general education
by The Moid April 12, 2010

Google Books
Two Cheers for Higher Education:
Why American Universities Are Stronger Than Ever—And How to Meet the Challenges They Face

By Steven Brint
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
Pg. 407:
“Guts” is the slang name for courses with light workloads, easy grading, or both. Guts include such famous courses in student lore as “animal planet” (conservation biology), “physics for poets” (introductory physics without the math), “rocks for jocks” (introduction to geology), “porn in the morn” (the sociology of sexuality), “heroes for zeroes” (Greek mythology), and even “frozen heroes for sub-zeroes” (Icelandic sagas).

Riley Ashby
Replying to @Polar_Bear_Edit
My liberal arts college had a class called Physics for Poets and then they had to change it because the English department got mad
12:57 PM - 7 Feb 2019

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityEducation/Schools • Sunday, February 10, 2019 • Permalink