Emblies posted about education in general, and Duff (in his comment) suggested that Biology should be taught in lab and not in class, since largely it does not use a mathematical framework. You should read their posts if you haven't already because they have many interesting things to say. But Duff's comment about biology not being appropriate for class learning piqued my thought and so as not to totally clog Emblies' response page, I'm responding at length here.
Duff says: "In biology, I've long wondered if things would be better served if they did away mostly with lectures, perhaps limited it to once a week for an hour and a half, and the rest of the time was spent working in the lab."
First (and foremost) is that "Biology" is an incredibly broad term. There are some areas of Biology (phylogeny, for instance, or most forms of ecology) which I know less about than I know about physics. Even in a specialty or sub-discipline such as Genetics, there are a huge range of things that people study. The principles may be the same, but the procedures and the questions asked in Harinder's lab (where I work now) are very very different from the procedures and questions asked in Bill's lab (where I worked in high school). I absolutely could not (cannot?) choose a field of genetics, much less a field of biology itself, without classes to introduce me to topics before setting foot in a lab. I know that ecology and phylogeny bore me because I've had to study them for classes at some point and they bored me. I know that molecular biology is interesting because when I read even text book sections for them, I find things that are amusing, interesting, and intriguing. I know that DNA studies interest me more than protein studies because I have taken classes focused on proteins, and I find them less interesting than the classes I have taken focused on DNA. I think that I want to be a molecular geneticist because of experiences that I have had in classes as well as lab. There would have been no feasible way for me to be introduced to as many fields and disciplines as I have been introduced to if I only had class 1.5 hours a week: a year of rotation for a graduate student typically has them visit and do small projects in 3 or 4 labs (as far as I am aware). And one hopes to actually do a substantive project at some of these places, which means that 2 years of rotation needs to be enough to find a lab. But only having interacted with 6 to 8 possible specialties (and that's maximum, with specialty very specifically defined) is certainly not enough to give people an idea of the variety that is biology. So I think that biology classes are a necessary part of training a biologist.
Secondly is the fact that walking into a lab without an understanding of lab principles or procedures is a very very foolish thing to do. My first year, I was in a biology lab class (an advanced introduction, so these were presumably more biologically-inclined people than most classes at the U of C, even for biology majors) in which people did not know (or could not figure out immediately) how to use micropipetters (or, as I like calling them because it's more awesome, pipettemen). They didn't understand sterile technique in the slightest, they got Bacteria everywhere and freaked out instead of swabbing with ethanol and trying again with more finesse, they couldn't load a gel, etcetera. Even in my biochemistry class in my Junior year, there were people who were graduating with a BA in biochemistry and could not load a gel without a guide. My TAs have been consistently impressed with my ability to do things that I consider very simple, such as load and run gels, set up PCR reactions and so forth. All of which tells me that most people are, at base, completely and totally incompetent in lab, and that that incompetence needs must be trained out of them before they set foot near any valuable experiments. I have trouble in lab about keeping everything sterile, pipetting accurately, and getting reactions to work without hitch - so if someone was worse than me at those standard procedures, well, I wouldn't know what to do with them. They would be a waste of time and money. It is ridiculous to expect post-docs and graduate students, who have their own work to do, to also take on training every single biology student who comes through a program. If they were expected to do so, they would never get any of their own work done. So putting people into laboratory situations right away is silly.
Duff goes on to say: "I've always been curious as to what it means to think about biology outside a lab context. That is to say, not that abstract thought about biology cannot be had, but that it must be tied to the laboratory, as biology often does not have a mathematical framework that one can think within."
Admittedly, I laugh about the idea of "theoretical biology" as well, but it does exist. (Harinder is especially good at it, actually.) And there are some principles of biology that can be learned in a classroom very well (and that are actually suited particularly for classroom instruction). Yes, biology is based in observation and experiment rather than theoretical mathematical systems, but that does not mean that it cannot be taught in a classroom. Because there are theoretical underpinnings to much of biology that can be taught, and a worldview that can be exposed, in much the same way that mathematical acumen is necessary to understand and practice physics. I'm trying to think of a really good example and I'm going to go with Dobzhansky's Dictum. Dobzhansky's Dictum is the following: Nothing in Biology makes sense except in light of Evolution. When I first heard it I was dubious. But that's just the point -- it's a theoretical underpinning and a way of looking at the world specific to biology. It forces you to see the connections and relationships between our environment and ourselves, between different parts of our environment, etcetera. It also forces you to see the relationship and interdependence between molecular biology, genetics, and macroscopic biology. Evolution works on all levels, and you can talk about it at the genomic level, at the gene level, at the organismal level, at the systems level, and it's always the same principle. But you have to learn how to look at the world before you start seeing the interconnectedness. You have to hear Dobzhansky's Dictum and think about it for a while, apply it to specific situations, before it makes any sense to you whatsoever.
So the point is that while all kinds of biology don't necessarily have a mathematical framework that one can be taught and can "work within" -- although many kinds of biology do, in fact, have mathematical frameworks that you work within; protein folding problems come to mind -- all kinds of biology do have theoretical frameworks and postulates that you can think about and use to hypothesize. After all, theory != math.
Speaking of which, then, what makes physics so much different than biology in its capacity to be theoretical, then? Because Mango, earlier, had the following gem: He had always thought of physics as science and biology as engineering. For Mango that came down to purpose: the purpose of physics was to understand the world, the purpose of biology was to make people's lives better by finding cures and treatments for diseases. Again, physics as a discipline is theoretical and abstract and attempts to understand existence while biology is tied to the day-to-day realities of life and disease.
But it doesn't have to be this way. At least, not in my estimation.
I've sort of lost my train of thought here, so I might come back and clarify/add later. But I think that's enough for now anyway.