In education, often models aren’t merely simplified but are lies. I just learned the term for that is: lie-to-children where you intentionally lie in the hopes that somebody in the future will come along and fix your lie but meanwhile your lie has some value.
I’ve always had mixed feelings about that, even though I didn’t know it had a name. Strong opinions but I’d vacillate. However, this quote from Gerald Sussman in 1986 (in a famous computer programming course he gave with Hal Abelson), I find quite acceptable:
“If we’re going to understand processes and how we control them, then we have to have a mapping from the mechanisms of this procedure into the way in which these processes behave. What we’re going to have is a formal, or semi-formal, mechanical model whereby you understand how a machine could, in fact, in principle, do this. Whether or not the actual machine really does what I’m about to tell you is completely irrelevant at this moment.
In fact, this is an engineering model, in the same way that, [for an] electrical resistor, we write down a model V = IR—it’s approximately true, but it’s not really true; if I put enough current through the resistor, it goes boom, so the voltage is not always proportional to the current, but for some purposes the model is appropriate.
In particular, the model we’re going to describe right now, which I call the substitution model, is the simplest model that we have for understanding how procedures work and how processes work—how procedures yield processes.
And that substitution model will be accurate for most of the things we’ll be dealing with in the next few days. But eventually, it will become impossible to sustain the illusion that that’s the way the machine works, and we’ll go to other, more specific and particular models that will show more detail.”