One of the major themes that has dominated the literature of science education since the late 1980s is the notion of “Science for All.” Although possibly used before, Project 2061 of the AAAS used the term “Science for All Americans,” as the title of its 1989 book and from the date of that publication, the rationale we have used to provide a science education for all points back to this publication.
The shibboleth “science for all” has implied that a science education can be developed for all students, and that there’s something in science for everyone. Yet the evidence in the science education literature is not very flattering, nor does it lead us to say that great progress has been made in bringing science to all. One of the major studies that I’ve cited in The Art of Teaching Science is The Relevance of Science Education (ROSE) investigation directed by Svein Sjøberg, the University of Oslo. These researchers have found, among other things, that students around the world see little relevance in the science curriculum, and is implied to be the key reason why interest in science as a school subject is so low.
Driving the “science for all” notion is the National Science Education Standards, and the use of end-of-year examinations, and large-scale assessments of student achievement. What has happened here is that we have use the Standards to define what science education “all” students should receive, and then used these standards to design high-stakes tests which are used to measure gains, effectiveness, progress, etc. But the problem here is that not all of our students are succeeding within the science curriculum that has been developed as a result of the Standards. As one group of researchers reported in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching:
although schools are attempting to reform in order to meet these requirements, efforts to do so are typically unsuccessful: they are short lived and / or bring about few measurable changes
Earlier this week I wrote about the research that Wildson L.P. dos Santos is doing in applying a Freirean philosophy to science education, or what he calls a Freirean humanistic science education. dos Santos suggests that the science curriculum should help students learn science through lived-experiences in which they are able to study the contradictions that exists around the world, and to create a humanistic view of science teaching. Why is this important? The researchers I mentioned above (Nathan B. Wood, Frances Lawrenz & Rachelle Haroldson) have addressed this issue. They describe a global culture of “dealing” and they argue that this culture is the underlying cause of the deterioration in the achievement of U.S. students, and the failures of so many reform efforts to bring about substantial and lasting change.
They point out that much of the research that helps us understand students’ culture and cultural practice and how this knowledge would help in science learning and performance, has been kept “on the margins of national/reform discussions.” Other researchers (Rodriquez) would agree with this, and indeed criticize national policy (especially the Standards) which tends to marginalize or keep invisible issues of the underserved/ underrepresented. Wood, Lawrenz & Haroldson suggest that students have been ignored in discussions about how best to teach science, and see this as a major impediment to reform in science education.
Can the culture of the science education change to make science education for all a reality? According to Wood, Lawrenz & Haroldson, to do so would be to challenge the power structure with the culture of science education. They put it this way:
Counterpower comes into play when people who must follow a policy are not part of the decision to develop it. This can result in passive or active resistance depending on the situation. This resistance is heightened when accountability levels are high, as in the case with NCLB, or when the oppression is continuous and pervasive, as in the case with students. As Carlone points out, school science is a social construction that has, over time, become so entrenched that all of these groups have come to share a common, though unspoken understanding of what constitutes ‘‘good science’’ and how the social structure of the classroom should be organized. Teaching and learning in this prototypical classroom is the epitome of what Freire calls the ‘‘banking system of education’’ and it ultimately amounts to enculturation into an elitist conception of science, thus the culture of school science is self-reproducing (Wood, Lawrenz & Haroldson).
These researchers used what they called a “judicial” paradigm for an investigation of two large scale science education projects. They set out to show that U.S. students have been largely ignored in discussions and planning for own futures, and that there exist unique student and teacher cultures and that we as adults have failed to take into account the validity or existence of student culture. What is very interesting in their “legal” approach is that they show that adults “instigated” reform efforts in order to improve student achievement. Because we don’t really acknowledge student culture, the results of reform may not meet with the culture of students, and as we have seen, adults appear to be very dissapointed with the results that students show on adult achievement tests.
Science education needs to humanize the context of learning, and it should begin with a recognition of the validity of student culture, and indeed other subcultures that exist within our school environment. A humanistic science education is called for in the way that is described by Aikenhead in his book Science Education for Everyday Life. A humanistic science tends to be context-based, rather than based on “established science.” As a context-based approach, student culture, and student ideas would be foremost in the teachers’ approach, and curriculum designed for such a model would tend to be student-centered.
The challenge for the new administration is an enormous one. There still remains fundamental support for the NCLB act which is at odds with the humanistic approach advocated here. There is a need to restore a kind of Deweyian philosophy of education in which learning is embedded in experiences when the student interacts with the environment and others.Tags: culture of science education, humanistic science teaching, humanizing science education, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, National Science Education Standards, NCLB, Project 2061, ROSE Study, science for all