There was a very interesting new comment made on an earlier post entitited Should science teaching be political: A Humanistic Question. In that post I explored the ideas of researcher Wildson dos Santos, who had published an article: Scientific literacy: A Freirean perspective as a radical view of humanistic science education.
In the comment made, and in the view of dos Santos, science education is challenged to rethink the nature of scientific literacy as more than simply an understanding (as measured on end-of-course and other types of high-stakes examinations) of canonical science as defined in the National Science Education Standards.
There are science teachers who believe that science education should be transformative—that is, an experience in which students become involved in socio-political action—indeed, become involved in social activism. One such teacher is Barbara Broadway, who was a high school chemistry teacher in a Dekalb County (GA) school. One of the projects I recall that she was engaging her students had to do with an exploration of the water chemistry of small stream near their high school. She was not only interested in having the students learn how to sample and analyze water from the stream, but take action on the results of their study. In the first year of this study, her students identified a number of heavy metals in the stream that shouldn’t have been there. They decided to sample water at locations upstream from their school, and during their investigation, they found that a company was dumping wastes directly into the stream—they found the source of the heavy metals. The social action in this case was NOT going to the local newspaper and reporting the results. No, what the students & their teacher did was to go directly to the company and share the results of their research. In this case, the company admited they were dumping waste directly into the stream, and would indeed stop the activity. The students, with their teacher, were at the center of a socio-political action, and in this case experienced the fruits of their research.
This is a good example of humanistic science education, as described by science education researcher Glen Aikenhead in his book Science Education for Everyday Life. In the case cited here, we see S-T-S, context-based science teaching in action. The comment that was made on dos Santos’ research is relevant here, and I quote a part of the comment (which you can read in full here):
However, in applying the ideas of Freire and dos Santos to a US public school context, it seems we need to focus more heavily on the development of critical consciousness in the local context than dos Santos does in his article. While I very much agree with dos Santos call for a focus on studying issues around the world, I think that the strongest initial buy in we can get from students is to first meet them where they are by valuing and honoring their knowledge, culture, interests, and linguistic assets that they bring tot he classroom. I think we too often ask students to tell us how they think the science we’re teaching them applies to their lives (and get blank stares) and should make efforts to start from their understanding or context and then move with them into the science that applies to them. This requires some level of uncertainty and being a learner alongside the students.
Humanistic science education draws on a number of theoretical fields of study. One that I emphasize here is the field of critical pedagogy, which has been heavily influenced by the work of Paulo Freire. According to critical pedagogy teachers (progressives, humanists), the classroom becomes the environment were new knowledge, grounded in the experiences of students and teachers alike, occurs through meaningful dialog, and activity. Being heavily influenced by John Dewey, much of the work that those of us who worked on the Global Thinking Project was focused on helping students become “citizen scientists,” or fighters for the environment, as Dr. Galina Manke, School 710 and the Russian Academy of Education, put it. To some degree, this group was interested in a reconstructive curriculum, one that advocated a student-centered approach. Our “critical pedagogy” approach is contrasted with the traditional model shown in Table 1.
|The Traditional Model||The Global Thinking Model|
|• Traditional, mechanized thinking
• Individualistic–although students may at times work together in groups, interdependence typically is not a goal.
• Dependence–teacher-directed instructional model establishes a dependent social system.
• Hierarchical—choice-made-for-you. Rarely do students choose content or methodology for their investigations
• Emphasis on literacy: knowing facts, skills, concepts
• Emphasis on content; acquiring the right body of knowledge
• Learning encourages recall, and is analytical and linear
|• Innovative, flexible thinking
• Cooperative–students work collaboratively in small teams to think and take action together
• Interdependence–a synergic system is established in groups within a classroom, and within global communities of practice.
• Right-to-choose—students are involved in choice-making including problem and topic selection, as well as solutions; reflects the action processes of grassroots organizations
• A new literacy insofar as “knowledge” relates to human needs, the needs of the environment and the social needs of the earth’s population and other living species
• Emphasis on anticipation and participation; on inquiry, learning how to learn, and how to ask questions
• Learning encourages creative thinking, and is holistic and intuitive
Table 1. The Paradigm Shift from the Traditional Model of Teaching to the Global Thinking or Critical Model of Teaching
The goal of the GTP curriculum, which was localized in each classroom, but was connected globally via the GTP Website, was to create a transformative environment where students would be engaged in social-activist projects. For a little more than a decade, the teachers and students who were involved in the GTP explored their own environments, uncovered problems, and attempted to be involved in socio-political solutions through communal activities.
This is a “critical day” in that it is the 100th day of President Barack Obama’s presidency. Are we poised for a period of reform in science education where social activism and the transformative potential of science teaching might be invoked? It should also be noted that the media is full of itself by its penchant to grade our President’s first 100 days in office. Let me publically give my President high marks, and an overall grade of “A.”
Now that you know my bias, I am concerned that the US Department of Education will continue the course taken by the previous administration—-more of NCLB. Most states in the nation use high-stakes tests to assess the progress of students and teachers. This over emphasis on tests and achievement scores puts the artistry of teaching at risk, and lessens the potential for “critical reform.”
In the wake of this, is there any possibility for “critical” reform?
What do you think?