In four of the last five posts, I’ve explored the question, Why do we teach science? from four points of view. Using a template by R. Stephen Turner, I’ve presented the arguments for teaching science from economic, democratic, and skills points of view. In this post, I want to use the cultural argument as the answer to why do we teach science anyway.
Turner introduced the cultural argument this way:
Science is, beyond dispute, one of the great intellectual enterprises of
modern, especially western, civilization. The vision of nature embodied in modern science defines the universe for us, informs our vision of our human essence, and speaks to the hopes and fears of our world. Science plays a roll for us today somewhat like the great mythologies of the civilizations of the past: it provides the great narrative of truth, meaning, and essence that we live by. The proper goal of school science, according to the cultural argument, is to bring students to understand that great story and the enterprise behind it, so that they might not remain ignorant and alienated strangers to modern, scientific culture.
As such, Turner refers to Robin Millar’s plan in which he suggests that:
we must re-conceptualize the science curriculum as the opportunity to tell science’s great stories about nature, the universe, and our bodies. We must present students with coherent and cohesive world-pictures, tell them stories that transmit science’s great visions – its great contemporary visions – of the world as narrative accounts, from quarks to superclusters and genes to gerontology.
According to Turner, Millar advocates “jettisoning” much of the content that is defined in the current textbooks, and standards in science. We might look at the Turner/Millar cultural argument as the humanistic science argument advocated by science educators such as Aikenhead, Bryce, and many others. Aikenhead has outlined the research and made suggestions for humanistic science curriculum in his book, Science Education for Everyday Life. As Aikenhead points out, the present day science curriculum is out of date (educationally), but not politically. The new generation of science standards which will be written next year will reinforce the out dated science curriculum—one that dots on the canons of science in biology, chemistry, physics and earth science. This curriculum, unfortunately, has not worked for the majority of students in school, and it does not prepare the “pipeline” students who will pursue careers in science and engineering any better.
Bryce, in a research paper published in Cultural Studies in Science Education, makes the claim that “resistance to more humanistic forms of science education is an endemic and persistent feature of university scientists as well as school science teachers.” Although Bryce did not discuss it, the 1996 National Science Education Standards, and the Conceptual Framework for a New Science Standards reinforce the claim, as each document focuses in on the canonical discipline of science.
is about the relationships between the science that science teachers teach and the science that science educators write about. It is also therefore about how classroom practitioners and science education researchers view each other, a relationship which is normally seen one way; that is, through researchers’ views of science teachers. I will argue that more consideration needs to be given to how practitioners stand in relation to what many consider they ought to be doing; to their view of things; to why (ironically) many teachers are not well disposed to teaching science for everyday life, instead preferring to teach science with an orientation rather more internal to the subject itself, suffused with its own ‘tribal’ identities.
The cultural argument of science curriculum would ask curriculum designers and teachers to consider the history and philosophy of science, and try and bring to students experiences in which they learn how science discoveries are made, to focus on the struggle that people working on a particular problem had, and what these problems were.
There is a great deal of resistance in moving away from the traditional way in which science is taught in school science, and at the university. Bryce helps us understand this when this remark is made:
The impediments are well understood and range from the demonstrated lack of teacher confidence in pedagogies involving more open- ended activities and discussion of ethical and social issues arising from new biotechnologies; through the pressures from assessment which remains stubbornly focused upon canonical content; to the models of science which teachers work with, their ideologies and philosophies—notably steeped in positivism and realism.
The cultural argument represents a humanistic approach to science curriculum. Although it is not the dominant approach used in school science, there is a rich body of research to support the movement to bring a cultural approach to the table.
Bryce, T. (2010). Sardonic science? The resistance to more humanistic forms of science education Cultural Studies of Science Education, 5 (3), 591-612 DOI: 10.1007/s11422-010-9266-6