I received an email from Professor Emeritus Charles “Kip” Ault, Lewis & Clark University. We’ve never met, but we have a connection through each others’ writing. In 1992, I wrote and published a science education book, Minds on Science (Library Copy) and he used the text in one or more of his graduate classes at Lewis & Clark. In 2010, I found his and Jeff Dodick’s article published in the research journal, Science Education, entitled Tracking the Footprints Puzzle: The problematic persistence of science-as-process in teaching the nature and culture of science. Each of us at this time carries the title “emeritus” from our respective universities.
But “older” science educators don’t die, they just keep on a-writing. And so it is with Dr. Ault and myself.
In Dr. Ault’s case, he has just published a book entitled Challenging Science Standards: A Skeptical Critique of the Quest for Unity, Rowman & Littlefield, 2015 (Library Copy).
This is a bellweather book.
The reason I say this that this book represents one of the only critique of the nation’s acceptance of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). For example, the book might not be a good read for lot of folks at Achieve, Inc. headquarters. I’m not sure, but it might not be only anyone’s book list at its Washington headquarters.
For me the book is a “hopeful” bellweather, in that I have faith that science educators will start to ask questions about the NGSS, and begin to critique the eagerness to carry out the NGSS.
Recently I wrote about how teaching and learning is standardized my e-book. In that book I said that:
The conservative world-view is at the root of educational reform, not only in the United States, but in most countries around the world. This world-view has set in motion the reform of education based on a common set of standards, high-stakes tests, and accountability metrics that demoralize not only students and their families, but the educators who families regard as significant others in the lives of their children. This eBook is an exploration of how these reforms of education, which are rooted in authoritarianism, are damaging public education with its canopy of a Common Core, high-stakes, and market based tactics which are nothing but hooey. Hassard, Jack (2014-12-16). The Mischief of Standardized Teaching and Learning: How Authoritarianism is Damaging Public Education with its Canopy of a Common Core, High-Stakes Tests and Market-Based Hooey (Kindle Locations 18-22). . Kindle Edition.
Kip Ault’s book is written to offer not only a historical context for how standardization has come about, but to enable science educators the basis for a critique of the standards movement.
One of the subheadings in the first chapter of the book is The Holy Grail of Power. Like many of the writers that I have acknowledged on this blog, Ault sees standardization as an end to a quest for unity and this is the Holy Grail of Power over (science) education. Four groups are identified by Ault as constituting this holy grail:
- State Bureaucrats
- Disciplinary Scientists
- Corporate Entities
- Science Educators
As you read this list, can you conjure up how each group’s power is used to “unify” teaching, and strive for the standardization of teaching and learning.
For the state bureaucrats, Ault says that
the bureaucrat’s ideal curriculum standardizes the nature of science (or the processes of science), independent of context. Legibility trumps diversity; state interests displace personal ones. Test scores signify learning, and policy unfolds based upon interpretations of these scores. Charles Ault, Challenging Science Standards: A Skeptical Critique of the Quest for Unity, Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.
In Ault’s view, the various disciplines of science (paleontology, physics, molecular biology, etc.) represent a disunity in that the sciences do not represent a singular “field” of study. Why is this important in a critique of the science standards? In Ault’s view, the NGSS perceives the science discipline to be alike, and so a single set of processes and methods are imbedded in the standards. This is unfortunate because the various sciences are messy. It’s not a set of steps or processes that characterize science inquiry. We have oversimplified the nature of science as clearly explained by Dr. Ault.
Corporate entities have poured millions of dollars into the standardization of standards, and many of these entities are realizing huge profits, especially through testing, and curriculum and textbook publishing. But I appreciate Ault’s idea that the NGSS standards has influenced researchers and curriculum developers. He puts it this way:
Institutions seeking funding for projects to advance science education have no choice but to cast their proposals in terms of the NGSS. For-profit and nonprofit providers of professional development, school district trainers, and consulting firms wait in the wings eager to help. Charles Ault, Challenging Science Standards: A Skeptical Critique of the Quest for Unity, Rowman & Littlefield, 2015
Science educators are also one of the entities that strive for unity among the sciences, and the standards. He has an interesting take on this and he writes:
Science educators, in the creation of curricula and the training of teachers (elementary through secondary), feel called upon as guardians of the quest for unity among the sciences. Their professional identity—an identity setting them apart from other professors of education, for example—depends upon this cultural norm. Ideas about the nature of science and the culture of science now pertain more to the community of science educators than to that of scientists. These ideas equate in many minds with critical thinking, inquiry skill, and the development of intelligence. Charles Ault, Challenging Science Standards: A Skeptical Critique of the Quest for Unity, Rowman & Littlefield, 2015
Challenging the science standards movement will be well served by Charles “Kip” Ault’s new book. I’ll return to his book in future posts. For now, what questions do you have challenging the NGSS and the Common Core?