JOHN OLSON and MANFRED LANG
John Olson, professor emeritus of education at Queen's University, Kingston, ON, K7L 3N6, Canada, is interested in the role of the teacher in change. He is author of Understanding Teaching: Beyond Expertise (Milton Keynes, UK: Open University Press, 1992).
Manfred Lang is a senior researcher in the Department of Educational Research at the Institute for Science Education, Kiel, Germany. His major fields of interest include integrated science education, teacher professional development, and international and European comparative studies.
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Does science education offer students the literacy they will need as citizens? In a rapidly changing world in which citizens have to cope with rapid technological change, are science and technical education courses in school providing the knowledge for students to meet that challenge? The answer to these questions depends on an understanding of the demands of rapid technological change on the citizen.
The experience of the Luddites in the UK in the early-19th century offers a persuasive example. As people with skilled crafts, they faced radical changes in their way of life as textiles began to be manufactured in factories using newly developed power machinery. In 1811 they organized themselves to resist changes that they thought would alter their relationship to the work they did&endash;-change who they were as workers. Rather than producing items in their homes, they faced the prospect of working in hierarchical relationships in factories. They understood how new means of production, new techniques, would change the way they lived their lives. They saw how society in general would be affected and they took action. This type of understanding is now labelled 'citizenship literacy'&endash;-the capacity to understand the effects of industrial change on society. After the Luddite experience, skilled workers wanted to study the work they did and the society they lived in. The founding of the University of London was a product of this new understanding, as were the workers' educational institutes that still exist in the UK.
How can science in contemporary schools play such a role in the general education of students, all of whom as citizens will have to deal with a complex technological change&endash;-as did the Luddites? We contend that science ought to play a civilizing role, particularly in the middle school, grades 7&endash;10. However, if one examines typical contemporary middle-school science textbooks, it becomes clear that their content lacks the necessary details of the social context and fails to provide a framework for assessing social issues.
Curriculum authorities, of course, assume that societal issues are dealt with within the bounds of what is often called 'science, technology, and society', or within a similar framework. The Canadian Common Framework of Science Learning Outcomes (Council of Ministers of Education, Canada [CMEC] 1997), for example, confirms that 'scientific knowledge is necessary but is not in itself sufficient for understanding the relationships among science, technology, society and the environment.... . [I]t is also essential to understand the values inherent to science, technology, a particular society, and its environment' (p. 11). But it is not clear what 'understand the values' means. What are these values and how do they relate to science? Is it enough to say, 'the potential of science to inform and empower decision making by individuals, communities, and society as a whole is central to achieving scientific literacy in a democratic society' (p. 10). Scientific literacy is not enough. More should be said about the social and moral context of that literacy, and greater consideration given to the larger framework of decision making. What is needed, in short, is citizenship literacy.
This lack of a larger context in which to understand literacy is evident in the treatment of technology as an enterprise. According to the Framework (CMEC 1997: 9), 'the chief concern of technologists is to develop optimal solutions that represent a balance of costs and benefits to society, the economy, and the environment'. This statement, however, begs the question of the nature of those 'optimal solutions'. Who decides the costs and benefits? What kind of a framework is at work in assessing those issues? Where do politics enter this process? Do technologists work in isolation as a kind of technical parliament representing the interests of citizens through delegation? Where do citizens get into the act? What acts do they get into?
Even if such frameworks and related textbooks suggest, however vaguely, that contexts larger than science are involved in citizenship literacy, it is difficult for teachers to know how to proceed if they do not have well-developed backgrounds in science education, let alone in frameworks beyond science. It is a huge challenge to contextualize science and technical education at the middle-school level; curriculum guidance is lacking, resources are limited, and teachers are not prepared to teach these subjects in an appropriate way.
What often happens in the classroom is that science and technology are ritualized by teachers who concentrate on terminology or pro-forma presentations of scientific ideas&endash;-a form of self-defence against the problems of not knowing the subject and its larger context. This strategy places severe limits on the curricular utility of the subject. In addition, given government and corporate promotion, science education often is offered in instrumental terms: it simply provides access to technical jobs and the 'knowledge economy'. Students are told to note the value of science in the economy and the contribution science will make to health and prosperity, especially such undertakings of big science and technology as the genome project or nuclear power. Added to this is the tendency in many curriculum documents to portray technology as the handmaiden of science&endash;-the sorcerer's apprentice&endash;-and, if not that, they wrongly suggest that technology itself provides a basis for decision making&endash;-a magical calculus.
Students are also fed a message about how science will aid in the development of economies, especially in underdeveloped countries. But little is said about the need for and existence of locally adapted technologies. Little is said about who profits from an emphasis on science-based high technologies and how many people are advantaged locally by such promotion, as Drori (1998) illustrates in her critique of science promotion in Third World countries.
Furthermore, governments in First World countries fund 'big' science and technology projects and seek voter support for those projects based on this science. Government information supplied to schools advocates support of this funding and the uses to which science is put. But critical perspective on those undertakings is rarely provided. Indeed, it could be said the opposite is true: science is seen as awesome and magical. School textbooks are similarly prone to such exaggerations, and teachers rarely counter such propaganda. How, then, can a scientific and technological literacy sufficient for citizenship be developed?
Developing citizenship literacy requires that science and technology should be seen in terms of their educationally defining social and moral contexts. Educators cannot take science out of its social or technological context without diminishing its curriculum potential. Science, in effect, has a subordinate role to play; the issues students must grapple with lie above and beyond science.
Despite that imperative, myths and vagueness prevail in schools about the potency of science in thinking about the issues that vex society. Apart from the political and economic advantages of mystification discussed above, why do such mystification and vagueness persist? The problem lies as much within curriculum thinking as without.
'Scientism' is usually a word used to abuse those who think that 'the sciences are more important than the arts for an understanding of the world', and that 'only a scientific methodology is intellectually acceptable' (Noordhof 1995: 814). Such views about the epistemological status of science are not difficult to locate, nor are critiques of those views (Taylor 1991). Evidence of scientism in schools may be noted in the emphases on science as an encompassing way of understanding the world and on superior thinking skills said to result from studying science. But why assume (as official statements of educational outcomes often do) that all manner of complex social problems can be understood within the framework of science? Why assume that studying science leads to superior thinking skills?
Such assumptions feed on the myth that scientists work in an entirely objective fashion, undiluted by context or perspective; this is a picture of science as the work of the 'abstract and disembodied individual' (Frazer 1995: 143), the a-social entity that communitarians object to (Daly 1994). One effect of this detachment from human affairs is that science becomes a subject for those who can tolerate elaborate structures quite disconnected with everyday life, as opposed to science rooted in 'communal practices' (Frazer 1995: 143) and social relations that cannot be understood in terms of the 'atomistic individual' (Taylor 1991).
Allied to this detachment and apparent objectivity is the emphasis on science as a way of thinking detached from content. Formal reasoning&endash;-systematic and disciplined approaches to the teaching of higher-order thinking skills&endash;-is emphasized. These higher-order skills (often promoted independently of any subject) can and have been seen as a magic potion. Critiques of scientific reasoning (or any disciplinary-based reasoning) that point out their limited transferability as demonstrated in research studies are ignored (Olson 1992: 1&endash;24). What supports these scientistic tendencies in science curriculum?
Sources of scientism in schools
Schools now draw on sources beyond textbooks, sources that have not been subjected to any critical, disinterested review. Schools lacking funds for textbooks select materials that often represent those with little interest in the general education of students. What are teachers, themselves often not specialists in science education, to make of these propaganda materials? Rather than sound an alarm, the state promotes the use of these materials, and the worldwide web, often recommended for its ease of access to such materials, is itself perceived by researchers and policy people as a magical kingdom of information and a medium of modernity in its own right. Allied to this generic view of the web as medium instead of message is the increasing use of proprietary materials that emphasize generic thinking skills and promise mental development in the abstract.
Who has the resources to sort out the varied sources on the worldwide web? Where, educators should ask, do critical capacities come from? Not from the web, nor from corporate or political materials with axes to grind. Not from proprietary thinking-skills materials. And the very image in textbooks of scientists at work (often detached from history and from culture) takes on the character of the 'lives of the saints' and the science itself the 'aura of catechism'. None of this does much for the growth of the citizen. What, then, does the citizen in embryo need?
The need for significant horizons
Cobern (1998a) contends that science is often portrayed in schools as alienated from society, and he takes science education to task for being culturally insensitive by virtue of this alienation. We think this is fair criticism. However, couching the critique of science education as if it were just about ways of knowing&endash;-a psychological and epistemological problem&endash;-deflects attention from the principal concern. There remains the question of science education as part of becoming a citizen, a larger question than how human beings know things. How does science education contribute to personal development as a whole person in the face of many threats to citizens&endash;-an educational goal that goes beyond epistemology and psychology? The issue facing science educators is that the model of science they adopt is alienating students and needs a remedy. How can educators find educational potential in science education worthy of curricular time in the face of this human alienation from natural systems?
Traditional approaches to education provide some clues. As Kerre (1994: 104) has noted:
In traditional African education no discernible dichotomy between general (liberal) and vocational (practical) education existed.... Vocational education and training were considered critical in preparation for adult life. From cradle to grave, the knowledge, skills and attitudes of a community were handed down through customs, songs, poems, taboos, riddles, proverbs and apprenticeships in various occupational areas including iron-mongery, blacksmithing, construction, making utensils, food preservation and medical practices.
Kerre is advocating an educational position that has much in common with the educational philosophy of Sloyd, the education of mind and heart (an early expression of humanistic education), espoused by the Scandinavian educator, Uno Cygnaeus (1810&endash;1888).1 As Kananoja (1994: 47) in Finland, the home country of Cygnaeus, suggests:
Cygnaeus clarified the concept 'education' or 'upbringing' in his many writings. He did not want to limit general education to the mere acquisition of knowledge and skills for the work force and to make the pupils unthinking imitators of technologies and artefacts. Rather, he wanted to educate them for carefulness, accuracy, creativity and dexterity.
The unity between knowing, making, and doing that Sloyd implies, does not set science and technology at odds with the rest of culture. Technology is not an alien thing, but an embodiment of culture; it is technology (the desire to do things, to make things better) that is a part of the larger social process. Science has complex relationships to technology, and therefore to culture. They are certainly not the distinct entities portrayed by textbooks. Although these relationships play out differently in different cultures, there is no reason prima facie to view them as being in tension. It is important to see that technology reflects culture and so varies with cultural differences. There is no universal technology; neither is there a disjunction between culture and technology. To come to know something about technology is to come to know something about one's culture; it is to be better able to act in that culture.
There remains the question of the connection between science and culture. Is science, unlike technology, outside culture? Is science outside technology? The history of science illustrates that science has evolved within cultural contexts, has been shaped by those contexts, and has been worldwide. The history of science also demonstrates that scientific problems have arisen out of technological problems, i.e. issues in the culture, and that scientific inquiry has depended on pre-existent technologies and has fostered new ones. Science has been conducted by groups of inquirers greatly influenced by fashion, funding, and politics. Only by trying to see science as a detached logic machine does it become disconnected from culture.
The alienated science in schools criticized by Cobern and his colleagues (1998b) reflects an overemphasis in science education of science as an epistemology. In so doing, the metaphysics that links science to the larger culture is lost. In effect, this diminished science that is taught has all the marks of catechism, thus belying, ironically, its claim to be the pre-eminent reasoning machine.
If educators were to reframe science in terms of its beneficial, humane potential, this alienation would disappear. Science would then be part of the solution to important problems in society. True, these problems have different forms in different societies, so the humanistic potential for science will differ across those societies. Science and science education will find the form they need, depending on the nature of the educational, and hence the moral and political, challenges that exist in different societies. Those challenges for a humanistic education govern the way science will be appropriated for educational purposes.
What if the school were interested in the development of students as people who, in concert with others, were capable of forming their own views about the nature of what is progressive? What if students were to make their own decisions about the role they could play in pursuing desired aims? What if they were to provide for their own self-development as members of a community? What if schools were concerned about such views, and the virtues needed to inform them that Kerre (1994) and Kananjoa (1994) discuss? What are these views and virtues?
In the case of African education, craft tradition and the discipline it represents are important; one submits oneself to a discipline that reflects the community. Such willingness to accept the discipline of practice, as MacIntyre (1981) maintains, requires virtue, the virtue of self-criticism and respect for well-earned authority. In the case of Sloyd, the virtues (and the skills) of craft are the carefulness and accuracy that entail respect of tradition and authority. This is no arbitrary authority; the respect paid to it is earned over time and for good reason. And central to these virtues is the existence of a moral community.
The development of such views and virtues is the basis for Taylor's (1991) remedy for the alienation of citizens that Cobern (1998a) writes about, what Taylor calls the 'malaise of modernity'. He identifies three forms of malaise: individualism, instrumental reason, and the loss of democratic participation. The first, instrumentalism, has to do with the loss of something bigger than oneself to believe in&endash;-a loss of purpose. The second, instrumental reason, concerns the narrowing of the bases on which decisions are made to technocratic cost-benefit analysis, leaving out important concerns that are difficult to quantify. The third, loss of democratic participation, has to do with the political consequences of lack of purpose, and the narrow, technocratic basis of action, the sense of being trapped in a system which one does not control&endash;-an alienation from community.
Science and technology are deeply implicated in Taylor's (1991) analysis of malaise. Taylor sees that individualism has been of benefit to people; yolks of dogma have been lifted. Instrumental reason has been beneficial also, but perhaps less so now. What is lacking is a frame in which individual responsibility and reason can operate in concert in the individual and amongst individuals for the good of community&endash;-which, in the end, implies political action. Action, not just knowing, lies at the end of this story.
Taylor (1991) suggests ways in which instrumental reason can benefit society. Instrumental reason, the fruits of which are scientific knowledge and technological systems and artifacts, is valuable when seen in the context of relief of human suffering and support of human welfare. Science and technology are valuable for doing good things. This ameliorative, humanistic view of science and technology has a long history:
He [Francis Bacon] proposed ... [instead of the sciences as they existed] a model of science whose criterion of truth would be instrumental efficacy. You have discovered something when you can intervene to change things. Modern science is in essential continuity in this respect with Bacon. But what is important about Bacon is that he reminds us that the thrust behind this new science was not only epistemological but also moral. (p. 104)
But there is a catch. One has to think about what human welfare is, and for that one must go beyond science to a moral horizon that cannot be set aside, neither in the world of practical action, nor in the process of inventing an adequate science didactics. Coming from outside the school are important questions about what to admire, what to shun, how to act, what to extol and to excoriate, and whence to have the strength to keep a steady gaze when confronted with 'real problems' that are often fuzzy. As Taylor notes:
Runaway extensions of instrumental reason ... [for example, that which] neglects the essential rapport between cure-giver and patient&endash;-all these have to be resisted in the name of the moral background in benevolence that justifies these applications of instrumental reason themselves.... . What we are looking for here is an alternative enframing of technology.... [W]e have to come to understand it as well in the moral frame of the ethic of practical benevolence, which is also one of the sources in our culture from which instrumental reason has acquired its salient importance for us. (p. 106)
Although instrumental reason is the essence of science, it is also important for human beings in the context of doing something good through some technique or other. Thus there is a three-way link between science, technology, and morality within the frame of salient issues. Such salient issues are not represented by textbook problems. Textbook problems are prescriptive and imply the 'correct' answer in a well-structured scientific formalism. But relevant and engaging real-life questions for students are often ill-structured, and if students are to get involved in problems of their own, they should be provided with the opportunity to frame alternative solutions to those loosely structured questions (Barab and Duffy 2000).
Taylor (1991) points to the practical action-oriented implications of this reframing:
The effective re-enframing of technology requires common political action to reverse the drift that [the] market and bureaucratic state engender towards greater atomism and instrumentalism.... What our situation seems to call for is a complex, many-levelled struggle ... in which the debates in the public arena interlink with those in a host of institutional settings, like hospitals and schools. (p. 120)
Students have to think about what is good for society and how scientific literacy within the framework of citizenship serves that good. To do otherwise is to court disaster. Human beings have the means to destroy the planet by using machines to harvest nature. It is an uneven fight. Trees in western North America, for example, and fish in the east and the north and the south, are sucked up by machines without heed for the future. Science education has to help students see the dangers of such machines and systems out of control and imagine what might be the alternative. That is the challenge that faces science didactics.
Grappling with these life-issues is not science, and science will not teach one how to do it. In short, these requirements of citizenship will not be met by unalloyed science in the curriculum. Few doubt that. But there are parts of the scientific ethos that can contribute to a person's self-development: a significant list can be made of items for inclusion in a science-infused curriculum subject. The problem is to know in what context to lodge this study.
How can science teachers be expected to take on critical analysis tasks that few other teachers seem able to deal with? Policy debate in science education abounds, but research on how teachers cope is not so common. Even when research is officially encouraged or actually undertaken, emphasis is often placed orthodox approaches: how teachers should behave, for example, in order to comply with the nostrums of constructivist pedagogy. This drive towards orthodoxy reduces a teacher's work to the application of certain approved ideas taken from cognitive and social psychology that privilege methodology ahead of substance and act reductively in the light of the demands of citizenship. It is not sufficient to locate science didactics on such a narrow base.
Teachers, however, ground their work on broader bases. It is clear from classroom research (Kozolanka and Olson 1994: 224) that science teachers try to do more than foster problem-solving capabilities or overcome misconceptions among their students. They have an image of the practical lives students will live once they leave school. Teachers, like it or not, establish moral microcosms in classrooms suffused with values, and those values are connected to virtues that teachers think students ought to have as citizens. This is no narrow process of vocational socialization as some stakeholders would have it, neither is it an attempt to absorb the student into the world-view of science and technology (Buchanan 2001).
Teachers have in mind images of civility that cut across specialized roles to encompass the whole person; all school subjects are taught with these images:
The teachers were concerned about the student's own unformed social and intellectual habits. They wanted to develop these habits in productive ways. They talked about the virtues of patience, taking pains, not stopping until it's done, producing quality work, being civil, organized, systematic and methodical. They were concerned that their students become good people. (Kozolanka and Olson 1994: 224)
Science teachers do express scepticism about their ability to take on issues and applications in their teaching (Black and Atkin 1996: 161), and teachers do often align themselves with the 'interests of the academic scientific community' (Gaskell 2001: 389). Nonetheless, like it or not, their teaching does reflect certain values. The real question is, which ones? Only research can reveal what values are actually taught. Science didactics cannot eschew the responsibility for making value contexts explicit, as Barnett (1994: 62) notes in the case of technology education:
... an arrangement by which responsibility for practical capability rested with Technology, and for critical awareness with subjects such as Social Studies, History or Religious Education i.e. where values had been driven into exile from out of Technology, would be undesirable. This would tend to confirm Technology as a ghetto for ingenious, specialist tinkerers, and the Humanities as the natural home for anti-technologists.
What are the implications for teacher education of such broadening of subject matter? Terhart (1999) points out that teacher education often reduces teacher competence to the cognitive dimension. Cognitive training based on formal scientific reasoning can only demonstrate means-end relations without moral considerations of educational practice. How is this ethical engagement of the teacher to be developed? One prerequisite for developing ethical engagement, Terhart (1999) argues, is the autonomy of the professional. Such engagement cannot be legislated, and it must start at the beginning of a teacher's career: during the first years of teacher-training.
Frey (1975, 1981) proposes a 'curriculum conference' as a model of curriculum development. Such a model requires a form of conversation in which content and scientific jargon are reduced to a language that can be understood by conference participants who represent diverse backgrounds and interests (and can see the potential of the subject from different points of view). Colnerud et al. (1999) note that a prerequisite for such a conference is the sharing of power in a context of collegiality and partnership. As to the content of such conferences, perhaps much of the didactical thinking needed to create this subject anew will come from contemplating how technology and the related science are involved in human affairs. Such didactics will be concerned about the development of citizenship capacity to act in economic and political spheres&endash;-spheres of significance, as Taylor (1991: 104) notes:
The agent, seeking significance in life, trying to define him- or herself meaningfully, has to exist in a horizon of important questions.... [W]hat is self-defeating in ... contemporary culture ... [is] self-fulfilment in opposition to, the demands of society, or nature, ... [and shutting out] history and the bonds of solidarity. These self-centred 'narcissistic' forms are indeed shallow and trivialized; they are 'flattened and narrowed'.... But this is not because they belong to the culture of authenticity. Rather it is because they fly in the face of its requirements. To shut out demands emanating beyond the self is precisely to suppress the conditions of significance, and hence to court trivialization. To the extent that people are seeking a moral ideal here, this self-immuring is self-stultifying; it destroys the condition in which the ideal can be realized.
Taylor asks readers to see the science content of the subject in its moral richness as part of a curriculum of self-development. What are the implications of such a focus for teacher education? Sources of moral importance in school science must be discovered. This will require a critical approach to the subject informed by a strong awareness of the context of science. Teachers have to learn the difficult skills of didactics/Didaktik (see, e.g Klafki 2000): the analysis of subject matter for its educational and moral import, and the justification of possibilities in debate with others. This is a huge challenge for curriculum and teacher education: to find the way science can best contribute to the education of the citizen.
An earlier version of this article was read at the annual conference of the European Science Education Research Association, Thessaloniki, Greece, April 2002.
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