Joan Solomon is Professor of Science Education at the Centre for Science Education, Pentz Building, Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, England, UK. She taught secondary science for many years and initiated one of the first courses on Science, Technology, and Society for schools. Her chief interests are in the fields of the public understanding of science, European comparisons in science education, and teacher education. She written on all these subjects showing how school science education can be expanded to contribute to them.
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The predicament of science education
There are practical problems in several countries with the perception of science among young people, and a correspondingly low uptake of physical sciences in schools and colleges &emdash; all of which suggests that we take a fresh look at the curriculum. Criticisms emanating from the fields of meta-science and postmodern philosophy may be relevant to some of this dissatisfaction. That alone would probably not have been enough to stimulate the present glut of changes to the science curricula in many countries if it were not also the case that many countries felt the need for a broader scientific education among their population. This brings us to the last term in the title of this paper, scientific culture, which is beginning to replace both public understanding of science and also scientific literacy in some European documents. But the term scientific culture includes in particular the connotations of culture as a kind of knowing which is familiar to many, of general popular esteem, but hard to specify exactly. None of these notions describes the common objectives of science education at the present time: esteem and familiarity are new and uncertain goals, and it is far from clear how any school curriculum might support them.
The immediate stimulus for the curriculum innovators in Britain is a crisis in the number of students opting to study science. At the present time the number of students electing to continue with the study of physics and chemistry after the age of 16 is either diminishing, or failing to increase in step with the expansion of tertiary-level education. The reason why this should be so is not clear. Neither of the two world wars of this century, sometimes called the Chemists War and the Physicists War respectively because of the new and dreadful technologies each of them employed for mass slaughter, caused any immediate decrease in the popularity of science subjects at school. Indeed during the 1950s and 1960s the number of British pupils choosing to study physics increased fourfold, despite vocal public fears and demonstrations against nuclear weapons. Previously, in the 1930s, when the wheezing of old soldiers who had been gassed in the trenches of the First World War was still to be heard in British streets, there was no diminution in the popular respect paid to chemistry, or science in general. On the contrary, the 1930s was a time of popularization of high science through books for self-education like Hogbens (1938) Science for the Citizen (in the series Primers for the Age of Plenty). It is worthwhile studying this movement for self-education in some detail, and what it tried to achieve in terms of the popularization of science, in order to compare it with the problems of today.
Lancelot Hogben and other scientists of his time launched a movement called Scientific humanism dedicated to opposition to religion, and to the spreading of scientific education so that workers could both understand the impact of science on society and participate in decision making concerning its use. In his introduction to Science for the Citizen Hogben expressed trenchant views on the poor quality of school education, the lack of scientific knowledge among politicians, and the low standard of popular scientific writing, which he described as weak-kneed and clownish because it lacked scientific rigour. Few could accuse Hogbens heavy volumes on popular education in mathematics and science of the same fault! He entertained no doubts at all about his own ability to educate, despite an admission that only 20 students came to the series of 100 lectures on science that Sir William Beveridge, the designer of the social provisions of the post-war British welfare state, had asked him to deliver at the London School of Economics. He attributed this entirely to the students false belief that economics itself was a science. However it is certainly possible that this failure to attract young people by his style of scientific instruction is not without relevance to our problems today.
It is easy to react against Hogbens arrogance and his derogatory comments directed at the social sciences and old scientists who wasted their time on theology, ethics or other unscientific pastimes. More attractive, however, was his hope of being instrumental in founding both a new social contract and a scientific culture for all the people, although what he meant by this may have been very different from our interpretation. Add to this Hogbens unaffected love of science, despite a conflation of all that is not-science with magic, and it becomes possible to match his views with those of several modern scientists.
. . . science makes stringent demands on our willingness to face uncomfortable views about the universe . . . Human nature, deeply rooted in its unsavoury past is on the side of vitalistic theories. When the spirit of intellectual adventure dies and with it the courage to face the austere neutrality of the universe . . . it becomes all too easy to find a formula which provides a compromise for the conflicting claims of magic and science. (Hogben; quoted in Werskey 1978)
Science is a special way of knowing and investigating and the only way of appreciating the process is to do it. Only in this way can people come to recognize a key feature of science &emdash; there is only one correct explanation for any one set of phenomena. Finding that correct explanation can be difficult, painful exhilarating, exhausting, frustrating, fun, and ultimately very rewarding. (Wolpert 1996)
These scientists of two different periods, who represent the views of many others, wanted to, and want to, change science education so that it could offer a deeper and more rigorous treatment of the discipline, even if this were at the expense of breadth of context. They both personally enjoyed and enjoy science hugely, and were sure that it was the only way to reach the truth about what they saw as our unquestionably mechanistic universe.
It is not only philosophers and sociologists of science who wince at these confident scientistic views. Many others now do so. For reasons which need to be understood, the students of our era seem more repelled by these attitudes than were their parents and grandparents. The Cold War is over, diminishing numbers of our young people are committed to any organized religion, and yet it seems that they are turning away from science to other ways of thinking about our world which might be called magical or enchanted, to use Holtons term or, in more philosophical terms, postmodern.
These opening considerations show that the comments of Hogben or, for example, Wolpert about how to treat the problem of science do not stand up well to inspection. Neither claims about the intellectual superiority of science nor those about the benefits that science can bestow inspire the reluctant students of today. But the suggestion of teaching less content but in a more rigorous fashion, which is common to Hogben and Wolpert, is even echoed, rather surprisingly, by some contemporary science educators: Given the evidence of students lack of understanding in so many basic areas, the guiding principle as regards curriculum content must surely be: do less but do it better (Millar 1996: 12). This is reminiscent of the nursery ruling that if you havent eaten your greens yet, you will just sit there until you do! It addresses neither the students difficulties, nor their lack of interest, nor the broad sweep of scientific issues in the public arena. Given the interest of the young in the more humanistic sciences such as psychology and sociology, this repetition of a small range of abstract content, without the essential humanist detail, might well induce more all-consuming boredom.
The malaise afflicting education in the physical sciences is so deep-seated that it seems better to begin with an analysis of the many criticisms leveled at scientific knowledge itself, and to winnow from them those which appear to address the less well articulated difficulties that our young students commonly exhibit. Only then can we derive a sense of what a more popular education in the physical sciences might possibly be like.
Science engenders not only enthusiasm in its practitioners, but also a rather naïve certainty. Too often they tend to write of science, as Wolpert does, as being the one and only road to truth, and of its concepts as being certain and enduring. Some of those who argue against this are the philosophers who point out, as David Hume did two centuries ago, that the process of induction which science uses can never achieve such certainty. However good the experimental evidence may be, the resulting theories must be underdetermined. Of course there are some theories which seem more certain than others, like the kinetic theory of gases as opposed to the still humming background microwaves of the Big Bang of creation. In fact, so much evidence in terms of confirmed deductions and new observations may be built upon the basis of one particular idea that it is only reasonable to consider it more probable than others.
This kind of mild philosophical criticism probably upsets neither the bench scientist who should understand about induction and consequent tentativeness, but often chooses to ignore it, nor the school pupil who almost certainly does not understand it at all. But many practitioners have shown that it is possible to teach the history of science within school in a way that shows that current explanations and theories have superseded older ones. The corollary that these too may one day be discarded in favour of better ones is not lost on most secondary school students. In my experience (Solomon et al. 1992), this casts no slur on science &emdash; and indeed may add a measure of excitement to learning a subject which is not closed to further discovery by a framework of finished certainty. It also brings into focus the more humanistic characteristics of those who laboured and failed, many times, before succeeding.
Another level of this kind of criticism of science knowledge comes from social researchers such as Latour and Woolgar (1979) who watch and analyse the processes of experimenting, intuiting, and predicting in normal laboratory settings or in the context of paranormal science, of uncertainty, or of failed science. Scientists work in groups to construct theories which they then talk up until they are often ready to stand by them through thick and thin, instead of remaining cautious and skeptical as their own propaganda suggests they do. In the course of their work the scientists have to model these new concepts or physical entities, and manipulate them in their minds, in order to make explanations for observed phenomena. It is not surprising, then, that the tentative entities soon become real for them. Philosophers call this attitude naïve realism. But these sociologists of science, the relativists, go further claiming that scientists are riddled with preconceptions about the reality of their constructed images, and do not practise their craft in the proper objective spirit. Hence, some say, scientific theories are no more to be trusted than any maxim of folklore.
Do these local disagreements, the so-called Science wars (Midgley 1997), mean that science education should be fundamentally changed in order to take the new points into account? Should we teach that electrons, the energy concept, and the colliding molecules of a gas, which we have such difficulty making real and believable to our students, are not real at all? And which should we teach first &emdash; their reality or their unreality? Put like that the answer seems obvious to most science teachers. Science simply cannot be taught at all if the students are to be told that there is no point in believing what is being said. A few relativist ideas have crept into outlying regions of science education practice, but there is no strong movement towards this kind of change in science education. Indeed there is, not surprisingly, considerable antagonism to it from teachers and science practitioners alike.
A more serious threat to the integrity of science arises from its deep specialization and from its increasingly close, even cozy, relationship with industry and government. Lancelot Hogben, and many who followed him in proposing a science for democratic participation, advocated the popularization of scientific knowledge so that people could be protected against the introduction of malign technology by their own informed participation. In his The Consequences of Modernity, Anthony Giddens (1990) argued that the increasing sophistication and specialization of modern science has inevitably led to a situation where the weak inductive knowledge of lay people cannot hope to follow it. Morris Shamos (1995) made much the same point when pointing out that the boast of scientific literacy &emdash; its empowerment of the citizen to assess the validity of expert advice &emdash; is unattainable in practice. New and unforeseen threats lying on the frontiers of what is known, such as BSE (mad cow disease). bewilder most other scientists too. Since the new science-based technologies, from modern agriculture to gene therapy, clearly present us with possible risks which may be personal and intimate, this forced dependency on scientific experts is not at all trivial. Risk itself, as opposed to the older idea of hazard or chance, is redolent of our new age. We need to trust not only the experts understanding of what is incomprehensible to us, but also to trust that science itself has uniquely correct answers. All of us have evidence that the uniquely correct answer does not appear to exist when we most want it. Scientific experts wrangle and disagree in public on the media. Even expertise is contested!
There are a number of possible reasons for this perplexing and frightening knowledge dilemma. The most innocent is that the topics that raise the issues are so new that there exists, as yet, no agreed-upon, correct answers. But if we dig deeper, the question of who it is that agrees to the correctness of scientific answers, who certifies the expert, opens up a whole new field of the sociology of science. Thus, while the relativists look cynically at the construction of scientific knowledge from the outside, others have studied its processes for producing reliable knowledge from inside the science machine. Though some aspects of this look a little like the policing of the publication of results, and other parts seem almost too liberally high-minded (e.g. the norm of complete disinterestedness), the worrying aspect of this is not the ideal norms, but that both industry and government departments (e.g. the pharmaceutical and agricultural firms and government departments) are big employers of scientists. At times all of them have certainly prevented that free publication of scientific results which is so essential if other researchers are to have access to them to stimulate the growth of expert knowledge. The link between the norms of scientific practice and its philosophical principles is so close that it is not even clear which comes first. If there is secrecy or censorship where there should be sharing and open publication, and the seeking of material rewards where there should be only a search for explanation, science may indeed lose its objectivity, its integrity, and its very purpose. It is also clear that our lay people will have lost their impartial experts.
All of this impinges on both the public and the school science student. When young people talk about disagreement between scientists, they often attribute this to bias in favour of their employers interests. The young students may be too ignorant about scientific knowledge to satisfy those who measure their understanding in tests, but they do recognize common human failings! A variety of studies from the UK and from Canada, among many others, have shown that the public are becoming cynical about the reliability of scientists reassurances.
Finally we need to face up to the more difficult and slippery criticisms of postmodernism. At the time of the Enlightenment, a century or so after the work of Galileo and following the hideous atrocities in the name of religion during the Thirty Years War, the cool rationale of science seemed to offer an escape route into an intellectual haven. Many of the arguments of the postmodernists hinge on a contention that this intellectualism is now out-of-date and inappropriate.
There is only enough room here provide the briefest sketch of the considerable postmodernist protest against the claims of science.
It denies that there is just one valid way of knowing. The catch-phrase is that there is no meta-narrative which is an objective over-arching search for truth. Science is, of course, almost the prototype of all meta-narratives.
Postmodernism insists that the context does make a substantial difference to the argument. In moral or ethical cases in particular it would seem quite absurd to insist that the details of personal or cultural circumstances have no relevance. Could it be that context even makes a difference within science itself? An example of this, which became important to the emerging feminist movement in science, was the Nobel Laureate Barbara McClintocks comment that it was important to get a feeling for the organism in its environment, in order to understand its genetic coding. Contemporary inheritors of reductionism, like Richard Dawkins, insist that we humans are mere vehicles exploited for and by our genes. This anti-humanist trend tries to eliminate all but the most reductionist of descriptions, and it is not just the feminists and multiculturalists who are offended by it.
The hegemony of scientific knowledge, the postmodernists claim, is no longer tenable. Not only is there public controversy between scientific experts, as we have seen, there is also an underlying rage against reason, as Bernstein (1991) puts it. In anti-nuclear, environmental and other special issue circles, adherents claim the right to decide for themselves on quite other grounds than expert logic. They want to use their feelings for the rights of animals, their respect for our planet, or just their aversion to any new technology which is beyond their comprehension or evaluation.
Finally, there is a growing rejection of the notion of holding a uniform, and rather blinkered world-view. Richard Rorty has elegantly described how we change our own past by what he calls the final victory of metaphors of self-creation over metaphors of discovery (Rorty 1989). In one sense this is just another aspect of the meta-narrative already rejected, but it applies also to the creation of our personal vision, and even our selfhood and identity. While it is tempting to believe that we, each of us, have a heroic adherence to a single view of the world which we stick to through thick and thin, sociologists and anthropologists see little evidence for this. The former point to the way we adjust our meanings to the meanings and points of view of those speaking to us.
The Scientific Renaissance may have been the first cause of modernism which glorified logical thinking to the exclusion of moral evaluation, but science as research has suffered very little from the postmodern revolution. By its very nature the scientific quest cannot but be optimistic. Even if some observations are acknowledged to be problematic and subject to experimental error or uncertain interpretation, researchers will still argue that they are resolutely searching for the truth as best they can, by the best of available methods. Commitment to science in the context of discovery has probably not changed since the days of Galileo and his stirring claim that scientific truth was to be read in the open book of heaven. It is the meta-scientific context of justification which has been injured.
Science education, however, is a different matter. In 1792, at the time of the French Revolution and when the Enlightenment project was fresh and new, the Marquis de Condorcet claimed specifically that science education could form a basis for secularism to the exclusion of religion, metaphysics, and the moral and social sciences. He planned out a sketch of what that would imply which was implemented some hundred years later: Let us therefore hasten to prefer reasoning to eloquence, and books to speakers, and bring at last to the moral sciences the philosophy and method of the physical sciences (de Condorcet 1990)
Rigorous science education, as Hogben and Wolpert implied, was good for young people, if rather painful &emdash; as things that are good for us usually are. Indeed school students do find the physical sciences difficult as compared with other subjects; and British comparisons of examination results show there is substance in this claim. This difficulty, and the youngsters opposition to science, has to do with many of those aspects of scientific thinking which the postmodernists specifically attack &emdash; logic and mathematical abstraction, lack of context, and the rejection of any alternative considerations which are not certified by science. This opposition is what Gerald Holton (1992), in his analysis of anti-science, called the enchanted thinking evoked by contemporary Green issues such as emotive attitudes towards animals and the environment. Rigorous science education insists on a complete abjuration of all that is not logical, but most of our young people want to claim a more varied attitude. Perhaps even the steeply growing numbers of our school students who choose to study an unorthodox mixture of subjects may indicate an aversion to tying oneself down to any single perspective, in common with postmodern thinking.
Caring young people who are still uncertain about where they stand on environmental issues remain very susceptible to feelings of peer group solidarity during adolescence. This is another feature not based on logic but well described by postmodern philosophy: in Rortys (1991: 21):
There are two principal ways in which reflective human beings try, by placing their lives in a larger context, to give sense to those lives. The first is by telling the story of their contribution to a community . . . The second way is to describe themselves as standing in immediate relation to a non-human community . . . the desire for objectivity.
This last is tougher on the young school student of science than on the practising scientist. They form a part of a working community sharing an enthusiasm for science, as well participating in the professional practices of publication, lectures, and peer review. In the classroom, on the other hand, that community is not present. A science student is not a situated peripheral participant in a community, and to be a lone objective thinker may be to court ridicule or unpopularity.
Opposition to the notion that science must be carried out with no regard to evaluative ways of thinking is heating up in Britain, fueled by some rather crass comments from a small vocal group of scientists. Within the last year an eminent British biologist was heard on a BBC radio programme proclaiming that Ethics is to biology as pornography is to sex. With such statements the schism between scientific and evaluative thinking becomes wider. From France comes a blast from the Nobel Laureate P-G de Gennes (1994) placing la didactisme in science as the latest enemy to be attacked in the line of Marxism, and psychoanalysis. There is little support from the science community for any change to science education during this time of the science wars, when the next generation of potential scientists is at stake.
Our tour through the criticisms of science knowledge designed to identify any features for a radical new curriculum has not produced a very rich haul.
Teach using stories from the history of science to gain some understanding of the tentative and humanist nature of its theories;
Discuss contested knowledge in the context of democratic issues and personal risk;
Place human contexts first when teaching the physical sciences;
Use a range of ethical and social considerations, and even New Age approaches, as well as the explanatory rationale of science;
See an easy familiarity with science and its concepts, rather than correct definition, as the important educational goal.
None of these specify a content, but all may be considered as steps along the road to a popular scientific culture. This not at all the same as the popularization of (high) science. It will aim to show young people a science which is lighter on logic and abstraction, stronger on involvement and active evaluation, and intimately woven into the aspirations and concerns of citizens.
Most theoretical analyses, like the one in this paper, offer far too little guidance for immediate classroom introduction. Even the content of the new curriculum is not specified because it depends so strongly upon joint teacher and student perceptions of importance and situation. Students may, for example, be taught ecology in their school science lessons, but out of school it may carry a quite different label. Renate Bader (1993: 49) has written about the adult perception of science in Germany in the following terms:
Ecology is not necessarily seen as a science, but as a new holistic approach to all aspects of life and nature. It is precisely those most disenchanted with and critical of traditional research and its applications who are drawn towards the Greens. Science for them equals risk; ecology is the saviour.
This is kind of reaction makes the choice of science curriculum content especially difficult. Potentially attractive and important topics, from medicine to new plastic materials and animal behaviour, may be hostilely reconstructed by the public. Medical advances are often compared unfavourably with acupuncture or herbal remedies which seem mystical and are believed to have few side-effects. The making of new plastics only serves to remind some of our youngsters of industrial pollution; animal behaviour studies conjure up images of tortured rabbits or protesting monkeys in laboratory cages.
As recently as the 1970s the purpose of the British school curriculum as being the simple transmission of knowledge was so widely accepted that the study of the curriculum was almost completely devoted to identifying suitable categories of knowledge. There was some argument about what might be meant by a working-class or middle-class curriculum, but this was all conducted within the confines of a conception of appropriate knowledge. Bernstein whose thinking was so influential at this time was writing angrily that curriculum itself was defining what counts as valid knowledge (Bernstein 1975), and adding that schools in working class districts were exploding in a crisis of confidence about this validity. Malcolm Skilbeck (1982: 12), still working in the old liberal tradition, saw rationalism rather than content as underpinning the science curriculum.
Science . . . need play only a relatively minor part in the process . . . . From an educational standpoint what is important is not the production of scientific élites or even the training of the whole people in scientific techniques, but the deliberate cultivation of rationality, of problem-solving procedures, adaptability and flexibility and a generalized capacity to face up to the problems of practical life.
But the link between science and rationality on the one hand and practical problems on the other has been a continual impediment to the study of science. There was nothing here of the imaginative, or the humanistic. Skilbeck does go on to claim that open and flexible thought would enable people to consider a wide range of influences and new possibilities for action &emdash; but by this time his argument had left the sphere of science. There is no doubt that he wanted to prepare our young people to continue the process of reconstructing their society through political action, if and when they so wished. Indeed his three requirements specify, in broad terms, the guidelines he laid down for those seeking to design and write a new curriculum. When translated into our terms for a more radical curriculum they have immediate implications for science education:
The transmission of a scientific culture.
The development of the cognitive and evaluative skills of learners.
Enabling young people to take part in the reconstruction of their society with respect to technical and scientific issues (STS).
The first of these makes an ambiguous claim. Curriculum theorists, like Peter Hirst and Howard Gardner, have always bargained for the inclusion of their favourite brands of knowledge on the grounds of their contribution to culture. Some fight for Shakespeare, or a classical language, on grounds which seem closer to culture defined as élitist knowledge than to culture as the network of contemporary concerns and meanings. In science, however, the older theories have no special prestige, and soon get superseded by new ones. Modern concepts &emdash; DNA, the Big Bang, plate tectonics, Gaia theory, and plastics for medical implants &emdash; are the stuff of relevance and their use may well be involved in societal reconstruction. The extent to which they have entered the common culture will depend not on how many people can define them in abstract ways but their familiarity on our lips.
Studies of the publics understanding of science have shown that most adults are not curious about scientific explanations, but we also know that some of the images and metaphors of science do achieve public currency. John Major, the former British prime minister who was not famous for his understanding of science, proclaimed several times as he returned triumphantly from Northern Ireland after negotiating the first IRA cease-fire, that he had made a quantum leap forward! If he was referring to a sudden transition to a new political situation the metaphor was very apt. Likewise, DNA fingerprints, another new metaphor, is the stuff of everyday talk, as are genes and clones, light years and black holes. Even the disturbance produced by the beat of a butterflys wing in some prehistoric forest is becoming a new image-gift from chaos theory, through the film Jurassic Park. This is not so much a question of a hard-nosed increase in scientific knowledge, as one of light metaphor, general meaning and popular culture.
Translating these kinds of considerations back into curriculum-speak shows that what we need in scientific culture for the majority of students who will not become research scientists, is a wide but not necessarily deep knowledge of science and an enthusiasm for it which will breed confidence in using easy and vivid parts of its language. This is precisely the kind of understanding which has been shown by research to be essential to enable young people to take part in the discussion of social issues. Youngsters will/can only discuss the social issues of science and technology if the language is familiar to them. If it is not, the students stop discussing, demanding Why dont they (the scientists) speak English! This implies that it is not abstract theory, but an engagement with the general ideas of science in context which is required. Such a transmutation of science &emdash; once precise, hard to comprehend and known only to a few &emdash; into general knowledge, the stuff of topical and changing metaphors, commonplace and familiar, is a barter in which school education and the general public would be the winners. Those few of our pupils who become future scientists are also likely to be excited and intrigued by these ideas and images, so that their higher education can take place later, on well-prepared ground.
There have been other analyses of science education which have arrived at roughly similar prescriptions for curriculum change as has this argument. These have been labeled Science, Technology and Society, or Science and Technological Literacy, and date back to a time and place when educated citizen knowledge and action was thought to provide a strong shield against further disasters like nuclear warfare and the spoliation of the environment. The unfolding of history has now shown the first of these not to be the global threat that we then believed, and the other to be inevitable in the face of industrial development and landless farmers. This is not to deny the value of discussing these issues in the classroom, but it shows that rigorous knowledge, e.g. about the structure of the atomic nucleus and the dynamics of habitats need no longer be the ultimate goal of science education for the citizen. For every science-based issue which is troublesome, teachers can begin, rather than end, with a discussion of the civic issues involved.
Science education is currently being re-examined in many countries both in Europe and the rest of the world. Some nations want more practical work to illustrate the nature of scientific evidence, others simply want to shine in the international league-tables. For many countries there is the naïve hope that better science education will bring technical innovation, and hence an increase in national economic wealth.
But once curriculum action is seriously proposed a whole nexus of practical problems arise. As Douglas Roberts (1980: 67) pointed out, science curriculum development is an aspect of the more general problem of putting theory into practice which always proves far more difficult than it sounds. Theoreticians and teachers inhabit rather different spheres of power and realms of values. None of these coincide perfectly, and the resulting mismatch may effectively prevent any curriculum change:
the requirement that a teachers actions be defensible is a matter of practical ethics, not of theoretical consistency. It is a matter of weighing up the relative value of pupil outcomes, and there comes a point in the weighing where further research information simply does not help . . . . where the teacher has to take a stand, and consistency with research does not constitute adequate grounds for such a stand.
Teachers, as Donald Schön (1983) observed, reflect best while they are interacting with their pupils. Despite any original intention to follow the theoreticians diagnosis, value judgements about one or more pupils understanding and learning takes priority almost involuntarily. If university lecturers and political advisors decide that they want more practical work to be designed and carried out by the pupils, they may run in-service courses for the teachers to show them just how this should be done, but still it rarely happens with any consistency. Profound changes in ways of teaching are needed, and this means that there needs to be a corresponding and persistent change in the teachers values which will reflect not so much the findings of research as the mood of the nation to which we all belong. At the best of times change like this will happen slowly.
Curriculum innovation calls not just for teaching professionalism of a high order, but also for a generosity of spirit which goes far beyond what has previously been expected. Within the network of honour and status which is a part of any national culture, the public needs to acknowledge this professional generosity of their teachers by the respect and also the autonomy which they accord to them. Outside the school there are many other actors in the innovation process &emdash; politicians, local educational advisors, universities, parents, and employers. Do the universities, who may well be looking for more or better trained students, or the parents who harbour ambitions for their children to become doctors and engineers, really want any more than just the old prestigious form of Enlightenment education? For a curriculum change which affects the substance of national culture the wider the support obtained, the more likely the change is to happen.
Historically there have been four main models for putting curriculum change into action.
(a) Top-down, teacher-proof, initiatives These are best known from the Sputnik era when the politicians and science educators of the US decided that science education had failed their nation. The principle scapegoat for this was identified, as usual, as the constituency least able to defend itself &emdash; the teachers. So little respect was accorded to them that the new educational resources were written in such a way that (it was hoped) the instruction could pass directly from the professors to the students completely by-passing the teachers. Research has shown that these initiatives failed because they were simply not put into practice.
(b) Top-down cascade training initiatives These curriculum reforms originate in decisions taken at the top, like those in the previous category, but they encourage and enable the teachers to take part by training them in both the new subject matter and in their values behind its introduction. The injection of science into the British National Curriculum belongs to this type of innovation. For the first time science was introduced into the primary schools where most teachers knew little or no science. Not all primary teachers could be prepared for the change because of the large numbers involved, so each trained teacher had then to train the others in their own school, on their return. This rarely worked at all well since the conviction, knowledge, and practice of the rather hurriedly prepared teachers was severely strained in the cascade process. Major problems arose when primary teachers tried to pass on to others as a basis for teaching action the limited knowledge they had acquired in their 20-day courses, not because it was hard to understand, but because the new values in which it was rooted, did not transfer so easily. Teaching is a travesty of professional action where it is not based upon conviction and values.
(c) Teacher -led initiatives These happen in a small way on a daily basis in the classroom. They may once have been more common in England than in other countries, and even now, after 10 years of the government-imposed, top-down, National Curriculum changes, writers still naïvely commend the teacher action-research model of curriculum change.
A variant of this, the periphery to centre model was first tried nation-wide by the British School Science Curriculum Review (Ditchfield et al. 1985) during the 1980s in a way quite similar to the Ciencia Viva initiative which is underway in Portugal today. These initiatives provide a very happy initial scenario, which resembles a great optional INSET programme, although only a minority of excellent teachers take part. The British initiative did not succeed in changing the curriculum, and one can speculate that the reason for its failure was that none of the other powerful agents for change were involved in the process.
(d) Democratic curriculum initiative It has been argued that there needs to be new ways of thinking about science education for a popular scientific culture, because the expression of its culture is of deep and broad importance to the whole nation. If curriculum change is able to find the right conditions under which science can be introduced into the national culture then many players on the scene will need to give it their backing. Ultimately it is a function of democracy.
This last model of curriculum innovation is echoed in the thinking of the Swedish curriculum theorist Tomas Englund (1986: 253) who struggled with this problem over a decade ago. He wrote that whether a syllabus . . . finds general acceptance depends on whether or not the existing hegemony in society as a whole moves in line with this dominant ideology. The Swedish national curriculum has now been reformed and we can read about both its reliance on teachers and the inside politics of the process. It is significant that, as Carlgren (1995) points out, the new national curriculum contains a mixture of old and new values. It mentions Christian ethics, and Western humanism as any traditional programme might do; and yet it also writes that the activities of the school must develop the pupils ability to take personal responsibility and perform social action. This links it with the requirements for a science curriculum for societal reconstruction. It is by the results of this programme, Carlgren writes, and not by some simplistic measure of their pupils learning published in league tables, that the schools effectiveness should be judged by parents as a basis for choice about their childrens education.
Englunds (1997) most recent analysis of research didactics in Sweden is also valuable because it shows the tasks still awaiting teacher educators and the range of analyses which are possible. No modern curriculum innovation can take place without concomitant evaluation and research. Englund argues that whether there is a narrow cognitive focus on instruction and the learning, or a broader sociological focus on reasons for the choice of teaching methods and special content, there is an important role for teacher educators to ensure that attitudes towards science education accord with the demands of our pluralist society and the meanings to be attached to the learning of science.
If this analysis is correct there is no longer a special case to be made for science education in terms of its logical power or its economic importance. Its value now relies on the social salience of the issues of new technology in our culture to which it would be linked. Like education in history or in a modern language, science education must depend on cultural arguments rather than on technical know-how. Its task is the making and passing on of a new cultural scientific heritage, the development of contemporary ways of thinking in science which need not be abstracted from context, and a preparation which will enable our young people to evaluate scientific issues from a personal and cultural point of view. It follows that curriculum innovation in science is no longer a technical matter for science education experts or teachers alone. George DeBoer (1991: 240), who wrote what is probably the first history of ideas in science education, concluded that cultural values and socially relevant science should be at the heart of science instruction for the future, and imagined its operation in the following way:
. . . there would be frequent discussions about the relationships between the principles of science and the events of the day. Nuclear power plants, recycling, birth control. losses to the gene pool when species become extinct, the ozone layer, and genetic engineering would be part of the daily interaction between student and teacher and between student and student. Students would be alerted to read about these issues in magazines and newspapers and to discuss them with family and friends. As John Dewey (1938) told us years ago, isolation in all forms is the thing to be avoided: connectedness is what we should strive for.
What is most attractive about this vision of a new science education is that the connectedness it advocates, links so convincingly with a concept of familiar science which is so well embedded within a culture that its present alien nature would be totally forgotten. It seems, if DeBoers rather Utopian ideas could be realized, that this might amend the unpopularity of the physical sciences with our young people, who so often prefer to study the more socially oriented sciences which give meaning to their everyday lives and concerns.
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