Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Teachers Note: Science and Society are Intertwined

La Trobe University
La Trobe University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Dorothy Smith, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education at La Trobe University, The Conversation: http://theconversation.edu.au

Is science being taught badly? In the broadest sense, yes.

Most Australian school science curriculum documents I see today seem to be about teaching students how different science is from the rest of society, and how scientists are different from ordinary people.

This approach gives a false impression of separation between science and society, and disregards an accumulation of studies from the history, philosophy and sociology of science that shows how interlinked science and society are.

The false idea that science can be treated as isolated from society is destructive in several ways:
  • it restricts the vision of science that school teachers can give their students
  • it restricts our vision for ways to address the reported problems with science education in schools
  • it has adversely affected implementation of appropriate science curricula in schools for students who don’t want to be scientists
  • it restricts the potential of the school education provided for intending scientists
School science has never been the same as the scientists’ sciences, so people who write curriculum documents make decisions about which aspects to foreground. The strong trend over recent decades of outcomes-based education has been to foreground content knowledge and a narrow set of skills rather than to tell a complex story of the ways in which science is a social activity.

The lack of a complex account of science is particularly noticeable, at least in Victoria, to those of us who remember previous school curriculum documents, such as the Science Framework (1987) or the first Victorian Certificate of Education Physics Study Design (1991), which asked teachers to explicitly situate science in social contexts.

Post-war dreams

A major change in society since the immediate post-war period is the relationship between people who have particular expertise and those who don’t. In the past, people expected to take advice from experts; today, people are generally expected to make up their own minds about things and they expect to be able to express their views.

If the issue is one that involves some expertise, there are differing ways for people to learn what they need to know. One way is to say that each individual must learn enough to hold their own in a competitive marketplace: caveat emptor.

The University of Western Sydney’s Professor Anna Yeatman has proposed another approach: those in society with some expertise learn to interact with those who don’t have that expertise in ways that support choice and voice.

She calls this approach the “new contractualism”: it is a very different approach from the paternalism that characterised post-war science.

To read further, go to: http://theconversation.edu.au/teachers-note-science-and-society-are-intertwined-8697?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+21+August+2012&utm_content=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+21+August+2012+CID_b6f4d9b7bd06d17efd24bb371d9b1a71&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=Teachers+note+science+and+society+are+intertwined
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