This paper examines seven different philosophies of science education pedagogy that are now contending for representation in American Schools: science education grounded in realism, cognitive psychology, inquiry, philosophy and history, Freire, multiculturalism, and cultural studies. These seven philosophies include research programs and preferred classroom practices. Each will be described and then the function of this project of representation will be explored.

I. Introduction

Science education is often presented as though the field speaks with a single voice. The purposes and structure of science education seem unanimously agreed upon. The dissemination of the U.S.'s National Science Education Standards is supposed to serve as one sign of that general agreement. Closer study of this document presents a different picture. Contradictions abound within the pages of this document. Multiple purposes strain against each other. The purpose of this paper is simply to lay out what those purposes are, not so much within the National Standards, but within the science education community itself. Many of these purposes, or, drawing on the work of Kuhn, paradigms, do contend for space within the national agenda (as represented by the Standards, though others have not achieved that level of recognition. This paper can be seen, therefore, as a preparatory step to analyze the National Standards, and as a way of mapping the political terrain in which the Standards are presented and circulated.

This paper looks at seven different approaches to the subject of science education. This is not a comprehensive list, and it reflects my personal biases. These biases include a preference for science educations that come out of social concerns and that are oriented to social justice-inclusion of excluded people, awareness that science represents social power as well as a description of nature. II. A method of representing the field

In this paper I am using a traditional and modernist tool to capture the different paradigms in science education. In a longer version of this paper I also critique this representation and present a second more complex way of understanding the field. It is basically a grid with particular paradigms (or schools or projects) of science education across the top and criteria that differentiate the schools along the side (see Appendix I). One way of understanding such a chart is in relationship to a map, i.e., it presents science education in terms of longitude (the paradigms) and latitude (the differentiating criteria). Adjacent meridians (major longitudinal lines) mark out time zones with a particular paradigm: i.e., models of problem solving, research questions, and ultimately pedagogies. I think of the latitudes as the particular take on the following that occur in each time zone:

  • ・ What is science?
  • ・ What is knowledge?
  • ・ What is the job of the teacher?
  • ・ What is the job of the student?
  • ・ What is the purpose of assessment?
  • ・ What is the purpose of the classroom laboratory?
This is again a personal list that in no sense seeks to be comprehensive, but it does provide a set of key categories that differentiate the seven schools that I am delineating here.

Caution needs to be exercised in reading such a map or chart. To start with, this scheme is inherently homogenizing. In fact its suggestive power comes from the fact that it elides differences within the schools, at the same time it overstates differences among them. It is powerfully sense-making in this way, and it's "artefactuality" (Haraway, 1991), i.e., the way it materializes difference) should not be dismissed merely as fictional: these are differences that make a difference to what students do and learn as I will detail. A. Time Zone I: Conventional practice

The first paradigm I wish to explore is not a research tradition at all, in fact. It is the view of science that all the others resist and distinguish themselves from. The paradigm goes something like this: science has uncovered timeless truths about the universe that present themselves in uncontestable knowledge-nuggets called facts which students should memorize. Biology and Geology should be studied as a list of terms or truths to be memorized and repeated, chemistry and physics as a list of equations to be used the same way. This view of science is the one most commonly experienced by students, if not in reality, then in the view of people in all the other traditions. It results from a common sense notion of science as truth and arises from the fears of textbook editors and school boards that any other tradition is too radical and will lead to controversy or loss of profit. To summarize, this view of science, which I will call Naive Realist might be characterized this way:

Naive Realist

What is science? A collection of truths and facts about the natural world

What is knowledge? Uncontestable statements: facts.

What is the job of the teacher? To get students to memorize the facts.

What is the job of the student? To learn and repeat, by rote, the facts.

What is the purpose of assessment? To ascertain how many facts have been correctly learned.

What is the purpose of the laboratory? To confirm to students that the facts are true as reported in the book or by the teacher. Time Zone 1: Naive Realist Oriented Science Education

Given that this has little support anywhere in the academy, even if it is the most common practice, I wish to move quickly onto the second school.

B. Time Zone 2: Psychology and Learning Theory

The vast majority of research done in the U.S. is done under some rubric of cognitive psychology or a social variant (using Vygotsky) (see Wertsch, 1998). Most researchers would gladly embrace Eleanor Ducksworth's (1986) dictum-drawing on the psychologist Piaget-that there are two aspects of teaching. The first is to put students into contact with phenomena related to the area to be studied-the real thing, not books or lectures about it-and to help them notice what is interesting; to engage them so they will continue to think and wonder about it. The second is to have the students try to explain the sense they are making, and … to try to understand their sense. (pp. 481-2)

It is the internal apprehension and representation of the world in the mind of the student that is the focus of inquiry: what model of the world do students come with and how do "we" (teachers) effect changes in those models. Unlike the Naive Realist model of knowledge in which things are either wrong or right, both the knowledge students come in with and the hopefully new, more complex knowledge they learn, are functional, adaptive views of the world. It is the responsibility of the teacher in this model to help the student grow into a more complicated view of the world by first assessing how the student understands a particular topic in nature and then presenting some experience or situation which forces the student to readjust their thinking: through, for instance, presenting anomalies which contradict the student's initial scheme.

There is a wide range of approaches and attitudes within the psychological model of science education. At one end are those that see the students as having wrong ideas and the purpose of pedagogies is to have the right ones; in many ways this end of the spectrum shares a faith in the timelessness of scientific knowledge with Naive Realism. Most denizens of this second time zone, however, emphasize that it is not facts that are important, but simpler and more complex (and empirically adequate) concepts. The idea of the concept: a model rather than a truth, replaces the fact in the mainstream of this second school. A second axis of difference within the second time zone concerns relative social or individual nature of the learner. At the social end are those that draw on Vygotsky or Habermas to understand the learning process where as an individual mind is the subject of the other end of the spectrum. For both though the map of the discipline looks something like

Learning Theory

What is science? A collection of concepts that explain natural phenomena

What is knowledge? Concepts or models that allow manipulation and understanding of the world

What is the job of the teacher? To understand the models students bring to the classroom and help students achieve more adequate ones.

What is the job of the student? To reorganize their understanding of the world to be more adequate based on the experiences provided by the teacher.

What is the purpose of assessment? To make public the model that the student comes with or progresses to.

What is the purpose of the laboratory? To provide experiences which challenge the models that students bring to the class

Time Zone 2: Learning Theory Oriented Science Education

What is criticized in this model by the other schools under examination here is that scientific knowledge seems up to each individual, even if that individual is a social animal. The other schools try to emphasize that science is not just a set of concepts, but a series of institutions with norms and a priori biases about the world, biases that are essential to science's explanatory success. It is to these other schools we now turn.

C. Time Zone 3: Process

The focus among scholars in this third time zone (paradigm) is the process of science itself rather than its concepts. I offer the 3P's pedagogy of Peterson and Jungck (1988) as the key exemplar of this school. The 3P's model (i.e., problem posing, problem solving and persuasion) tries to reproduce the scientific process of inquiry and social engagement. Jungck and Peterson emphasize the use of computer simulations to accelerate the time needed to carry out large number of iterations of an experiment. The emphasis is not on adjusting specific models of nature but the act of scientific inquiry itself. The rationale for this shift is the concern that while the fundamental concepts of science themselves may be evanescent, the processes which establish those concepts (hypothesizing, replication, control, etc.) will persist. Processes, that collection of procedures that we call scientific, should be the focus of science education rather than the specific knowledges or discoveries which are always open to falsification.

Students are given a domain to explore, to ask questions of and draw conclusions. Unlike most other science pedagogies, these conclusions must be tested publicly. Persuasion of peers and the teacher is a critical part of the simulation of science, in this model. Jungck and Peterson argue for this not out of a social psychological perspective but drawing on sociological models of science such as those put forward by Bloor (1976) and Latour (1987) that emphasize the rhetoric, i.e., the persuasive moment, in science. Scientific knowledge must stand up to "trials of strength" (p. 78): questioning of peers, comparison with competing models, as well as logical and empirical scrutiny. The 3P's model asks students to put their knowledge claims to the same tests.

To summarize:

Scientific Process

What is science? A fundamentally process for determining answers to inquiries

What is knowledge? Contingent but socially scrutinized claims.

What is the job of the teacher? To produce, in a theatrical sense, a simulation of the network and the social (peer) pressure of science.

What is the job of the student? To become a simulated scientist, to hypothesize, test those hypotheses against nature, and then subject conclusions to peer review.

What is the purpose of assessment? To test the mettle of a claim against empirical, logical, theoretical, and alternative challenges. What is the purpose of the laboratory? To provide a simulation of the work of scientists from posing questions, through exploring answers, to going public with claims.

Time zone 3: Process Oriented Science Education

The student here is no longer merely a cognitive model maker, they are engaged in what Dewey called "occupations" and what has been called more recently authentic activities. But, like denizens in the two previous time zones, students and teachers are in some ways trapped in the classroom. Also, in trying to simulate science in the classroom questions of what real science consists of inevitably have to be raised. The former question is dealt with in time zone 5, and the latter in zone 4.

D. Time Zone 4: Philosophical and Historical Science Education

The 3P's draws heavily on the sociology of science in constructing its simulation of what "real" science does. But there are other disciplines that explore that question and come to radically different answers from Latour, Bloor, and others involved with science studies. These include the history and philosophy of science, who through the journal Science and Education (Matthews, 1992) and other writings by Michael Matthews (1994) assert a distinctive voice in the field of science education. While not seeking to replace other pedagogies, Matthews and others have been very critical of first the anti-historical and antiphilosophic slant of most science education as well as of the embrace of constructivism which tends to reduce science to a personal developmental problem rather than a cultural and historical one (Matthews seems to suggest a return to a more direct instructional approach in many cases). Science happens in history as much as it does in a social setting, and it is hard to understand ideas like energy or work without understanding the setting in which they were first explored. It is hard, for instance, to understand relativity without an understanding of aether theory. Similarly, on the philosophical end, questions of method, truth, realism, and rationality are necessary to understanding what science means in our world.

Historical and Philosophical Approaches

What is science? A movement that transcends the categories of fact, concept, and process to include, on the one hand, a history and legacy of understandings of nature rooted in particular people's lives in particular places, and, on the other, questions of reality, truth, and method that extend far outside of laboratory practice.

What is knowledge? Scientific knowledge has a past and a future from the historical side and broader implications from the philosophical side.

What is the job of the teacher? To contextualize science in time and place.

What is the job of the student? To understand the legacy and consequences of scientific knowledge.

Time zone 4: Philosophical and Historical Pedagogy

I have cut this table short, because, as I have already stated, this community does not see their pedagogy as standing alone. In not being comprehensive they do not need to answer each of the questions concerning classroom practice that the other approaches must. I would even note that the last two questions might be answered very differently depending on which of the other paradigms this one is paired with. Every other pedagogy here sees itself as a complete approach to science education, whereas this community is fighting for a small share of the science education content pie.

E. Time Zone 5: Science Education for Empowerment

While the science in the process approach (zone 3) is social in that knowledge must be tested in a public arena, other social dimensions of science seem absent: that scientific knowledge is powerful, valued knowledge knowledge, that it serves specific and usually corporate interests, and that because it is esoteric it is held by some rather than others. In this, the fifth time zone, these issues are addressed by trying to democratize scientific knowledge. Taking scientific knowledge as a form of cultural capital, this school tries to redistribute it. To do so it draws on Paolo Freire (1968) and various social movements that have worked to gain more social control of health and environmental policy. It tries to turn students into citizen-scientist activists. Typically the curriculum is organized around either a pressing environmental or health care concern (and I do not mean to imply that health care concerns are exclusive of environmental concerns) in the neighborhood of the school. Students investigate the problem, collect data, and try to participate in the struggle to correct the problem by presenting their data to the appropriate authorities. They protest, for instance, contamination of water or soil, or they raise concerns about cancer rates in communities. They learn the science as they need to speak with expertise on the given problem (see Susskind & Finkel, 1995).

In essence, this approach to science education alters the process approach described in zone 3 in two fundamental ways: first science is now linked to pressing issues in the community rather than personal (or teacher provided) concerns and, second, it is no longer a simulation, but a real, open ended, high stakes activity. This science education is involved in actual issues, rather than pretend ones; the data has to pass the tests of real (and often much better financed and versed) opponents.

This approach provides completely different answers to our questions:

Empowerment Science Education

What is science? A tool (method) necessary to participate in civic life in the community.

What is knowledge? Information gathered in the often urgent pursuit of health and safety within specific geographical contexts.

What is the job of the teacher? To connect students to local issues and then serve as a resource as they pursue particular solutions to those issues.

What is the job of the student? To be a scientifically literate activist in their community.

What is the purpose of assessment? To test the collective student's competence to address the issue at hand.

What is the purpose of the laboratory? To provide data for the struggle the group has involved itself in.

Time zone 5: Empowerment (Freirian) Science Education

The power of Paolo Freire's work on literacy and political enfranchisement can be seen here, though it is scientific literacy which is the concern rather than literacy's usual meaning.

What is untouched here are the internal political dynamics of science itself. As the chart indicates, science in this model is little more than a tool available to everyone's use; it is decidedly neutral. Yet the history of science shows that the tool has been more available to some rather than others. Minorities and women have often been barred, or, in some cases, have been branded unfit (insufficiently objective) to do science. These acts of exclusion and the cultural and epistemological commitments of science become much more central in the final two paradigms.

F. Time Zone 6: Feminist/ Multicultural Science Education

Multicultural science education as described, for instance, in the writings of Mary Atwater (1995) , is a collage of concerns. At one level, like multiculturalism in history and literature, it is concerned with reclaiming and reinserting silenced and often willfully forgotten voices. The lives and knowledge of African American, Hispanic, and women scientists are remembered and re-taught. It is the project of multiculturalism in this mode to note that in science, as in other domains, the unmarked (the presumed) is white and male. One need only look at the U.S. National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) to understand the massive effort being made to counter the mythic image of the white, male, withdrawn, mad scientist: nearly every photo consciously shows children clearly marked as racially "Other" in the United States!

A second mode of multicultural science education concerns itself with what are known as learning styles: what anthropologists might call "practices of learning," (sitting and memorizing vs. copying off the board vs. performing in skits vs. hands-on learning vs. oral presentations). The argument goes that schools favor specific modes that statistically are more compatible with the dominant group's learning styles (passive reception) rather than others who for whatever reason need more engaged, dialogical, and oral learning situations.

At a deeper level this learning styles debate suggests that science itself involves different styles of engagement with nature. The classic image of the scientist cool and aloof from his (gender intentional) object of study, scalpel in hand is challenged by the Evelyn Fox Keller's portrayal of Nobel lauriet Barbara McClintock striving for "a feeling for the organism" (1983). Here intimacy, empathy, and partial identity become the epistemological grounds for cutting edge science.

Finally, the knowledge traditions of science itself have to be seen on the one hand as one of many traditions which have rational, effective ways of explaining nature and on the other hand as a tradition itself which has borrowed and exploited knowledge from around the world. In other words, science is a particular ethnoscience. A widely shared, but no less partial, explanation of and way of engaging with "nature." Science happens in a culture. For instance, students should be able to contrast Western scientific knowledge of navigation with the complicated and various ways of navigating used by, for instance, Saharan Nomad traders, Pacific Island fisherman, and Inuit hunters. Science education is comparative anthropology in this mode.

But post-colonial anthropology teaches us to be cautious about making radical assumptions about differences among people. Globalism is not a new phenomena and science emerged as a profession in Europe in the context of trade with Asia and Africa. Tracking the flow of ideas and acknowledging the influence of African and Asian texts in the writings of Galileo and others has been another part of the multicultural project. Nor is this limited to the early modern (renaissance) period. Ron Eglash has shown, for instance, the role of fractal mathematics within Africa and the influence that this mathematics had on European mathematicians like Georg Cantor (1999, p. 207). Working at all these levels does not produce a project as coherent as 3 P's, which in its integration reflects the largely coherent vision of a small group of researchers. Instead multiculturalism contests other science education in different ways and to different degrees: content, practice, and history all need to be revised in the light of this research.

Multicultural and Feminist Science Education

What is science? One culture's way of explaining and adapting to nature.

What is knowledge? A local understanding even if that locality has spread globally. Knowledges are particular and culturally specific.

What is the job of the teacher? To connect students to multiple ways of explaining nature, to promote the work of underrepresented groups, and to empower groups left out of the mainstream/malestream discourse.

What is the job of the student? To see different perspectives on the world. To be a traveller, in some sense, in different worlds, where in some version of multicultural science education this may be tourism and in others immigration.

What is the purpose of assessment? To test the ability to hold multiple representations and appreciate other's point's of view.

What is the purpose of the laboratory? The laboratory along with other activities become ways of travelling through different cultures: our own as well as other's globally and historically.

Time Zone 6: Multicultural and Feminist Science Education

Unlike previously discussed approaches (with the possible exception of versions of the historical and philosophical school), science itself is seen as a problematic concept here. It is some people's knowledge, not everyone's. This is not to suggest that students do not need to learn traditional knowledge concepts. This is not to deny science's power both sociologically (as a form of capital) or physically (to explain and control phenomenon). Science is simply no longer the only knowledge game in town from this vantage point.

While this approach does stress social limits of science, its emphasis is on the differences between ways of knowing, not on power relations within particular ways of knowing. That has been the focus of yet another scholarly science education tradition.

G. Zone 7: Cultural Studies Science Education

This last zone is in some ways a simple extension or modification of the previous time zone. Few people writing or teaching in this tradition would not identify their work as part of a broad and radicalized multiculturalism. Nevertheless the focus in this pedagogy is less on comparing science with other knowledge traditions than on focussing on the role of power within science and problematizing (not damning) science and science education as an enterprise (see for instance Barton, 1998; Rodriguez, 1997). I will focus on my own research here, though this approach to science occurs in the work of Jennifer Helms (1995), Sandra Harding (1994), Angela Calabrese Barton , Noel Gough (1992; Gough, ) and others.

Like multicultural science education, cultural studies borrows from feminism and anthropology. The differences between them might be seen as rooted in the difference in the meaning that the word culture has for different scholarly community: multiculturalists, on the one hand, and anthropology and cultural studies, on the other (Wax, 1993). Critical to the version of at least some in latter group is the idea of power relations and social struggle within a community acting as the engine of culture. Culture emerges out of social struggle and difference (Hall, 1986; Williams, 1977). In science this difference might be seen, at least in one domain, as the difference between the observer and the observed. Most versions of science education focus on the knowledge, practice, and privilege of the observer. Students dress up as scientists, learn who the hero-scientists are, and in a variety of other ways learn to identify with the subject position of the scientist. Ironically, most of us (even those of us who are scientists) find ourselves more often positioned as the object of a sorting, measuring or classifying gaze. We are more likely to be patients than doctors, students than teachers, pedestrians than police. In short the object rather than the observer. In my own revision of science education I bring this power relation back into focus to help students understand (through sociology, semiology, anthropology, and cultural theory) the possibilities and implications of being the observed: we talk about the history of using human and animal subjects and how the rights of human subjects has, in the U.S., been closely linked with social movements. I suggest to my students that they teach their students about important subjects like Alexis St. Martin, whose stomach was used to determine the role of chemistry in digestion, just as they teach about Darwin and Einstein. As with the historical and philosophical science educations, as well as versions of the multicultural science educations, this material is added onto and into other approaches and does not stand alone. Yet, like those approaches, it colors the other material and other pedagogies that a teacher would use: doing a 3 P's pedagogy, for instance, when the rights of animal and human subjects is brought into the discussion changes the experience of doing experiments: the world ceases merely to be a resource in our quest for knowledge. Grafted onto a Freirian pedagogy one comes to the realize that science is not simply a tool that we use to achieve enfranchisement, but often represents the institutions against which we must resist to achieve those goals. Again, this is not an argument that students should not learn Newton's laws or parts of the circulatory system, but it recognizes that scientists are people with social power as well as knowledge of nature. Students need to play the paramecium or guinea pig as well as the scientist (Weinstein, 1998).

Cultural Studies Science Education

What is science? A power charged relationship between a researcher, subjects, communities, and populations.

What is knowledge? Information that emerges out of specific relationships, usually between non-equals.

What is the job of the teacher? To bring in the history, knowledge, and practices of both the people conducting research, the people

whose bodies and lives constitute the data for that research, and those effected by that research.

What is the job of the student? To understand the consequences of science and the relationship between knowledge and power. What is the purpose of assessment? To check students' understandings of the relationship between power and knowledge and the consequences of being in the various subject positions within and outside the network of science as an institutionalized practice.

What is the purpose of the laboratory? To explore the multiple subjectivities involved in science as practice. To "play" a variety of roles and relationships to knowledge.

Time Zone 7: Cultural Studies Science Education

This is, in the words of Jennifer Helms, a pedagogy of "science as a social problem" (1995). It is a science education which puts science itself under the microscope, and tries to look at science without a romantic eye.

This is, however, as already noted, not a pedagogy which stands alone. It needs to work with the other pedagogies outlined here. To acknowledge power is not to deny the effectiveness, creativity, or aesthetic importance of scientific work, and this is precisely what time zones 1 through 6 emphasize. Finally, it should be clear that in pointing out the lacunae in other approaches to science education this science education does not focus on the learning of the students (zone 2), the techniques of inquiry (zone 3), the writings of historians and philosophers (zone 4), citizen use of science (zone 5), other culture's interpretations of nature (zone 6), and as such it is just as open to critique as they are. There are only commitments in this story not superiority.


This is not a complete map of the world of science education in the united states, but it is a starting place to understand why documents that on the one hand signal consensus can show such divisions. I want to point to some of those divisions in the National Science Education Standards in this conclusion. The thorough analysis of this document is another paper altogether.

The first division I would point to is the one between the pictures in the national document which all emphasize multiculturalism and the history of science which is a history of mostly white, European descended men. A second division is the one that emphasizes that science should be for all people, but insists that everyone, no matter their life goals, understand the world only from the point of view of the scientist. A third division within these documents is the one that creates history and philosophy of science as a separate category and the main body of the document which emphasizes the content divorced from science and philosophy.

Clearly different communities are being appeased here. Historians, psychologists, sociologists, empowerment educators. All have a small piece of the science education pie; but the bulk of the document clearly emphasizes the inquiry approach with its emphasis on being scientists. Whether these groups will remain appeased remains to be seen, and is the focus of work to come.

Edited by Takashi Oda( [ Back ]