Social Justice, Education, and Identity

By Carol Vincent | Go to book overview

Chapter 9

Science education for social justice

Michael J. Reiss


Not another aim for science education?

The question as to the whole purpose of school science education has been widely debated in recent years in the science education community. Increasingly it has been agreed that school science education should serve the needs of the whole school population (e.g. Millar 1996). For this reason, scientific literacy, however this term is understood, is seen as the prime aim of science teaching (see also Layton et al. 1993; Irwin and Wynne 1996; Hodson 1998). Generally, scientific literacy is seen as being a vehicle to help tomorrow's adults to understand scientific issues (Gräber and Bolte 1997). In the UK, for example, it might be hoped that a good school science curriculum that took scientific literacy seriously would help pupils to understand the uncertainties around genetically modified foods, global warming and the radiation from mobile phones.

My contention here is that while the scientific literacy movement has much to commend it, it still offers too narrow a vision of what science education might achieve. I would like to explore what a science curriculum might be like that took as its premise the notion that science education should aim for social justice. This is not to suggest that this should be the only aim of school science; rather, that it is an aim that has been very greatly underplayed. I aim to build on the work of a number of authors including Longbottom and Butler (1999), Longbottom (1999), Rodriguez (1998) and Barton (1998, 2001), all of whom have extended the debate about the aims of school science. Situating science education within a framework of social justice brings it alongside certain other components of the curriculum. For too long the science education debate has been conducted without reference to the wider aims of schooling.

John Longbottom explores the nature of science teaching if science education is justified in terms of socio-political goals. He argues that science education should 'contribute to the advancement of democracy, and so improve the quality of human existence' (Longbottom 1999:4). Alberto Rodriguez explores the potential of science education to serve as a platform for resistance-a notion only recently beginning to be explored in science education writing, though well established in, for example, anti-racist education (Ahmed et al. 1998). Angie Barton,

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