Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Re-Visioning Science Education

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Re-Visioning Science Education

Article excerpt


Science education is crucial for shaping the culture of science and its practitioners. Boundaries currently limit ties between natural and social science education structures, exposing the public to a one-dimensional science and its possible ramifications. Believing this to be a "crisis," I explore a variety of approaches to re-visioning science education and the ensuing forms of resistance that these face. In addition, a more personal accounting of my experience with trying to integrate social and cultural issues into the education of scientists allows me to explore the forms of resistance I faced; bridge the gap between theory and practice; and locate more effective ways of re-visioning science education.

Key Words: science education, interdisciplinarity, resistance


In The Structures of Scientific Revolution (1962, 1970), Thomas Kuhn set the stage for many social studies and feminist analyses of science (Keller 1998) which question not only the practice of science but also the acculturation of both basic and applied scientists. His classic exploration of the growth of science demonstrated how science should progress and change as new findings and discoveries are made in any field of science that affects one's own subdiscipline. This might be considered analogous to adaptations within and between populations, considered community interactions, which allow them to survive rather than perish. At present, the scientific community does not appear to be "self-correcting" as Kuhn claimed a community in crisis would be. While much of the science community does not see a crisis, feminists, among others, have; and, they have actively examined the nature and culture of science in an effort to resolve this crisis. Critics of science argue that the "objective" and "value-free" structure that science claims, and which Kuhn acknowledges must be present, is far from objective and value-free. Moreover, many feminist scholars proclaim that normalized masculine rationality and exclusionary practices within science serve to reinforce the hidden dimensions of science communities that lack objectivity and value-neutrality (Harding 1991; Keller 1985).

Parallel to these epistemological critiques are questions about the nature of science education. Whom do we teach? What do we teach? How do we teach? Recently, science professionals--19 men, 1 woman--focused on how to prepare graduate students for specific employment opportunities outside of academia, but masked the importance of these very fundamental questions (Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy 1995--CSEPP). Similarly, many students never consider that the process of conducting research (What do we study? How do we study it?) is a uniquely human experience that can have very clear political motives.

In contrast to the CSEPP, the National Research Council (NRC) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) have questioned science education. In particular, they have called for broader training and a greater balance between research and teaching for scientists in an effort to "democratize" science (Barr & Birke 1998; Bloom 1997; Petersen 1996). According to Barr and Birke (1998), such a democratization of science means awakening the scientific community to its own context-bound assumptions and values (e.g., white, heterosexual, masculine, capitalist), hoping to challenge and expand what is accepted and taught as "science."

Science education is crucial to shaping, and possibly reconfiguring, the culture of science and its practitioners. Currently, science education is centered on the learning of facts, theories and procedures that are "... separated from conceptual understandings and decontextualized from their social, historical, cultural and political contexts." (Barton, 1998:13). Moreover, scientific knowledge is developed, and taught, within a positivist tradition where conventional relationships between teacher and student, and between scientist and non-scientist, are built using hierarchical power structures. …

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