Beliefs and Values in Science Education

By Michael Poole | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
'Every comparison has a limp'
– language, concepts and models

'You should have heard their language!'

The idiot sat right on my tail for mile after mile.
When he ran into me, after I had to stop suddenly,
I was so steamed up I was nearly bursting. And
when he had the nerve to blame me for stopping
without warning, I just blew up and hit him! You
know how it is, Your Honour, if you build up too
much pressure in a boiler it explodes – and that's
what happened to me.

The defendant's analogy illustrates:
1. The power of a comparison to evoke a more vivid mental picture than plain descriptive prose, like 'I lost control of my actions'.
2. The use of analogies as instruments of persuasion. The motorist wanted his actions excused as an inevitable consequence of his circumstances. So he picked an analogy which favoured his case and tried to exonerate himself on the grounds that you can't blame a boiler for bursting if the pressure exceeds a certain value. Of course, if there are independent grounds for claiming that a person who has had his car damaged is bound to exhibit catastrophically uncontrollable behaviour, then the analogy is splendidly illuminating. But there are plenty of people who, in similar circumstances, have not so lashed out. You cannot justifiably argue from analogies.
3. The way an analogy provokes further thought about a situation. For instance, the judge might have turned the tables, using the same analogy, by pointing out that the defendant could have counted up to ten as a 'safety-valve'. This would have enabled him to 'let off steam' and 'taken the pressure off in a tense situation.

So not only is language a vehicle for expressing beliefs and values, they in turn affect the choice of language. 'A resolute approach' could be declined as: I am firm; you are unbending; he is pig-headed! These expressions are not simply descriptions, they are evaluative metaphors, disclosing different beliefs about the propriety of a resolute approach when adopted by different people.

Evaluations and beliefs also lurk within the similes, metaphors and models used in education and science, for example the 'house-building' model for the 'sensible educator' in the frontispiece. This chapter is concerned with ways in which they affect the choices of analogies and models used in science and in science education.


Giant redwood trees

The first example comes from James Lovelock, author of the 'Gaia hypothesis', which we shall encounter in the next chapter. He wishes to persuade us that the Earth is alive. He defends this counterintuitive idea by appealing to a carefully chosen metaphor:

You may find it hard to swallow the notion that
anything as large and apparently inanimate as the

-49-

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