What is scientific literacy? What should we learn about science, and who should decide? These are some of the questions we have been dealing with in ED 455: Science Education in the 21st Century for the past few weeks, and this week in Environmental Theory we talked about science and the role it should and does play in environmental scholarship/practice. It was interesting to find certain connections between the two, especially as I develop my own views on what science education should look like in the classroom.
One point of overlap was the intersection of place and science. Livingstone argues that the “where” of scientific activity matters, as in where a theory has been encountered and where theories were created. He uses the example of introducing the theory of evolution in various places and how each community reacted differently. For example, in New Zealand the settlers used it to justify colonizing the Maori because they believed evolution made them the superior race, while in the American south the idea wasn’t taken as well since they were justifying slavery with the idea that there were two separate races. He also argues that we inhabit physical and abstract places, including social, cultural, and intellectual space. I agree with this notion, since I think our conceptions of place are also physical and abstract since everyone has their own experiences and memories that contribute to their intersection of place. Additionally, science is influenced by a history of past human decisions, cultural, historical, and value judgements, so scientific theories are all, in essence, place-based, bound to the place and time in which they were created.
Livingstone also discussed the placelessness of science labs, and how people think that science transcends the particularities of the local. Like any theory, science provides a nice general framework for students to grasp onto, and it’s important to learn the basics of science in order to understand the news, but the particularities of the local are what makes science interesting, in my opinion. I think science is more interesting when tied to a particular locale because it makes it more relevant and accessible instead of stagnant and detached. This might take the form of project/problem based science education that is based in a particular community. Instead of learning science in compartmentalized classrooms, students would learn it in the context of a community project. This brings me to another important aspect of science: interdisciplinarity.
A project based science curriculum would be inherently interdisciplinary since it focuses on one specific problem that includes intersections from many different disciplines. Cartwright asks, “How do we best put together different levels and different kinds of knowledge from different fields to solve real world problems, the bulk of which do not fall in any one domain of any one theory?” The answer lies in the Lele and Norgaard piece, which encourages interdisciplinary collaboration between the natural and social sciences, as well as within each of those fields. Right now, the norm seems to be compartmentalizing different kinds of science and knowledge, which might be because “crossing boundaries to solve environmental and developmental problems distracts from pure research, where academic prestige is still highest” (Lele and Norgaard). Currently purity and academic prestige are valued so highly that it discourages people from working together. It’s so easy to get trapped in a world dictated by your own discipline, but I think most of the learning comes from when you are outside of that bubble and forced to make outside connections.