Friday, September 24, 2010

Science as progressive discourse

Bereiter, C. (1994) Implications of postmodernism for science, or, Science as progressive discourse. Educational Psychologist, 29(1), 3-12.

+ Postmodemism's rejecting of the possibility of an objective stance has led some educators to begin treating scientific knowledge as merely a matter of elite consensus (Most scientists believe that ...).
+ Bereiter argues that objectivity is not an essential claim of science, but progress is.
+ Everything scientists do takes place within a framework that presupposes the advancement of knowledge as a historical fact and an attainable goal.
+ Progress is the foundation of all our scientific beliefs.
+ Scientific theories cannot be verified [to attain absolute certainty]; they can at most be falsified. Progress therefore arises from continual criticism and efforts to overcome criticisms by modifying or replacing theories.
+ Sometimes people with opposing views can engage in discourse that leads to a new understanding that everyone involved agrees is superior to their own previous understanding. This is the process of dialectic, in which thesis and antithesis give rise to a synthesis, which transcends the original contradictions.

What does it takes to make a discourse progressive?
1. A commitment to work toward common understanding satisfactory to all.
2. A commitment to frame questions and propositions in ways that allow evidence to be brought to bear on them.
3. A commitment to expand the body of collectively valid propositions.
4. A commitment to allow any belief to be subjected to criticism if it will advance the discourse.

Other Key Ideas:
If we regard the scientific method not as a set of rules of procedure or standards of judgment, but as a form of discourse involving certain strong commitments on the part of those who participate, then the issue of leaching the scientific method takes on quite a different aspect.

The question is not should students be taught to think in a scientific way but should they be expected to participate in a scientific kind of discourse?

We may think of science as a continuing discourse that went on before our time and that will continue after it.

Classroom discussions may be thought of as part of the larger ongoing discourse, not as preparation for it or as after-the-fact examination of the results of the larger discourse.

The role of textbooks and other authoritative expressions becomes less problematic if we accept the view of science as one gigantic discourse, which at any moment is represented by thousands of little discourses going on here and there, including those taking place in classrooms.

Bereiter supports a view of science education in which students are actually part of the scientific enterprise rather than onlookers or postulants.

Science is an unusually progressive kind of discourse and and science education is about finding ways to bring students into that discourse.

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