Citizens with Science Education

It has been puzzling for me why many “educated” people, scientists and engineers who have had years of education, can be so uncritical of social, political, and cultural common sense. I have now a theory to explain the phenomena:

As Kuhn has suggested:

In these fields the student relies mainly on textbooks until, in
his third or fourth year of graduatework, he begins his own research.
Many science curricula do not ask even graduate students to read in
works not written specially for students. The few that do assign
supplementary reading in research papers and monographs restrict
such assignments to the most advanced courses and to materials that
take up more or less where the available texts leave off. Until the very
last stages in the education of a scientist, textbooks are systematically
substituted for the creative scientific literature that made them possible.
Given the confidence in their paradigms, which makes this educational
technique possible, few scientists would wish to change it. Why, after all,
should the student of physics, for example, read the works of Newton,
Faraday, Einstein, or Schrödinger, when everything he needs to know
about these works is recapitulated in a far briefer, more precise, and
more systematic form in a number of up-to-date textbooks?
Without wishing to defend the excessive lengths to which this type of
education has occasionally been carried, one cannot help but notice that
in general it has been immensely effective.
Of course, it is a narrow and rigid education, probably more so than
any other except perhaps in orthodox theology. But for normal-scientific
work, for puzzle-solving within the tradition that the textbooks define,
the scientist is almost perfectly equipped. Furthermore, he is well
equipped for another task as well—the generation through normal
science of significant crises. When they arise, the scientist is not, of
course, equally well prepared. Even though prolonged crises are
probably reflected in less rigid educational practice, scientific training is
not well designed to produce the man who will easily discover a fresh
approach.(Kuhn 1970, pp. 165-166)


Textbooks thus begin by truncating the scientist’s sense of his discipline’s history and then
proceed to supply a substitute for what they have eliminated. Characteristically, textbooks
of science contain just a bit of history, either in an introductory chapter or, more often, in
scattered references to the great lessons of an earlier age. From such references both
students and professionals come to feel like participants in a long-standing historical
tradition. (Kuhn 1970, pp. 137–138)

The curriculum has been effective in producing laborers who can solve practical problems of their field.

Although progress of science depends on critical thinkers that have questioned the foundations of beliefs in many dimensions, the current graduates of universities are not better critical thinkers than common people practicing religions.

Most of those who study physics, engineering, business, arts, natural and social sciences, don’t go far enough in their studies to feel how skeptical, critical, and philosophical the founders of theories have been . Most current students learn about the scientific theories that are useful, without enjoying the process of their discovery.

They know what science has taught us, but are not scientists. Without experiencing the method, they are like those born to religions; performing religious rituals without knowing the principles and where they are coming from.

Nevertheless, if we show the students the real thoughts and debates between the followers of scientific method, I can conceive a science education system that will produce engineers and scientists who understand the process, are more creative, critical thinkers and better citizens as Dewey wished.

It may need less breadth or longer length of education, but it is essential because I believe this mindset is also what would produce the citizens expected by John Rawls. We actually teach the students a lot of stuff that are not very useful in their lives; How about replacing some of those, in favor of experiencing scientific method. 


23 May, 2013

Amir H. Ghaseminejad


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