Wednesday, December 28, 2022

When Educators Use the Word "Science" and the Need for Critical Thinking

 "Science can be a language of distance which reduces a being to its working parts; it is language of objects."  Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

Educators and education policymakers have discovered a new word "science." Well, it's not new to them, but some educators have figured out that by placing the words "Science of" before whatever topic they wish, somehow transforms that topic into something that is to be heeded and given authority. For example, I remember some state level educators throwing around the words "Science of Change" or "Science of Innovation" at a professional development session pushing some new curriculum scheme the state wanted to be accepted. It's as if by talking about "change" being a "scientific discipline, it should be accepted without question. Never mind that often with change, the important questions are not scientific at all. The questions of value, like "Who is affected by this change?" and "Who gains the most from this change?" are extremely important as well. Change and innovation are too often pushed for their own sake, or for the sake of some career that stands to gain from its implementations. 

We need to realize that the placement of the word "Science" before change, or innovation, or, most recently, "Reading" does not make the contents of that field any more legitimate and immune to critique. In fact, we should turn on the critical thinking even more when educators throw around the word science in this manner, because they have done it so often in the at the turn of the 20th century with the term eugenics. At that time, education leaders and policy makers did a great deal of talking about the science of eugenics too, and we all know the ethical issues with that science.

As Kimmerer points out, it is important to understand the effects of imposing the language of science on anything, even reading. It creates a distance between us and that object. It tears it down into working parts pretty well, but in the end, you sometimes don't understand it any more than when you started your "scientific study." Sometimes, an act like reading needs to be understood as a whole too. If we reduce the act of reading too much as some kind of simple skill that can be taught, we actually ignore the fact that reading is really a personal, meaning-making experience too among other things. It is actually a subversive activity too if we let it be.

Educators always need to be skeptical of their colleagues and educational gurus throwing around the word science. It's very appropriate to ask tough questions, even the questions they would like to be out of bounds.

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