Rudolph (2001) “Portraying Epistemology: School Science in Historical Context"
“The point to be emphasized here is simply that there are no socially neutral images of science, all have inherent consequences of some kind or another." p.75
In this article Rudolph argues for the importance of not treating school science as a settled domain. He argues that curriculum designers’ ideas of what science is and what it is for are formed within a particular social and political context and thus shape the type of science presented in schools. To illustrate his point, Rudolph compares the science education visions of John Dewey and Joseph Schwab. While both saw scientific knowledge as fluid, Dewey advocated that “the method of scientific reasoning” be instilled in the public at large, while Schwab stated that science was best practiced by experts and that the role of school was to give citizenry the faith to support scientific endeavors, even in the face of uncertain outcomes. What matters in this juxtaposition is not whether one agrees with Schwab’s or Dewey’s views, but the ramifications that each philosophy carries once it is put into practice. In Rudolph’s words: “For the individual student, the relocation of epistemic authority from process to the professional community of scientists had a decidedly disempowering effect. Rather than seeing science as an intellectual resource or tool anyone might use for their personal, social, or even political benefit as Dewey advocated, students, according to Schwab, were to learn enough about science to appreciate its legitimacy, but also its inherent complexity, a complexity that placed it beyond the intellectual grasp of the lay public. This lesson, properly learned, would result in public deference to the authority of an expert class—an outcome Dewey had worked to guard against throughout his career (Westhoff, 1995).” p.74
My initial gut reaction to this paper is to side with the Dewey-inspired populist notion that science is for all, and that if people understand the myriad ways in which science works and is interpreted, we will have the appropriate level of criticism and faith in scientific endeavors. That said, I’m not entirely convinced that Rudolph gave Schwab’s view full merit. While the “disempowering effect” of “the relocation of epistemic authority” is pointed out, the downside of Dewey’s vision of science as a decontextualized habit of mind is not played out as fully the Schwab-ian scenario exemplified in the quote above.
Is Dewey’s idea of science too simplistic or too amorphous? My charge to the upcoming class discussion is to flesh out Schwab’s argument in a manner that demonstrates faith in the intellectual capacity and judgment of the public at large. Engaging in this discussion may well bring us right back to Rudolph’s original points about the epistemology of science.
Some quotes to consider in our discussion:
“In any portrayal of science—and most importantly in the portrayal of school science—at least two things should be considered: (1) what it is scientists actually do in the myriad research settings that exist, and (2) some vision of what the appropriate relationship should be between science and the public. It is this second factor, I would argue, that should provide the guiding framework for culling, reorganizing, and finally presenting the practices of science to students in the classroom.” p.75
“Deciding which among the often conflicting images of science to embrace in any given instance has real consequences, especially since such decisions are usually made in venues—legislative hearings, courts of law, medical consultations, etc.—where some other, perhaps momentous, decision hangs in the balance. The lasting effects of having one’s characterization of science accepted over one’s rivals, in addition to the immediate legitimacy such acceptance accords, include the allocation of prestige, and often financial resources, favorable government legislation, and the like. Inevitably benefits accrue to some and not to others based on how the boundaries of science are drawn.” p.67