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An inquiry into teaching science and teaching writing

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An inquiry into teaching science and teaching writing relocating paradigms to the same neighborhood
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Miller, Dale Lee
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103 leaves : ; 29 cm

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English language -- Rhetoric -- Study and teaching ( lcsh )
English language -- Writing -- Study and teaching ( lcsh )
Learning, Psychology of ( lcsh )
Science -- Study and teaching ( lcsh )
English language -- Rhetoric -- Study and teaching ( fast )
English language -- Writing -- Study and teaching ( fast )
Learning, Psychology of ( fast )
Science -- Study and teaching ( fast )
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 98-103).
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Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Master of Arts, English.
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Department of English
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by Dale Lee Miller.

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Full Text
AN INQUIRY INTO TEACHING SCIENCE
AND TEACHING WRITING:
RELOCATING PARADIGMS TO THE SAME NEIGHBORHOOD
by
Dale Lee Miller
B.A., University of Colorado at Denver, 1990
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
English
1996


1996 by Dale Lee Miller
All rights reserved.


This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Dale Lee Miller
has been approved
by
Richard VanDeWeghe
Glen Webster

Date


Miller, Dale Lee (M. A. English)
An Inquiry into Teaching Science and Teaching Writing:
Relocating Paradigms to the Same Neighborhood
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Richard VanDeWeghe
ABSTRACT
This essay examines the teaching of science and rhetoric, looking at how both
science (scientific thinking and discovery) and rhetoric (as writing) are historically
important to our culture, and how both are taught, ending with guidelines for teaching
science in a model similar to one for teaching writing. It exposes barriers between the
disciplines as artificial. The methods of science have proven to be effective, but the
philosophy of science has not accounted for discovery and deliberately ignores the
concept of creativity because it does not accept the notion that science creates an
understanding of corporeality. It argues that science and rhetoric are linked in three
ways: by a common epistemology, by logic, and by definition as activities requiring
imagination and creativity. Each shares a subjective indeterministic nature with the same
foundationlanguage, whether using mathematics or English, and discovery are aided by
heuristic techniques and assumptions.
Acknowledging that literacy is culturally based and that science and technology
are inherent aspects of our culture, literacy is the goal of education, being defined in
terms of problem-solving abilities that include the scientific and rhetorical thinking of a
generalist. Americans are science illiterateincluding many scientists and science itself
is in trouble in America; those who are literate in the sciences are frequently illiterate in
the humanities, and vice versa. The illiteracy results from two barriers: 1) a fictitious,
dualistic view of science and the humanities, which discourages students from studying
both; and 2) a faulty science-teaching paradigm, which discourages students from
thinking scientifically.
The system of science teaching has not been self-healing, requiring pruning and
shaping to grow in a new, healthy direction. National science organizations have defined
the problem as teachers not knowing what should be learned, and have worked to define
standards. Instead, room for spontaneous learning is needed under the guidance of
scientists who model scientific thinking. Because learningdistinct from memorizing
for each person means relating to what is already known, the simplest model validates the
learners questions which in turn build a unique learning experience that becomes a part
of the individual.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
Signed


CONTENTS
1. On Wanting to be a Paradigm Mover: Framing a Problem..........................1
Finding My Own Road: Noticing There Is A Curtain..........................2
Dueling Disciplines: Peeking Behind The Curtain....................3
Creating A Patchwork Of Ideas......................................5
Teaching Paradigms: How Science And Writing Are Taught....................7
The Current-Traditional Teaching Paradigms
In Science And Writing.............................................9
The Epistemology Of The Current-Traditional
Teaching Paradigm..................................................10
The Process Paradigm In The Teaching Of Writing....................12
Logical Arguments Against The Dualism: Pulling Back The Curtain...........14
Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain!.................14
Addressing Unusual Brains..........................................15
The Superior Discipline Is The One With A Heart and Brain..........16
Describing Literacy: Science And Writing As Literacy Activities...........18
The Educated Illiterate............................................19
Literacy: Finding Our Courage......................................20
Framing The Problem: Confronting Prejudices...............................20
Science Literacy: Time For Shifting Paradigms......................22
Chapter Summary...........................................................24


2. A Brief Look at How Science and Rhetoric Affect Our Culture..................25
What Is A Culture, Anyway, And Why Do We Care Here?.......................25
Studying The Corporeal....................................................27
Studying The Incorporeal..................................................28
Religious Understanding...................................................29
Scientists And Religions...........................................31
Curiosity Has Been The Motivator In Science...............................31
The Value Of New Technologies: A Race To The Moon..................32
Rhetoric s Place...................................................... 33
Moving Ahead Using Our Good Sense.........................................34
3. Epistemology in Science and Writing Teaching.................................37
Why We Know Science And The Humanities Are Different......................38
Plato And Aristotles Role In Our Theory Of Knowledge.....................39
Kuhns Process For Defining Paradigms.....................................41
The Objective And Subjective Nature Of Science............................42
Generating Knowledge: Epistemic Rhetoric..................................44
Intellectually Searching For A Prettier Shell......................45
The Decline Of Reason In Our Culture......................................46
An Epistemology For Teaching (And Doing) Science And Writing..............48
4. The Crisis in Science Education: Failures....................................50
Roots: Institutionalizing The Educational Dualism.........................51
The Crisis In Science Education...........................................53


Deciding There Are Problems..................................... 54
A Statistical Look At The Crisis In Science Education.....................55
Other Factors: Drive..............................................58
It Looks Bad For Current Scientists, Too..........................59
Responses To The Crisis In Science Education..............................60
The Process Of Science....................................................61
Science Teaching: I Discover The Wicked Witch Of The West.................63
What Is Needed In Teaching Science........................................63
It Is More Than Just Science Teaching.....................................64
Get On Board......................................................64
5. The Crisis in Writing Education: Failures and Successes......................67
Changing Epistemologies...................................................68
Changing Student Demographics.............................................69
The Renaissance Of Rhetoric...............................................71
The Student-Centered Process In Writing...........................72
The Constructivist Classroom..............................................72
The Next Phase............................................................74
6. Science and Writing as Literacy Activities...................................75
How Can We Use The Teaching Of Writing Paradigm In Science?...............77
Reconciling Writing And Science And Our Brains............................78
Writing And Linguistic Intelligence...............................80
Science And Logical-Mathematical Intelligence.....................81


Higher Order Thinking...................................................82
Creativity.......................................................83
7. Guidelines for a New Science Teaching Pedagogy............................84
A Basis For A New Pedagogy..............................................85
From The Teachers Perspective..........................................86
The Attitude For Teaching........................................87
Motivation for Learning..........................................87
From the Learners Perspective: You Are A Scientist!..................88
Conditions For Learning: Assumptions....................................89
Guidelines............................................................ 91
A Simple Solution: Developing The KISS Guideline........................92
The Value Of A Question: The Heuristic Mealtime.........................93
Another Pretty Good Question.....................................95
A Heuristic Technique For Developing Questions..........................95
Yet Another Pretty Good Question.................................96
We Know We Have Learned When We Surprise Ourselves..............96
Bibliography...................................................................98


CHAPTER 1
ON WANTING TO BE A PARADIGM MOVER:
FRAMING A PROBLEM
For the history that I require and design, special
care is to be taken that it be of wide range and
made to the measure of the universe. For the
world is not to be narrowed till it will go into
the understanding (which has been done hitherto),
but the understanding is to be expanded and
opened till it can take in the image of the world.
Francis Bacon
How many of us were told at some point in our education that we were not
good at writing, or alternatively, that we did not have an aptitude for math or
science? Perhaps we told ourselves. Please, hold up your hands. Now, how many of
us believed what we were told?
My college undergraduate career was somewhat protracted, in part because I
was a double major in physics and writing. Although not everyone in science began
their interest as children, I was one of those kids who loved it from an early age. And
in junior high school, I became aware of my love for language and expressing ideas in
writing. As a college undergraduate in the 1980s, I was often told by a variety of
people including fellow students, instructors in various programs, family, and
acquaintances that my chosen combination of disciplines was odd, different, and
even strange; and told that I, too, was unusual in that I was active on both sides of
my brain, and that I had an aptitude for doing science and an aptitude for
writingand I spent some time believing what I was told: writing corresponds with a
creative and inspired aptitude, while doing science corresponds with a
logical/mathematical aptitude. Further, these aptitudes are distinct and not generally
found together as strengths in one person, and they might not be compatible.
These sentiments were reinforced by some instructors and students in both the
English and Physics departments in the university, and it all made some sense because


of the significantly different manner in which my writing and physics courses were
taughtan important point that I come back to later in this chapter and in chapter 4.
One of my physics professors told me, One is objective and the other is subjective
meaning physics was objective and writing was subjectivewith the implicit message
that what is objective is somehow more worthy of study than what is subjective
because the objective deals with sensible experiences, independent of individual
thought and perceptible equally by each of us. Other sources saw the so-called
subjective disciplines as intellectually more distinguished or valid than the pragmatic
sciences, because these deal with perceived reality not tied down by a requirement that
it correspond with an independent existence. These attitudes represent a larger polarity
or duality: SCIENCE VERSUS HUMANITIES.1 Still other messages were that one or the
other was not an important topic of study: One person, for example, remarked, I
dont know why they even teach physics anymore. I was confused and began to feel
self-conscious and even embarrassed by my split brain.
Finding Mv Own Road: Noticing There Is A Curtain
I should say that an army, without weapons of
precision and with no particular base of
operations, might more hopefully enter upon a
campaign on the Rhine, than a man, devoid of a
knowledge of what physical science has done in
the last century, upon a criticism of life.
Thomas Henry Huxley, 1880
In spite of the mixed messages, I had a sense that the observers I described
above were simply wrong: science and writing are neither so different nor
!To clarify terms, my personal experience and perspective is as a physicist and writer. I at times
generalize these terms somewhat, using the term "science" to refer to the study of natural processes,
such as physics, chemistry, biology, and geology; I also generalize using the term "humanities" instead
of writing, by which I mean the branches of learning that investigate fields generally thought to be
human constructs, such as philosophy and languages. I believe I could generalize even further,
including the social sciences in the category of science, but they could also be considered human
constructs; it is interesting to note that it was while working with social scientists that Thomas Kuhn
began to formulate his ideas on paradigms and the structure of scientific revolutions.
-2-


incompatible, and each is important. Although these beliefs became the cause of
several personal struggles, including the writing of this thesis, my intuition led me to
find my own road, demanding of myself a response to the question, Why study
science and writing? It was important to me that I study both at the same time; I
believed the combination made me intellectually more well-rounded, helping me to
understand problems and ideas that some other students did notbut that was not a
very scientific answer, nor was it a convincing rhetorical argument.
In addition to studying science and rhetoric,21 enjoyed studying philosophy,
which helped me to come to the crucial realization that all systems of human
understanding are subjective, and that we simply agreenot always knowinglyto
subscribe to one or more of these systems. In the traditional Aristotelian science
model, I began with my observations and intuitions about the disciplines, about the
teachers and students, and their abilities and motivations; thenalmost
unconsciouslyI began to formulate an hypothesis. I conducted many small
experimentsmostly gedanken experiments (thought experiments, in the tradition of
Einstein) to modify the hypothesisthe beginning of my examination of the teaching of
both science and writing, leading thus far to this essay. I came to understand the
objective roots of rhetoric, and the subjective roots of physics.
Dueling Disciplines: Peeking Behind The Curtain
While an undergraduate, I suspended my feeling of discomfort with the dueling
disciplines and went along with the thinking that the two different disciplines should be
taught differently, assuming someonewho knew much more than mehad a reason
for the differences in the teaching methods of science and writing. But, alas, he was
like the Wizard of Oz: There was a lot of noise and lights and smoke, but eventually I
peeked behind the curtain and saw that he was neither powerful nor omnipotent, and I
2I substitute the term "rhetoric" for the term "writing" in some cases. For the ancient Greek Sophists,
rhetoric was the art of persuasive speech; Aristotle's Rhetoric (Aristotle was not a sophist) focused
primarily on the spoken word, on Oratory, because in the 4th century B.C. there was no way to
publish writing and make it generally available. Modem rhetorics include all aspects of the writing
process, including the study of principles and rales of composition.
-3-


think I discovered he was also afraid, having his own Wicked Witch of the West
waiting for him to let down his guard. His Wicked Witch comprised a simple prejudice
and a breakdown in the science paradigm, which I come back to later in this chapter.
In what should have been my last year as an undergraduate I needed to complete
only physics courses, but to satisfy a curiosity I felt, I also enrolled in a graduate-level
course entitled Rhetorical Theory and the Teaching of Writing. Without realizing
what I was beginning, I studied the theory driving the methods for teaching writing and
began to compare both writing and science teaching to this theory, finding that it
worked for both. I came to understand what I had felt all along about the similarities in
the mental processes of doing science and writing and the differences in the way they
are taught. I did not do well in my physics class that semester, which felt strange to
me. Unfortunately, for all too many college students, doing poorly in a science course
is not a strange thing.
Throughout my education, I read popularized philosophy of science books
written by authors who often were not scientists, such books as The Dancing Wu Li
Masters, The Too of Physics, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance;3 but
during that particular semester, I read the book, Q.ED.: Quantum Electro Dynamics,
written by a respected physicist, Richard Feynman. I realized that he didnt necessarily
agree with how sciencein particular quantum physicswas being taught and wrote
Q.ED. as an alternative way to learn quantum physics. Oddly, though his book
provided this alternative, it is generally viewed by physics teachers as kind of a cute
book that does not teach so-called real science, and is not used as a teaching tool. It
demonstrated to me that even the best physicists were not in agreement with how
physics should be taught.4
^The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav, The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra, and Zen and the
Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.
4Other "cute" books include Mr. Tompkins in Paperback, by George Gamow, a Nobel-prize winning
physicist who worked at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and In Search ofSchrodinger's Cat, by
John Gribbin.
-4-


Creating A Patchwork Of Ideas
After some time, through my studies and preparations for this thesis, I began to
patch together the ideas of several thinkers from various disciplines and centuries (and
millennium) whose perceptions helped confirm my intuitions. One essay, Science and
Culture, was written in 1880 by Thomas Henry Huxley to dedicate a new college
specializing in the study of science.5 Reading it made me feel happy because, although
it was written more than a hundred years ago, Huxley confirmed my sense that one
ought to study both writing and science, and he disparaged the burgeoning polarization
of science and humanities, writing at one point:
An exclusively scientific training will bring about a mental twist as
surely as an exclusively literary training (p. 140).
I also read Frank Smith, who in his 1975 book Comprehension and Learning, wrote
what I understand to be a similar message in a more subdued tone, saying,
.. .the manner in which we comprehend the world is the foundation
of all our interaction with the environmentperceptually,
intellectually and emotionally (p. v).
Smith, an educational psychologist, describes comprehension as making sense of the
world, and explains that we make sense of the world by relating new experience to
the already known (pp. 10-12). This seemed vitally important to my situation: both
scientists and writers must be concerned with how they make sense of the world and
how it corresponds with the already known; their work might be carefully scrutinized
and cannot be non-sensical or exclusive.6 Although in his book Smith is primarily
concerned with how children learn, his observations can be generalized to include how
adults learn, and to the consequences of learning in schoolthat is, how we
comprehend the world after formal education. It is what we know that makes our
5It was Huxley who, 20 years earlier in 1860, engaged Bishop Wilberforce in the famous public debate
over the merits of the theory of evolution.
6Unlike science, some types of writing can be either subjective or objective, such as fiction or poetry;
these types are not required to correspond with any verifiable notion of reality, yet there are writers of
fiction and poetry who attempt to do so.
-5-


experiences meaningful (p. 12), says Smith; related to this is the term schema, used to
describe the concept that we build new understanding on some existing understanding.
Comprehension, or learning, then, is a process that first feeds from itselflike
a chick in an eggthen feeds itselflike a chick after it has pecked its way out of its
shell. As Smith says, a child (or an adult) is an organism that feeds on information
(p. 244). From whatever point we start, we make sense of the world through our
perceptions, intellect, and emotions based on what we have inside initially, then use
what we have made sense of to learn more about the world using our then more refined
perceptions, intellect, and emotions. Smith contends that we do not stop learning, we
learn how not to learn: A child will not stop learning until he learns that trying to learn
may not succeed, until learning causes him pain or guilt (p. 244). For instance, if
someone were told he or she did not have an aptitude for science or writingwhich
could cause pain or guiltthen this person might stop trying to learn in that discipline;
and once that schema is in place, it is quite hard to remove. The result of this pain or
guilt could be the mental twist Huxley describes, where not only is there ignorance of
a discipline, but there might also be resentment toward the discipline or people in it.
Through the course of my study I became conscious of a common thread
among my texts encouraging generalization. The message to me was that we have the
most to offer not as specialists, but as generalists, which does not imply a lower level
of understanding in any discipline. I could see this generalization in Platos belief that
education should incorporate all areas of study; Emanuel Stumpf wrote that, for Plato,
The purpose of relating all branches of knowledge was... to
enable men to understand how they fit into the scheme of the
universe. Ultimately, by philosophic activity, by the continuous and
passionate exercise of the mind, men could relate themselves to the
world and also achieve an inner integrity of all their powers and
capacities (Stumpf, p. 50).
I was trying to relate branches of knowledge, to understand how I fit into the scheme of
the universe, and I was seeking an inner integrity; studying physics and writing (and
philosophy) helped me to know more about the universe, helped me to think more
critically, and helped me to form my own questions that transcended arbitrary lines
drawn between disciplines. I was trying to define my epistemology for my personal
philosophy. Being a generalist encourages more levels of understanding of both
-6-


indeed of alldisciplines, and that is now my answer to the question, Why study
physics and writing?.
Although it was a personal philosophical quest, I found I was also calling into
question the epistemology supporting the scientific method, or the philosophy of
science. I discuss epistemology more in chapter 4, and later in this chapter I expand on
the aforementioned ignorance of whole areas of study and its corresponding scientific
specialist, but first I will outline the teaching methods in science and writing, trying to
be thorough yet abbreviated.
Teaching Paradigms: How Science And Writing Are Taught
I was struck, as an undergraduate, by how differently the physics and writing
classes were taught. A simplified description is that in my science classes, I was a
student; in my writing classes, I was a writer. Later I learned it was because the
teaching practices I experienced were based in two different teaching philosophies,
which I describe below, though at one time both were taught using the same practices.
Many teaching theorists have begun calling these practices for teaching a paradigm,
beginning with Maxine Hairston in her 1982 essay, The Winds of Change: Thomas
Kuhn and the Revolution in the Teaching of Writing. Her essay references an
important book in the philosophy of science by Thomas Kuhn published 20 years
earlier, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Hairston points out that in his book,
Kuhn hypothesizes about how major changes come about in
scientific fields, and conjectures that they probably do not evolve
gradually from patient and orderly inquiry by established
investigators in the field. Rather, he suggests, revolutions in
science come about as the result of breakdowns in intellectual
systems, breakdowns that occur when old methods wont solve new
problems. He calls the change in theory that underlies this kind of
revolution a paradigm shift (p. 14).
Kuhn defines a paradigm as universally recognized scientific achievements that for a
time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners (Kuhn, p.
viii). The key phrase used here by Kuhn is for a time, as distinct from for all time.
-7-


Hairston believes that such a paradigm shift was occurring in the teaching of writing at
that timeand it continues.
Another term that could arguably be used here is archetype, specified by Carl
Jung as an inherited idea or mode of thought originating in the experiences of a culture
and remaining in the unconscious of an individual, influencing his or her perception of
the world. Whichever label we useparadigm or archetypeidentifying the teaching
practices in such a way enables us to consider them, as it did for Kuhn, as one set of
ideas and practices, and not as the only or an inevitable set of teaching practices.
Before proceeding, I would like to say that my science teachers were generally
caring, concerned teachers and people, and this thesis is in no way meant to be a
criticism of them or their efforts. It is meant to be a critical discussion of teaching
methods that were handed to them; in many cases, they chose to include what I
consider to be beneficial perspectives for scientists that are not a part of the teaching
methods. For instance, I graduated from a physics program feeling that I am
responsible for my work in science, and with an understanding that scientific
advances can have social or environmental consequences; I would not want to say
that all of my fellow students of physics learned this same conscience. Most people
that I know understand and appreciate the beauty of at least some of the arts: of the
visual arts such as painting, sculpture, or architecture; of voice and instrumental music;
of the writings of poets, playwrights, and novelists; of combinations such as film,
theater, opera, ballet, even music videos. Many of my physics, chemistry, and
biochemistry teachers helped teach me to appreciate the beauty of science: of an
inductive or deductive logical proof; of a mathematical equation; of other tools of
science, or of the way these systems might interact to produce a planet like ours or a
starry night Although some of my teachers tried to include messages about being a
conscientious scientist and about the inherent beauty in science, the method or paradigm
in general does not teach these perceptions; it dictates what our perception of the world
should be, not how to perceive the world for ourselves; that is, someone tells us what
to know. Kuhn describes why this would be the case in his discussion about normal
science, which I discuss further in chapter 4.
-8-


The Current-Traditional Teaching Paradigms In Science And Writing
Taking a broad view of events leading up to the middle nineteenth century,
scientific understanding of the world became undeniable, and in a passive way science
imposed itself upon everyday life and education like the lost brother who happened to
return home in time to receive his inheritanceit felt uncomfortable for many involved,
but his right to a share of the estate could not be denied. The estate is, of course, the
intellectual or educational community that was well established a century and a half ago,
and initially the discipline of science was not well received. Classical or traditional
teaching methods dating back many centuries were a part of this estate, and the teaching
practices were inherited as science took its place in the intellectual community.
Classical education had long included studying literature, art, languages, music,
and philosophy, but nineteenth century modem science, as begun by Francis Bacon,
became a distinct area of study with its own specialists rather than becoming a part of
classical education. The traditional teaching methods were simply carried over to the
science disciplines, and thus writing and science were taught in similar ways. Late in
the nineteenth century the teaching methods became institutionalized. Later, scientific
methods were used to refine the traditional teaching practices as science came to study
only objective reality; the dualistic notion of mind and body dating back to Rene
Descartes and further yet to the ancient Greeks helped to polarize the disciplines.
The traditional teaching practices came to be known as the current-traditional
teaching paradigm, so called because it is based on methods that originated many
centuries ago and are currently being used. Describing the traditional writing paradigm,
Hairston quotes Richard Young:
The overt features... are obvious enough: the emphasis on the
composed product rather than the composing process; the analysis
of discourse into description, narration, exposition, and argument;
the strong concern with usage ... and with style; the preoccupation
with the informal essay and research paper; and so on.
For both writing and science teaching, of most importance was the product, not
the process; both required imitation of the masters by memorization of classic
problems or works, and dissection; success in either discipline was generally measured
by testing, measuring how much knowledge about the discipline has been stored by the
-9-


pupil, either as memorized texts, facts, imitation of problems, or regurgitation of
characteristics of the languagewhich might be English or mathematicsand its
syntax, structure, and appropriate application.
As the traditional teaching paradigms evolved in this century, science came to be
considered a so-called content subject, so students were taught some specified
amount of information relating to different subject areas of study, such as astronomy,
biology, chemistry, geology, or physics; for the natural sciences, mathematics is
considered to be the language of science, and students practice this language, often
almost exclusively, especially at the college level of study. Writing also became a
content subject, so it was taught to students by dissection, by breaking down writing
into its component parts, diagramming sentences, memorizing terms, and having
students model their writing after great writers.
The Epistemology Of The Current-Traditional Teaching Paradigm
An especially important aspect of the teaching paradigm in relationship to.
teaching science is its epistemology, how we know what we know. The classical
education paradigm evolved on the assumption that great ideas in art, literature, and
architecture are inspired, if not by a divine being then at least in a terrestrial genius,
which explains why these are often thought of as subjective disciplinesone does not
have to correlate an inspiration with anyone elses idea of reality. Thus, imitating
existing greatness was the best anyone could hope for as one waited for inspiration to
strike. The notion of creating an educational environment in which this could happen
or that encouraged inspired leaps was not part of the teaching paradigm, although it was
a part of Aristotles Rhetoric.
Hairston explains that the traditional writing paradigm assumes a vitalist
attitude toward composing: that is, the assumption that no one can really teach anyone
else how to write because writing is a mysterious creative activity that cannot be
categorized or analyzed (p. 16). Hairston continues, touching on more
epistemological aspects of the current-traditional paradigm:
The traditional paradigm stresses expository writing to the virtual
exclusion of all other forms, that it posits an unchanging reality
-10-


which is independent of the writer and which all writers are expected
to describe in the same way regardless of the rhetorical situation,
that it neglects invention almost entirely, and that it makes style die
most important element in writing (p. 16).
Her reference to unchanging reality reflects the objective bias of the current-traditional
paradigm.7 Hairston notes that the traditional teaching method for writing neglects
invention almost entirely, which I found in my physics classes, too. I practiced
solving problems, but I was confused and felt inadequately trained to create or frame a
problem. I came to understand this and the apparent belief that creating or framing
problems was a mysterious creative activity as I read the philosophy of Karl Popper.
Since the epistemology of the classical education paradigm has no aspect for invention,
we can understand why Popper leaves it out of his philosophy of science altogether,
dismissing this crucial element of scientific advance by saying there is no explanation
for creativity, which I discuss more in chapter 3.
Hairston adds three more points defining the current-traditional paradigm: (1)
writers know what they are going to say before they write; (2) the composing process
is linear, and (3) teaching editing is teaching writing (p. 16). In science teaching, these
correspond with the traditional lab in which the student hypothesizes, collects data, then
concludes with a correlation of his or her hypothesis and results, which are then
verified by a teacher. Finally, Hairston points out that teachers who concentrate their
efforts on teaching style, organization, and correctness are not likely to recognize that
their students need work in invention (p. 18).
My speculation is that science teachers intuitively understand that there is a
missing subjective component from the science teaching paradigm, and so emphasize
the beauty in science, not realizing that this beauty is analogous to appreciating a
painting after it has been completed, but not appreciating the process of creating it, and
especially not learning how to create our own inspired work.
7The notion of unchanging reality in science is a Newtonian assumption that interestingly is not a
part of modem physics, thanks to Einstein, who demonstrated that when objects are in motion relative
to other objects, time slows down, lengths contract, and masses increase.
-11-


The Process Paradigm In The Teaching Of Writing
Now, however, science and writing frequently are taught by very different
methods, science in the current-traditional model as it has been for the last century and a
half, while writing in many places is taught in a new model. The new method for
teaching writingthough many of aspects of the model are not at all new as we shall
seebegan to gain influence in the 1960s, and is sometimes called the process
paradigm. Hairston believes the change in the writing paradigm probably began in the
1950s as a result of intellectual inquiry and speculation about language and language
learning that was going on in several fields, notably linguistics, anthropology, and
clinical and cognitive psychology, especially the work of Noam Chomsky and Carl
Rogers (Hairston, p. 18). Another important person in this shift was Mina
Shaughnessy, who was the one who asked, what is the basic flaw in the traditional
paradigm? (p. 20). The results were the beginning of a paradigm shift to a process-
centered approach in the teaching of writing.
This paradigm defines writing as a processrather than a body of knowledge
or a productthat you can learn to enhance your understanding of yourself and other
phenomena. Students are encouraged to explore and practice their own unique ideas
and quests for knowledge under the directionbut not imitationof a writing
expert, and to practice, so as to learn the structure, syntax, and grammar of an
agreed-upon dialect of the language (which may be their own spoken dialect of English,
or for more formal writing, what is referred to as standard English). Memorizing
rules is not a focus of the teaching method because much of the grammar is assumed to
be innate. Hairston sketched a profile of the writing behaviors of effective writers that
is often used as a guideline for teaching; the principal features of the new paradigm are
these:
1. It focuses on the writing process; instructors intervene in students writing
during the process.
2. It teaches strategies for invention and discovery; instructors help students to
generate content and discover purpose.
3. It is rhetorically based; audience, purpose, and occasion figure prominently in
the assignment of writing tasks.
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4. Instructors evaluate the written product by how well it fulfills the writers
intention and meets the audiences needs.
5. It views writing as a recursive rather than linear process; pre-writing, writing,
and revision are activities that overlap and intertwine.
6. It is holistic, viewing writing as an activity that involves the intuitive and non-
rational as well as the rational faculties.
7. It emphasizes that writing is a way of learning and developing as well as a
communication skill.
8. It includes a variety of writing modes, expressive as well as expository.
9. It is informed by other disciplines, especially cognitive psychology and
linguistics.
10. It views writing as a disciplined creative activity that can be taught.
11. It is based on linguistic research and research into the composing process.
12. It stresses the principle that writing teachers should be people who write (p.
24).
The results of the process paradigm are still products, but more attention is paid
to the process of students, which is more difficult for teachers to measure than a
knowledge base that can easily be tested; thus the writing is evaluated in terms of the
final product, the process for getting there, and in the context of the question, Does
this writing effectively communicate the ideas, whether they be personal feelings or a
scientific treatise? That it is more difficult for the teacher does not matter, since the
goal is to create an environment or situations for the learner to benefit.
I return to the topics of current practices for teaching science and teaching
writing in chapters 4 and 5, but the above provides an outline of the paradigms. With
an understanding of the teaching paradigms and some information about their history
and development, some of my discussion about dueling disciplines will be clearer, and
much of the argument for separating the disciplines evaporates.
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Logical Arguments Against The Dualism: Pulling Back The Curtain
Good sense is, of all things among men, the
most equally distributed; for every one thinks
himself so abundantly provided with it, that
those even who are the most difficult to satisfy
in everything else, do not usually desire a larger
measure of this quality than they already possess.
Rene Descartes (p. 39)
By being a generalist, I was trying to relate branches of knowledge to
understand how I fit into the scheme of the universe and to create an inner integrity of
my capacities. In the process, I came up against the dualism time and again. Although
I described science in the nineteenth century as passively imposing itself upon everyday
life and education, it could also be viewed as an inevitability. In modem philosophy it
was Descartes who in the seventeenth century continued and refined Aristotles
identification of mental and natural philosophy into a dualism, dividing all things into
thought and extensionthat is, mind and physical things. In academic terms, these
came to be called the humanities and the sciences. Others might say these describe the
subjective and the objective. After these ways of categorizing became institutionalized
in education, later misunderstandings of the functions of the brain dovetailed perfectly
into the dualism. The result was that we were assumed to have a corresponding
dualism in our brain, in our aptitude for a discipline. This section addresses these
notions.
Pav No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain!
As for the suggestions that my brain was unusual, I found those to be rationally
and empirically unfounded. In some cases we are encouraged to think that two
perspectives of the universescientific and artisticexist in parallel and are unrelated,
reinforcing the broader concept of dualism. In these cases the dualism is supported by
an unreasonable, circular logic: First, the premise evolved that the two disciplines are
different, then it was observed that differences exist between themwithout also
observing the similarities, which I attempt to do.
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By not attempting to observe similarities, the dualistic view of science versus
the humanities becomes nothing more than a prejudice, as ugly and unfounded in
reason as all other forms of prejudice; what is astonishing is that such poor logic and
method are a basis for many current teaching theories and attitudes. The prejudice is
not new to this century, or even to the last, having been fought by such men as Joseph
Priestley and Thomas Henry Huxley in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I see
the prejudice as being two-fold, first creating the idea of aptitude for a fieldincluding
the inverse that someone does not have an aptitude for science or writing; next creating
the idea that science is somehow superior or a more noble endeavor than the
humanities, or the other way round.
The prejudice or stereotype of dualistic aptitudes becomes the manner in which
some people comprehend the world, remaining in the subconscious or peripheral
regions of the mind, even while engaged in a dialectic, and acting like a comprehension
filter of the worldas Smith says, perceptually, emotionally, intellectually. And the
stereotype strengthens itself, becoming more magnified and intense, the basis for an
even deeper prejudice that dictates behaviors. In this sense, a prejudice is like the dark
side of an archetype. Any sort of prejudice is ultimately harmful to students, causing
them pain or guilt and preventing them from learning.
Although he frequently is given credit or blame, this dualism and prejudice did
not originate with Plato, because, as we have seen, he was concerned not with discrete
knowledge of any subject, but with integrated knowledge of all disciplines; this was
also true for his student, Aristotle, even though the dualism is frequently justified by
Aristotles practical splitting of knowledge into mental and natural philosophy, which I
discuss more in chapters 2, 3, and 6.
Addressing Unusual Brains
The simplistic view of the functions of the brains hemispheresthat the right
hemisphere is the creative side and the left hemisphere is the logical side, and that one
side of the brain generally dominates behavior and thinkingresulted from a trickle-
down of research and theory in psychology into the popularized understanding held by
many people in and out of teaching. Although theorists no longer believe it to be
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strictly accurate, the split-brain metaphor with its split-aptitude implications seems to
hang on, perhaps because it dovetails so nicely into the popular duality defining science
and the humanities as fundamentally different, each representing an aptitude. Brain
theories such as the multiple intelligence theory of Howard Gardner that could tend to
support the notion of aptitude.. .do not. Gardners brain research shows that there
simply is not a writing part of the brain nor a science nook somewhere that can be
overdeveloped or underdeveloped resulting in an aptitude foror no aptitude foran
area of study. These activities or processes encompass many of the brain capabilities or
intelligence, ideas I discuss more in terms of literacy in chapter 6.
As for the notion that different kinds of people study the different disciplines
in science and humanities, I do not see it. For every characteristic or idiosyncrasy
anyone has ever named to me, I can say I see these in people in both areas of study; it
has less to do with the nature of these characteristics and more to do with where
individual interest liesespecially if one interest is suppressed.
The Superior Discipline Is The One With A Heart and Brain
Writing and science are both ways of forming questions or problems, then
attempting to answer them. By their formal definitions, science is the study of natural
processes, such as physics and chemistry, while the humanities is the study of human
constructs, such as philosophy and language. I think of science and writing as similar
activities or processes, in part because of what they produce: theories of understanding
about the universe, and literature, which might be thought of as attempts to understand
the universe or ourselves. As we study language, we realize many aspects are not
randomsuch as the fact each language has a precise grammar and a specific
vocabularyand that language is not simply a human construct but has roots in our
earliest existence as a species and youngest ages as individuals. In spite of how
complex and lengthy grammar textbooks are, research has shown that the average
person knows about 90 percent of the grammar of his or her language by the time he or
she is 6 years old. As we study science, we realize that the systems we create to
explain natural phenomena are not necessarily accurate and the systems do not reveal
realitythus they are human constructs. We learn this same thing studying
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philosophy. This is an interesting reversal of positions: language is another natural
phenomenon, while science is a human constructwhich, science or writing, has the
heart and which has the brain?
Both, I say. And I am being artful, comparing apples and oranges: I have
compared the method of sciencecreating systems of understandingwith the
foundation or basic tool of writinglanguage. Actually both writing and science are
processes that use languagesin our case English and mathematicsfor creating
systems of understanding. The ability or even propensity in the brain for a grammar is
pre-existing for both language and mathematics. The ability to abstract as we do is
uniquely human, being able to give something a name, like an apple, then draw a
picture or write the word apple, and understand this means the red fruit from the tree.
When we do so, we are abstracting, just as when we put one apple with another apple
and say that now we have two red fruits from trees. At a later time, we might decide
that two of these are the same in some way as three oranges, the round orange fruit
from trees. At that point, we would be abstracting. The first is the ability to do
arithmetic. The second is the ability to substitute a general for a specificthis symbol
represents apples, for instance, which results in simple algebra:
2(apple) = 3(orange).
As an illustration of the innateness of algebra, consider how easily children
learn to use an algebraic system like money. Lets say we are at the store buying
baseball cards that cost 920. From a hand full of change, children quickly pick out
three quarters, a dime, a nickel and two penniesor some other combination. If we
were to ask our eighth grade algebra teacher to put that into algebraic form, she would
say, Of course, an equation in four variables:
aP + bN + cD + dQ = 92
where P=pennies, N=nickels, D=dimes, and Q=quarters.
In this form, the problem is much more difficult to solve in our heads, but it does allow
us to solve problems that would be impossible without it. We could solve this problem
simply by assuming b, c, and d = 0, then a = 92. Other solutions could involve a
series of substitutions. These ideas of abstraction transcend the disciplines, reflecting
how each of our brains operate with the propensity for language and mathematical
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grammars. As for whether science or rhetoric is superior or nobler, I think the answer
is neither and boththey are the same.
Encouraged by the writing of Frank Smith, I concluded that all normal people
are active on both sides of their brain unless, or more accurately, until one side is
suppressed, and having looked at the origins of the teaching paradigms, still I ask,
Why are science and rhetoric typically taught in different ways? The answer is a
variation of the chicken or egg question: which came first, the different disciplines,
each attracting different people with appropriate aptitudes (those with either brains or
hearts), or the different aptitudes leading naturally to differences in the disciplines.
When viewed in terms of evolution, the question becomes pointless with the
answer being, THE EGG CAME FIRST. At least, the egg as a concept. Eggs have
existed much longer than chickens (dinosaurs hatched from eggs, as do many other
animals). An egg is merely the vehicle that delivers and houses the developing chicken
or dinosaur or turtle until it hatches. Likewise, the capacity for comprehensionfor
abstracting and reasoningexisted long before disciplines in education evolved. So
both have the heart and brainthey come together from all of our capacities; studying
both gives us courage, or speaking more academically, makes us literate, allowing us to
comprehend the world emotionally, intellectually, and perceptually, and although
occasionally mental twists may exist, at least they are not installed by our education.
Describing Literacy: Science And Writing As Literacy Activities
I hunger, for a comprehensive view of the arts
and sciences of man, a view at least as
comprehensive, say, as the two radically different
but equally thoroughgoing views of Plato and
Aristotle.
Wayne Booth
During my long study, I learned that the disciplines are not so different, nor are
the people who pursue them, and all of what we know and our processes for learning
are the measures of how literate we are. Thus we can think of literacy as a learned
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ability to comprehend the worldas Frank Smith might sayor relate ourselves to the
world through an inner integrity of all our powers and capacitiesas Plato might say.
The Educated Illiterate
As with the flat-earth theoryexcept for a few holdoutsvirtually no one
believes there is no problem with science teaching. As someone who loves science, I
am troubled by my perception that even many scientists and engineers are science
illiterate. I find I am echoing warnings voiced early in this century by Jose Ortega Y
Gasset, a Spanish philosopher who in 1930 wrote Revolt of the Masses; one essay
contained therein was quite critical of modem scientists as specialists, describing them
as partially qualified men. He asserts that science itself is the cause, and the effect is
that the specialist is a primitive, a modern barbarian (p. 120). He continues saying
unifications in science by Galileo and Newton created the need for specialization in the
scientists; the problem is that these scientists have progressively lost contact with other
branches of science (p. 121). Gasset sees the specialization beginning in the middle of
the nineteenth century, and by 1890, we meet with a type of scientist unparalleled in
history. He is one who, out of all that has to be known in order to be a man of
judgment, is only acquainted with one science, and may even be a specialist in that
science. Such a specialist can be an intellectually commonplace person who can
work therein with success, but who is shut up in the narrow cell of their laboratory,
like the bee in the cell of its hive(p. 122-3). Today some other voices echo Gassets
fears, usually calling the specialist a technician or technologist What Gasset
perceives as dangerous to society about the specialists is that they are not literate in the
sense I am beginning to use here:
Previously, men could be divided simply into the learned and the
ignorant, those more or less the one, and those more or less the
other. But your specialist cannot be brought in under either of these
two categories. He is not learned, for he is formally ignorant of all
that does not enter into his specialty; but neither is he ignorant....
We shall have to say that he is a learned ignoramus, which is a very
serious matter....
.. .In politics, in art, in social usages, in the other sciences, he
will adopt the attitudes of primitive, ignorant man; but he will adopt
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them forcefully and with self-sufficiency, and will not admit of
this is the paradoxspecialists in those matters. By specialising
him, civilisation has made him hermetic and self-satisfied within his
limitations (p. 123).
These are very uncompromising words, but 65 years later, I shudder to think how true
they are, not only in the sciences but in all of the disciplinesGassets idea of the
specialist applies equally well to all fields of study including the sciences, the social
sciences, literature, economics, and the various specialists concerned with operating
businesses. Gasset describes some of the people I encountered as a physics and
writing major who wondered why study science and writing. From his description, we
can see he is not characterizing a benign preference for a discipline, but something
closer to prejudice bom of ignorance from these partially qualified men. Later in this
century, R.G. Collingwood would call similarly partially qualified philosophers
minute philosophers.
Literacy: Finding Our Courage
When considering literacy as something more than reading skills, something
that includes training in more than one process for comprehending the world, this can
lead to a rather troubling speculation: If scientific thinking is a component of literacy,
and if Americans are by and large science illiterate, then our national problem with
literacy is much larger than currently perceived. The idea of illiteracy among so much
education is curious indeed, but not a new idea, and includes the scientist as well as the
non-scientist When I was a student practicing as a scientist and writer, I felt in part
that I was using the same capacities for each and that one strengthened the other; in
chapter 6,1 take a different look at this idea in terms of current brain research and
learning theories.
Framing The Problem: Confronting Prejudices
For someone like me who loves science and the humanities, these are troubling
times. Incredibly, we still have important political figures calling for the ban of the
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teaching of evolution theory in public schools. And we have school board members
banning books. From a literacy standpoint, it seems clear that none of these people
have an understanding of the fleeting nature of a scientific theory, nor are they able to
accept literature as a reflection of our culture, past and present. These are people with
prejudices who have not achieved an inner integrity of all their powers and capacities,
who have not striven to comprehend the world. Consequently, government funding of
the humanities and sciences is constantly in jeopardy.
Because of the growing problem with science literacy in America, science
continues to lose support from and credibility with so-called non-scientists, and it risks
losing its competitive edge internationallythis backslide has probably already started.
These ideas are readily acknowledged by the major science organizations, such as the
National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Association for the Advancement
of Science (AAAS). More and more, scientific research and development is considered
to be an expense that can be cut, and often is by government and industry. What we
are seeing is a growing resentment toward science and a shrinking understanding of
how scientific knowledge has shaped our world, and how it will continue to do so
either by its presence or its absence, even among scientists.
However, it is also generally accepted that the teaching of science isif not the
problem, thenthe solution. But, as I discuss later in chapter 4, science teaching is
not effectively producing significant numbers of scientists and technologists, and they
tend to be specialists. Thinking back to Maxine Hairstons discussion of shifting
paradigms, she said, Kuhn believes that because these shifts are so disruptive, they
will occur only when the number of unsolved problems in a discipline reaches crisis
proportions and some major figures in the field begin to focus on those unsolved
problems (p. 15). The teaching of science is at such a crisis point, and is in need of a
paradigm shift.
Although many aspects of the teaching methods I am encouraging apply to all
disciplines, for this thesis I am focusing on teaching science and writing. Ironically,
many aspects of the arguments to frame the problem of science literacy appear to be
emotional or rhetorical arguments. However, the stereotypes of aptitudes and split-
brain explanations are based on some incorrect or incomplete understanding of
scientific theory. Kuhn, Popper, and others have helped to make it clear that the
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philosophy of science must be sound, and it is not. I have opened the discussion and
continue in chapter 3 on epistemology, arguing that not accounting for invention is a
flaw in the philosophy that is leading to the science literacy problem. Then, I can move
on to a review of the science teaching problem in chapter 4, a review of the writing
teaching methods in chapter 5, tie these ideas together in a discussion of literacy in
chapter 6, and provide some outline of how this science teaching theory could work in
chapter 7 using some of my ideas integrated with existing materials from scientific and
teaching organizations, and information about constructivist teaching theory.
I began questioning some fundamental ideas about how science is taught
because I believed that something must be done, and that perhaps I could help do it,
throwing my shoulder into the effort to change how science is taught. Because my
experiences and perceptions as a student of both science and rhetoric are uncommon
and represent shared experiences with few readers, I use examples from my own
experiences and observations to relate these perceptions throughout the thesis, at times
deductively proceeding to conclusions; at other times I begin with the theory and
inductively proceed to conclusions. Both are proven methods: Copernicus observed
the universe at his time, and without data, concluded that the Ptolemic system
explaining the motions of planets around the sun was incorrect; many years later,
Galileo was able to prove Copernicus deduction using an inductive method.
Science Literacy: Time For Shifting Paradigms
After I had struggled with my own ideas and self-doubts and was well along in
writing this thesis, I became familiar with Project 2061, the science education reform
initiative for kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12), sponsored by the AAAS. I
have a slightly different view of the term, but scientific literacy is the goalalmost a
battle cryof the AAAS in Project 2061 and the projects first publication, Science for
All Americans. The AAAS and other organizations, such as the National Research
Council and the National Science Teachers Association, have been attempting to solve
the problems of science illiteracy by focusing on science education in grades K-12. In
many ways, the efforts and publications of these organizations are quite similar; they
seem to be at once cooperating and competing with one another. Although there is a
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great deal of overlap, the primary goal for the AAAS and the NRC is developing
science education standards; the NSTA on the other hand seems most concerned with
pedagogical and classroom practices. And last December, National Science Education
Standards were released for the first time. For the most part, when referencing these
efforts in this thesis, I use the AAAS documents because they are the most complete
and fully developed (in fact, more than one of the organizations also use the AAAS
documents as a basis for their work in defining standards). I also refer to a draft of the
National Science Education Standards: An Enhanced Sampler, published by the
National Research Councils National Committee on Science Education Standards and
Assessment.
Like Mark Twain, Project 2061 was bom with the appearance of Haleys comet
and is expected to have accomplished its work by time the comet returns (1985 to
2061). To date, the project has produced two books, Science for All Americans
(SFAA), and Benchmarks for Science Literacy. I found many of my thoughts and
ideaseven my own examples and languagereflected in these two books. I realized
that it might be obvious that this should happen because the authors of SFAA and I are
initially operating from the same science paradigm.
Outside (and sometimes within) these organizations, the usual response to poor
science understanding seems to be to point fingers at the teachers and students and
question their abilities and motivation. Many practices and attitudes need to change in
K-12 science education, but it especially important that they change at the higher
education level, because it is at this level where it all starts. It is in college classrooms
where aspiring teachers learn the science teaching model that most often they will take
back to their classroomsnot the model they study in education courses, but the model
their science teachers follow. This is also where aspiring teachers learn to be scientists,
if they are not already.
I first began feeling as though there was something I could offer to physics and
writing about the middle of 1980s while still an undergraduate, asking myself why it is
that I love the sciences yet find my science textbooks a bore. This became enough of a
concern to me that for one of my writing classes I researched and wrote a paper in
response to the question, do I want to be a physicistthe answer was yes. In an
interview, Sid Freudenstein, a professor of physics at Metropolitan State College,
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compared the physicist with the engineer saying engineers are trained to plug into
positions, whereas physicists are trained to be broader thinkers, to question things as
they are, to frame problems. I accepted my perceived problem with the textbooks as
part of a rite of passage into the field, although I felt as though I were being
indoctrinatedat least until I took a history of science course. I was trained to critically
review specific problems, but I learned that the great advances in science were made
when someone took a fresh look at an old problem.
Chapter Summary
The polarization of the disciplines of science and humanities is due primarily to
two circumstances: One is the dualistic philosophy of mind and body, or subjective
and objective realities, which influence teaching practices of the current-traditional
teaching paradigm. Once these prejudices are set in place, Frank Smiths ideas can
explain how pain or guilt could reinforce the fictitious idea that a person might have no
aptitude for a discipline. With or without the intellectual foundation of dualism, later
misunderstood scientific explanations of split brains served to reinforce the idea that we
all carry some diminished aptitude for science or writing (or math or language, etc.).
To the contrary, the ability or even propensity in the brain for a grammar is pre-existing
for both language and mathematics. The dualistic philosophy corresponds with a
subjective and objective limitation for writing and science, but the same current-
traditional teaching practices were used in each discipline. A significant defect in this
paradigm is that it does not teach about invention or creativity.
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CHAPTER 2
A BRIEF LOOK AT HOW SCIENCE AND RHETORIC
AFFECT OUR CULTURE
...one thinks inevitably of the slow way that the
fires in the brain of genius run on through the
centuries, perhaps to culminate in some
tremendous illumination or equally unseen
catastrophe (p. 49).
Francis Bacon
For a moment, observe your environment....
Is there a computer nearby? A telephone? Color photographs? A toilet? Did
you arrive by automobile? Have you been vaccinated or received some other injection
recently (flu shot, insulin, pain medication)? Been treated for a disease or condition?
Watched television? Eaten prepared or packaged food? These are common
components of our lives today that were unavailable 150 years ago, and that represent
direct practical or technical derivatives of scientific theories. These pragmatic
consequences of scientific theories have been fairly easily assimilated by our society.
The theories themselves are now embraced almost universally and have had profound
impact on our individual lives and in shaping our culture. The intellectual and religious
impact of those same scientific theories and thinking, on the other hand, have been
more difficult to adjust to for many people, so our culture carries with it some
burdensome contradictions, which I discuss more later in this chapter.
What Is A Culture. Anvwav. And Why Do We Care Here?
One might ask what difference it makes in a discussion about teaching that
scientific thinking and consequent technology is a significant part of western culture,
thinking that by culture I mean the customs and social norms of our society, or visiting
art museums and symphonies. But actually any culture is much more than customs and
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history, and in fact is not a passive description at all. Taking a close look at the word
culture we see that it is a powerful concept in terms of teaching scienceand teaching
everything else. Websters defines culture first as cultivation or tillage, which are not
passivethese represent actions, and second as the act of developing the intellectual
and moral faculties, especially by education. The shift toward understanding culture
in terms of action and education is more and more evident in schools today, where
needs for cultural diversity and multi-cultural education are openly addressed.
But I want to go one step further. Websters also defines the power of culture
as the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon
mans capacity of learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.
This begins to sound similar to Platos idea about relating all branches of knowledge in
order to relate ourselves to the world and to achieve an inner integrity of all our powers
and capacities. But the concept of culture goes further yet, acknowledging that the
integrated pattern depends on a capacity for learning and for teaching succeeding
generations, defining the continuing relationship between learning and teaching; this is
already accepted practice in universities in which professors are required to learn and
teach. This understanding of culture also reminds me of Frank Smith, who is
concerned with how we comprehend the world: intellectually, through our knowledge
and thinking; perceptually, through our beliefs and epistemology; and emotionally,
through our behavior.
Of course, teachers are not the only ones who teach succeeding generations;
parents and others teach too, which is why it is important that the integrated pattern of
knowledge be transmitted to each student, because eventually, students are the ones
who become parents. And all of these ideas point again to the notion I keep pressing
that this is literacy: integrated patternsa tapestryof knowledge, thinking, behavior,
and emotion. Not understanding some aspects of the pattern is like pulling yams from
the tapestry; eventually it begins to look ragged and may even fall apart.
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Studying The Corporeal
For western culture, the study of the corporeal, of nature, began 2500 years ago
with the ancient Greekswho called it natural philosophy. The significant scientific
theories to which I have alluded stretch across the last 500 years, and in many ways are
sequentialalthough that is not to say they are linear, inevitable consequences of
previous theories. Even though there was often actually a community of scientists
working in a field, the scientific theories are typically associated with individual
scientists and events. The theories and theorists are generally well known and so are
not described in detail here but are instead sketched below in roughly chronological
order:
Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo contributed to the realization that the earth is but a
tiny, orbiting planet, and not the center of the universe (16th and 17th centuries).
Isaac Newton demonstrated that it was not conscious, divine beings (who were
frequently fickle) but gravity that held the solar system together (18th centuxy).
Charles Darwin provided convincing evidence that animal species were not put on
earth in their present forms (19th century).
Charles Lyell proved that the earths age is measured, not in thousands, but in
millions and billions of years. The discovery of dinosaur fossils provided
convincing evidence of these ideas, but initially merely complicated the argument.
Albert Einstein and others demonstrated that time and space are not constants in
nature but can be expanded and contracted, and in particular demonstrated (to
Einsteins later dismay) that events in the universe occur in a random way,
challenging our cultures attitudes about determinism and causality (20th century).
Plato thought science could never accurately describe reality, not be more than a
likely story. He might be correct Indeed, this is how modem science is viewed by
the philosophers of science: It is not about certainty, Truth that is rigid and unchanging
(or even slowly changing); rather, it is about the opposite, uncertaintya willingness
to constantly re-evaluate what we know, to throw out an understanding in favor of
another that seems more accurate and better correlates with our perception of reality.
Philosophers call this existentialism.
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Over these five centuries, the major western religions reacted violently to the
scientists and their ideas. It is useful to keep in mind at this point that some of the
religious and cultural ideas that these scientific theories helped to change were peculiar
to westernparticularly Europeanbelief systems. Many cultures around the world
during that time already believed that the earth was a round object; some understood
that earth moved around the sun. There is even some evidence Christopher Columbus
was aware of a document (the Kennsington Rune Stone) that still exists describing the
earth as round, not flat, and discussing the new continent, which it called Vinland.
Many cultures did not believe God or nature to be fickle.
Studying The Incorporeal
Roughly corresponding with and frequently as a result of these scientific
theories each century there were significant changes in philosophical thought, which I
briefly describe here, showing too little respect for the intricacies of the philosophies
and philosophers. As with the scientists, there were others working during the time
frames outlined:
Late in the sixteenth and early in the seventeenth century Francis Bacon developed
the modem scientific method of experiment and observation without preconceptions
utilizing an inductive logic.
In the middle of the seventeenth century, influenced by Bacon and Thomas
Hobbes, rationalist philosophers Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz developed what
is called modem philosophy, based on the notion that truths about mankind and the
world are found through the human mind.
Late in the seventeenth and early eighteenth century empirical philosophers such as
John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume developed a philosophy that
redefined how the mind worked, saying the scope of our mind is limited by our
experience.
In the eighteenth century and early nineteenth centuries, Kant then Hegel straggled
with developing a philosophy based on the premise that since science was
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successful at describing nature, metaphysics was necessary to understand the nature
of reality.
Later in the nineteenth century and on into the twentieth century, other philosophers
including Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, and Alfred North Whitehead tried to
reconcile the success of science and its objective foundation with what is felt, the
two ways of knowing a thing.
Twentieth century philosophy introduced existentialism, which acknowledged that
we are responsible for our understanding of the universe.
Rhetoricwritten and oralhas been the primary mode for transmitting the
ideas and knowledge found in the scientific and philosophical pursuits.
Religious Understanding
Although the ancient Greeks were considering many of these scientific and
philosophical ideas 500 years before Christianity began, other religions are much older,
and together with Christianity have provided the backbone, the schema, for how people
in western cultures have understood the world, providing people with an explanation
for the corporeal and the incorporeal, including spiritual or metaphysical understanding,
and the nature of life. Western religious organizations controlled most education and
influenced practices in medicine, defining for the vast majority of people in the western
world their knowledge and understanding of their bodies, of society, where they and
the universe came from, and what or who caused things to happen. All of this
knowledge came to them as revealed Truth that frequently became dogmatic belief.
Religious understanding requires that someone tell us the Truth, and it is founded in a
faith that the people doing the telling first know and second will impartially relate the
Truth.
Over the most recent 500 years, the epiphanies that we often call scientific
discoverieswhether they be about gravity, evolution, or relative motionhave
plagued the western worlds religious organizations. These ideas and their method of
proofscientific thinkingcontradict some long-held beliefs about reality and
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epistemology. Over the last 150 years, debates about the validity of the science have
become a part of popular culture, often conducted in public arenas.
What is perhaps most important when attempting to understand the power of
scientific understanding in our culture is that none of these ideas were introduced with
the intention of contradicting religious attitudes and beliefs. To the contrary, each of
the men given responsibility for these ideas were at various points in their lives
religious men who were themselves upset by the implications of their own work. The
difference between these ideas and the technology I suggested you might see in your
environment are that these ideas are results of generally innocent questions and quests
for truth, whereas the technology is a quest for a change in how we live.
The ideas of these scientists demonstrate what I believe is a fundamental ability
to understand our world, and for most people in the U.S., these and other ideas have
become a foundation for our culture; many of these ideas are about how we change life
here on this planet. Yet it is not the case that all of these men and ideas are now
considered ancient history, completely accepted by the religions and people of the
country. It was only in the last decade that the Catholic church officially un-
excommunicated Galileo and accepted his view of the universe20 years after men
walked on the moon. The fear of a scientific understanding of our origins reared its
head in this century in 1925 at the famous Scopes trial in Tennessee, in which a biology
teacher was prosecuted and convicted (although it was turned over on appeal) for
violating a state law forbidding the teaching of the theory of evolution (although their
efforts are weak, anti-evolution theory groups continue). That Tennessee law was not
repealed until 1967. Today, we have ethical, moral, religious, and legal debates about
topics such as genetic engineering and creating new species; abortion pills; the
development of new diseases; about the possibility of other intelligent life in the
universe; about the possibility of killing off life on this planet, whether by nuclear war
or ozone depletion; incredibly, we still waste resources on active debates about whether
or not tobacco products can be harmful. Clearly, these and other arguments related to
scientific knowledge and its impact on our culture continue, but many people will still
throw out a truth if it feels uncomfortable, regardless of whether or not it makes sense.
It is not a problem that we have had these kinds of debates; it becomes a
problem when the participantsregardless which side they are onhave such a
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narrow view of the world that they cannot understand that each side has simply decided
how to perceive the world, and so could not possibly come to an agreement except to
disagreeeach sees the world differently. The place to begin the discussion is not in
the right-ness or wrong-ness of the ideas. Generally, the sparks fly when the debate is
actually about epistemologyhow we know what we know or understand about the
universebut each side thinks it is about the others actions or ideas and do not tolerate
questioning of the epistemology.
Scientists And Religions
Although religion came to represent a source of knowledge, its purpose was not
to provide worldly knowledge, but to aid in spiritual knowledge, providing answers to
philosophical questions such as are we basically good or evil; many scientists and
theologians hold both scientific and religious views, demonstrating that these two are
not mutually exclusiveEinstein was an example of a scientist who at the end of his
life had strong religious beliefs. In fact, it was Einsteins spiritual beliefs that caused
him to continue to look for what he believed was an even clearer explanation for how
the universe works.
It might be useful to compare religion and science as each dealing with an aspect
of our reality, the incorporeal and the corporeal. What lies in the realm of
incorporeality is not understood by the same methods as in the realm of corporeality;
indeed, in this decade there is great interest in the knowledge and understanding of both
scientific and spiritual practices. I like these terms in particular because incorporeal is
defined as what is not corporeal (Websters), which allows the realm of coiporeality
to change, as has actually happened over the last 500 years.
Curiosity Has Been The Motivator In Science
An important aspect of the scientific developments and other events during the
last 500 years is how they came about. Why is it that in spite of opposition, scientific
knowledge continues to march on? I believe it is because of our curiosity, which I take
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to be a force in people as fundamental as the drive to reproduce. The curiosity of men
and women looking for their own answers to fundamental questions has been the
engine within the scientific machine as it moves toward (whether it is ahead or not is
a value judgment) understandings of ourselves and our universeall in spite of
overwhelming social pressure against the practice of science and the knowledge science
generates.
Some of the resistance to science is nothing more than a social habit or even
superstition, carried over from an earlier time. Like prejudices, holding on to
superstitions oppresses people in their lives and prevents them from greater
understandings. Superstition, unfounded fears, and dogma can act to kill our
fundamental curiosity. By contrast, a healthy competition can serve to stimulate our
collective curiosity and result in enormous change in our culture, even if we are racing
to the moon for pride.
The Value Of New Technologies: A Race To The Moon
In 1957 the U.S.S.R. successfully launched a rocket which pushed a Sputnik
satellite into orbit around the earth (sputnik is Russian for traveling companion). This
event piqued the competitive instincts of the American government and industry, and
began the so-called race to the moon, which the U.S. won in 1969. The race to the
moon, which President John F. Kennedy endorsed early in the 1960s, has had a
profound influence on American culture continuing into the 1990s.
The influence has been direct, such as a sense of national pride the space
program has produced and development of the space shuttle; few events short of wars
create the kind of national pride felt in the race to the moon.
And the influence has been indirect, such as the development of personal
computers resulting from microchip technology developed for spacecraft. Of course
this microchip technology created in a few short decades the pervasive personal
computer industry, which is presently accountable for vast portions of our economy.
In economics, it is considered a well-known conclusion, according to Massachusetts
Institute of Technology Professor Robert Solow, that technological progress has
accounted for 80 percent of the long-term rise in U.S. per capita income, with increased
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investment in capital explaining only the remaining 20 percent (Kingman, p. 68).
This understanding alone makes a strong case for the value of scientific research in our
culture, at least the economic aspect of our culture. Such a statistic suggests that
science and subsequent technology is a fundamental element in our economy, yet fewer
than 10 percent of college graduates get science degrees.
Rhetorics Place
Besides the bland notion that the scientific, philosophical, and even religious
ideas were transmitted using rhetoric, written or oral, it has played a much more
important and exciting role. It has in some cases provided the creative catalyst for
defining what our technological dreams should be. The idea of going to the moon was
not new to the 1950s; decades before, scientists and authors, such as Frenchman Jules
Veme and H. G. Wells, imagined many aspects and problems of going to and landing
on the moon.8 These scientific fictions became a more important part of our culture
and were integrated into it, to the point of deriving characters like Buck Rogers by
blending popular aspects of our culturewe could think of Rogers as the first space
cowboy. This cultural acceptance of fantastic scientific notionssuch as space travel
or undersea travelhelped encourage scientific and technological development in these
areas by expanding our collective imaginations.
Many of the scientific problems of traveling to the moonsuch as calculating
the force necessary to allow a craft to escape the earths gravitational pull, and the
precise trajectory required of a craft leaving the spinning earth and traveling to the
orbiting moonwere solved beginning with Newton, following his description of
gravitational fields and planetary motion, and his invention of the mathematical tool
calculus. The race to the moon was primarily a competition to see which country could
8Jules Veme (1828-1905) wrote in the middle to late nineteenth century, inventing the genre of science
fiction, and anticipating development of the airplane, submarine, television, and space travel, among
others. His book De la Terre a laLune (1874), published nearly 100 years before a man walked on the
moon, was translated into English in one form as From the Earth to the Moon Direct in 97 Hours and
Twenty Minutes, and a Trip Round It.
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develop new technologiesespecially in areas such as data management and
materialswhich generally follow scientific discoveries, thereby permitting more
discoveries. So the idea of space travel was not new, nor was the science that predicted
how it could be done; it was the technology that was new, and it was rhetoric that
helped set the ideas in motion.
Some theorists and philosophers such as Martin Heidegger see technology in
the form of tools as driving scientific discovery and theory, and this frequently seems
to be the case. The technology for going to the moon was new, but the moon race
really began with the scientists who long ago proved it was a part of our reality, then
went on to the writers who planted seeds in the cultural imagination that it might be
possible to do. How authors and the culture in general conceive of scientific
capabilities and limitations defines aspects of our culture. To expand our boundaries
(or at least not have them collapse), we need scientific understanding. This
understanding comes to us in the form of literature, but also in the form of science
education.
Moving Ahead Using Our Good Sense
Of philosophy I will say nothing, except that
when I saw that it had been cultivated for many
ages by the most distinguished men, and that yet
there is not a single matter within its sphere
which is above doubt, I did not presume to
anticipate that my success would be greater in it
than that of others....
Rene Descartes (p. 43)
In the previous chapter, I framed the problem with science teaching as I see it,
disagreeing with arguments supporting the split of science and the humanities that were
loosely based on empirical evidence or reason, making an argument for the value of
scientific thinking and rhetorical thinking as part of a complete education (since both
modes of thought are a part of each discipline), and asserting that science education
must be reformed beyond merely pushing standards, but actually addressing
epistemological aspects of scientific theory. Not everyone is persuaded that we should
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be generalists (or what I call literate people) because it is reasonable. Some might ask
about the practical value of learning science for the non-scientist. Others might have
objections to learning science that are based on unreasonable argumentsbased on
faith. There is also some sentiment that even if it is important, we should continue to
leave science and technology to the nerds, geeks, and propeller-heads. In his book
about Francis Bacon, The Man Who Saw Through Time, Loren Eiseley states: This
much we know: science among us is an invented cultural institution, an institution not
present in all societies and not one that may be counted upon to arise from human
instinct (p. 18). Although, Eiseley says, technology may contribute to science and
science to technology, he distinguishes between the two:
Many lost civilizationsRoman, Mayan, Egyptianhad great
builders, whether of roads, aqueducts, temples, or pyramids. Their
remains show enormous experience of transmitted and improved
techniques, but still these are not precisely within the true domain of
science (pp. 18-19).
And Eiseley says science is not natural to man at all.. .men are, in the mass, still
emotional and resistant to fact (p. 19). Yet he also points out that science is as
capable of decay and death as any other human activity, such as a religion or a system
of government (p. 18). Although he does point out that technology and science
encourage each othersimilar to Heideggers thoughtsthere is no doubt in this
century that technology results from scientific discovery. What is more, we have not
yet seen with hindsight a fallen scientific-based society. Because of its close ties to
philosophy and their shared demand for constant introspection and self-evaluation,
perhaps there is more hope for a scientific-based civilization than past ones that had no
science. Another aspect of the problem for us might be remaining a scientific-based
culture, because we are not doing a good job of transmitting this aspect of our culture to
all of society, and so its value is frequently not understood, and it is in danger of being
lost.
Once we are reminded of the events of the last 500 years in science, technology,
and rhetoric, it is easy to simply nod our heads, agreeing with the idea that science and
rhetoric have had dramatic affect on our culture. What our culture is attempting to do,
however, is hold up two ways of knowing that through history have contradicted. The
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next step toward a science teaching theory is to discuss epistemology, looking ahead
toward the understanding that what we are doing is generating knowledge.
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CHAPTER 3
EPISTEMOLOGY IN SCIENCE AND WRITING TEACHING
Its like a very faint star. If you look straight at
it you cant see it, but if you look a little to one
side it is there. Robert Frost
The comment by one of my physics professors that science is objective and
writing is subjective reflects several beliefs: One is crucial, that we can accurately,
objectively perceive nature. Another is not crucial and is even restrictive, that what we
perceive is actually how nature works; that is, that events happen deterministically
under some control and even for a reason. Another belief represented is that science
is restricted to Francis Bacons inductive reasoning, that we must begin with the facts.
What my physics teacher was addressing was some aspect of his epistemology.
Epistemology is defined as the study of a theory of the nature and grounds of
knowledge, especially with reference to its limits and validitythat is, how we know
what we know and how much we can trust what we think we know. This chapter
looks at epistemology as it affects the educational aspect of our cultures view of
science and writing teaching paradigms and consequent teaching methods, especially
relative to the dualistic view of these disciplines, attempting to arrive at an epistemology
useful to both.
The epistemological ideas my physics teacher spoke of and more comprise what
Thomas Kuhn labeled a paradigm; the beauty of Kuhns label is that by identifying a
paradigm, we are suddenly free of the paradigm, to make the assumption that there
must be other paradigmsperhaps not yet conceived. We can investigate another
science paradigm that acknowledges both deterministic and indeterministic aspects of
nature and both a deductive and inductive approach to understanding. I have already
begun the discussion about writing and science paradigms, about a shift of paradigms
that changed how writing is viewed and taught, and about how science teaching can
benefit from the same paradigm. Science moves ahead as a combination of inductive
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and deductive reasoning, but primarily a deductive approach to science is being taught
as part of the current-traditional teaching paradigm. Later in this chapter, I introduce
some of Karl Poppers ideas about deductive and inductive reasoning in science, and
ideas from epistemic rhetoric. First, though, since not everyone may be convinced that
Kuhns notion of paradigms are a useful representation of reality, I discuss the origins
of our epistemology, then discuss how Kuhn arrived at his idea.
Whv We Know Science And The Humanities Are Different
Way over yonder
is a place I have seen.
In a garden of wisdom
from some long ago dream.
Carol King
The notion that science and the humanities are different and should be studied
separately is nearly as old as modem western thought. Aristotle, often called the
father of modem science, first split these activities into mental philosophy and
natural philosophy. Aristotle did not encourage (nor did his teacher, Plato) exclusive
study of either natural or mental philosophy; rather, he saw the two as aspects of a
complete education. Aristotle believed that geometry accurately represented reality;
this is still popularly believed about mathematics, although contemporary philosophers
of science believe that a mathematical model represents one perceived reality and may
not be at all like the real worldassuming there is such a thing. As I discussed in
chapter 1, Rene Descartes, often called the father of modem philosophy, refined
Aristotles dualism, dividing all things into thought and extension or mind and
physical things, and that the division between science and humanities based on this
division does not make sense. Later in this chapter I discuss thought and extension and
how they might be put together again.
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Plato And Aristotles Role In Our Theory Of Knowledge
Although Plato had written most of his philosophy by the time he was 40 years
old, he was about 70 before he wrote the Timaeus, a dialogue that contained his theory
of nature, or physics. Scientific study had come to a halt at that time, so he thought it
was not useful to write about He wrote that physics could never be more than a likely
story. Platos theory of the Forms...rendered science as an exact mode of
knowledge impossible. The real world.. .is the world of Forms, whereas the visible
world is full of change and imperfection (Stumpf, p. 80). We are, I think, viewing
science and theories as Platonic Forms. Although it should be noted that at the
Academy at Athens founded by Plato, the chief aim of the Academy was to pursue
scientific knowledge through original research (Stumpf, p. 51), Plato saw the study of
mathematics as the pursuit of truth and a way of thinking without being tied to
particulars (Stumpf, pp. 49-50):
Philosophy was for Plato, as for Socrates, not merely a specialized
and technical activity but a way of life. Since philosophy would
range over all questions both in science and in the realm of human
behavior, it would require not only intellectual ability but also certain
moral qualities that one associates with the pursuit of truth and of
goodness.
This might be called by some a scientific mind set.
For Plato, philosophy includes what later became split into mental and natural
philosophy, but he did not split them; he left them as related branches of knowledge.
The purpose of relating all branches of knowledge was, for Plato, to
enable men to understand how they fit into the scheme of the
universe. Ultimately, by philosophic activity, by the continuous and
passionate exercise of the mind, men could relate themselves to the
world and also achieve an inner integrity of all their powers and
capacities.... Plato did not assume that he had discovered perfect
knowledge or absolute truth... [only] that the surest way of going
after knowledge is the dialectic method, the method of dialogue in
which a premise or hypothesis is continuously subjected to counter
argument (Stumpf, p. 50).
An example in modem science of the dialectic method is the exchange over many
months between Albert Einstein and Neils Bohr about the validity of quantum physics.
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Though a student of Platos, Aristotle diverted from Plato in several key ways.
Aristotle was less interested in mathematics than Plato and more interested in empirical
data (Stumpf, p. 85). Aristotle oriented his thought to the dynamic realm of
becoming, whereas Platos thought was fixed more upon the static realm of timeless
Being (Stumpf, p. 85).
After Aristotle formed his own school, the Lyceum, he developed his ideas
about the separation of the sciences, about the classification of the sciences, fashioning
a bold new science of logic, and writing his advanced ideas in every major area of
philosophy and science, exhibiting an extraordinary command of universal knowledge
(Stumpf, pp. 86-87). Aristotle was a literate man in all areas of knowledge, having a
universal knowledge that was a part of his own created understanding of the
universe.
However, two important aspects necessary to understand Aristotles science
and logic are described here:
[Science] consisted of true statements that accounted for the reasons
why things behave as they do and why they have to be as they are.
In this sense, science consists in the knowledge of the fact that and
of the reason why. It includes both an observation arid a theory that
explains what is observed.... The most important thing about
science is therefore the language in which it is formulated. Scientific
language must indicate as precisely as possible what constitutes the
distinctive subject matter of a science, and it must describe why
things act the way they do. Logic, then, is a study of words or
language, but not the way a grammarian would study these.
Aristotelian logic is the study of the thought for which words are
signs; it is an attempt to get at truth by an analysis of the thought that
reflects our apprehension or understanding of the nature of things.
In short, for Aristotle, logic was the instrument of analysis of
human thought as it thinks about reality. To be sure, thought does
not always reflect reality accurately, but it is the function of logic
always to work toward a more adequate relation between language
and reality (Stumpf, p. 87-88).
This could explain in part why language changes continually, as our understanding or
perception of reality changes. The language of science is precise and descriptive; logic
is a study of words or language, but as signs. And the key is that logic is the
instrument of analysisin science or writing. The function of logic is to work toward
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a more adequate relation between language and reality; so what is the difference
between writing and science in this sense? None.
Although Aristotles doctrine of the syllogism is a tool for determining which
relationships between premises and conclusion have consistency, his chief interest in
developing the syllogism was not simply to assure consistent reasoning. His aim was
to provide an instrument for scientific demonstration, and for this reason, again, he
emphasized the relation between logic and metaphysics, between our way of knowing
and what things are and how they behave (Stumpf, p. 91). Francis Bacon later
separated logic and metaphysics. I come back to this separation later in this chapter.
Kuhns Process For Defining Paradigms
When Kuhn published The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962, he first
identified the concept that he labeled a paradigm. In describing how he came to identify
this concept, Kuhnwho was formally trained as a physicistexplains that he
happened through a chain of events, beginning with teaching a college course in
physical science for the non-scientist, and including study of the history of science:
To my complete surprise, that exposure to out-of-date scientific
theory and practice radically undermined some of my basic
conceptions about the nature of science and the reasons for its
special success.... The result was a drastic shift in my career plans,
a shift from physics to history of science and then, gradually, from
relatively straightforward historical problems back to the more
philosophical concerns that had initially led me to history (Kuhn, p.
v).
He continued his studies in diverse subjects, such as the psychology of perception and
the effect of language on world views (Kuhn, p. vi). Eventually, studying in a
community of social scientists, Kuhn says that he was confronted with unanticipated
problems about the differences between such communities and those of the natural
scientist among whom I had been trained.
Particularly, I was struck by the number and extent of the overt
disagreements between social scientists about the nature of legitimate
scientific problems and methods. Both history and acquaintance
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made me doubt that practitioners of the natural sciences possess
firmer or more permanent answers to such questions than their
colleagues in social science. Yet, somehow, the practice of
astronomy, physics, chemistry, or biology normally fails to evoke
the controversies over fundamentals that today often seem endemic
among, say, psychologists or sociologists. Attempting to discover
the source of that difference led me to recognize the role in scientific
research of what I have since called paradigms. These I take to be
universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide
model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners
(Kuhn, p. viii).
Just as Kuhns diverse background helped him to see the philosophy of science in a
larger context, so can diverse backgrounds help all students to be more literate.
Science literacy is important, but so too is the contribution that can be made to
science. A problem that can develop from a pursuit of science literacy is to forget that
contributions can still be made to what is known. For instance, scientists believe they
have found the final missing quarks completing the current theory of matter (Science
News, April 25,1994); the notion that we have come to an end of discovery in physics
is a statement that has been made many times beforeincluding by Platoand it has
always been wrong in profound ways.
The Objective And Subjective Nature Of Science
...the highest possessions of men [are]
knowledge and artistlike workmanship...
Einstein
His book, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, is Karl Poppers serious treatment
of epistemology in science; I think what he writes can be translated into a general
epistemology for the similar processes of science and writing. Regarding the notion of
objectivity as is typically believed about science, Popper doesnt mince words: The
old scientific ideal of epistemeof absolutely certain, demonstrable knowledgehas
proved to be an idol. The demand for scientific objectivity makes it inevitable that
every scientific statement must remain tentative for ever. Popper is saying the
scientific knowledge itself is uncertain, because at any time it could be shown to be
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false; a concept very different from the ideas of revealed Truth as believed in Religions.
Popper goes on: It may indeed be corroborated, but every corroboration is relative to
other statements which, again, are tentative. Only in our subjective experiences of
conviction, in our subjective faith, can we be absolutely certain (p. 280). Popper
unseats the concept of really knowing, the opposite of what most people are trained to
believe in terms of religious epistemology.
However unsettling this uncertainty about scientific knowledge might be, there
is an intriguing transcendental aspect Popper discusses of moving deeper into
understanding, almost like pursuing spirituality through meditation or other practices:
Science never pursues the illusory aim of making its answers final, or even probable.
Its advance is, rather, towards an infinite yet attainable aim: that of ever discovering
new, deeper, and more general problems, and of subjecting our ever tentative answers
to ever renewed and ever more rigorous tests (p. 281). It seems that the reward for
the uncertainty is deeper understanding.
This interesting contrast between science and some other pursuits of knowledge
is that what must be built into the epistemology, the logic of scientific discovery, is the
capability to falsify the scientific statement. When compared with nearly any other
system of understanding, this is quite in contrast. Popper calls this the choice of
methodsdecisions with the way in which scientific statements are to be dealt with
(p. 49). Popper defines rules as will ensure the testability of scientific statements;
which is to say their falsifiability (p. 49). This would then be the litmus test for
knowledge in the paradigm: If it is accepted on faith and cannot be doubted, then it
cannot be part of the paradigm; if we are willing to throw it over for a deeper
understanding at any time, then it passes the test.
One aspect of epistemology frequently found in many paradigms and teaching
theories is a reverence for psychologism. This is the question of how it happens that a
new idea occurs to a man-^whether it is a musical theme, a dramatic conflict, or a
scientific theorymay be of great interest to empirical psychology; but it is irrelevant to
the logical analysis of scientific knowledge (p. 31). Popper distinguishes between the
process of conceiving a new idea, and the methods and results of examining it
logically (p. 31). This might seem strange at first, but it makes sense on the whole
when we keep in mind that regardless of where the idea comes from, it still must pass
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the various tests in the paradigm; in that sense it allows tremendous amounts of
creativity, as Popper says, every discovery contains an irrational element, or a
creative intuition in Bergsons sense (p. 32). Popper goes on to illustrate with an
excerpt from an Einstein essay:
In a similar way, Einstein speaks of the search for those highly
universal laws.. .from which a picture of the world can be obtained
by pure deduction. There is no logical path, he says, leading to
these.. .laws. They can only be reached by intuition, based upon
something like an intellectual love of the objects of experience (p.
32).
Generating Knowledge: Epistemic Rhetoric
The writing process can be very powerful in creating meaning, according to
Michael Leff, in his article In Search of Ariadnes Thread: A Review of the Recent
Literature on Rhetorical Theory. He states that rhetoric is a serious philosophical
subject that involves not only the transmission, but also the generation of knowledge
(p. 75). Generating knowledge is something that is thought to belong strictly to
science; but I am claiming that science and rhetoric frequently flip positions. For
instance, James C. Raymond states that examples and enthymemes are appropriate to
the subject matter of rhetoric (considered less rigorous than dialectic) because, when
we are faced with the necessity of drawing merely probable conclusions from merely
probable premises, there is no way to proceed other than to reason from premises that
the audience accepts or to speculate about the unknown on the basis of parallels the
audience regards as credible and apposite (Raymond, p.148). Some of the topics of
science, such as cosmology and quantum physics, are demonstrated with mathematics,
but are based on probable conclusions from merely probable premises, which is the
same process. Raymond claims, rhetoric has no business investigating facts that are
discoverable by science. Yet he goes on to say, Aristotles Rhetoric is a
philosophical assertion that some important questions cannot be answered by
experimentation, or by logic, or by quantification because the data needed to make these
methods work is unavailable (Raymond, p. 148). In the farthest reaches of scientific
knowledge, such as in nuclear physics and chemistry, cosmology, and astrophysics,
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and in paradigm shifts such as Darwins evolution, discoverable facts can be identified
following processes of invention and discovery. Thus it is the creative thinking of
scientists that contributes to the generation of knowledge, not only the deductive
thinking. So science and rhetoric are fitting in the same paradigm from an
epistemological viewpoint.
James Berlin did a thorough study of rhetorics and their epistemologies in his
book Rhetoric and Reality, saying, Rhetoric exists not merely so that truth may be
communicated: rhetoric exists so that truth may be discovered. The epistemic position
implies that knowledge is not discovered by reason alone, that cognitive and affective
processes are not separate, that intersubjectivity is a condition of all knowledge, and
that the contact of minds affects knowledge (Reality, p. 165). Alan G. Gross also
wrote an essay arguing that epistemic rhetoric is the rhetoric of science. This, along
with the quote from Leffs paper above regarding the generation of knowledge, states
what science has known for a long time: that the process can generate knowledge.
This is true whether the process is applied to rhetoric or science. Another example is
when Einstein wrote his paper on Special Relativity, published in 1905, he worked in
Zurich, Switzerland in a patent office and met with a scientist friend regularly to discuss
and develop Special Relativity in his mind, working through a process of intuition and
deduction, recursively testing his theory on his friend and in his mind.
Intellectually Searching For A Prettier Shell
Late in his life, Isaac Newton wrote about his remarkable work, which has had
incalculable impact on our world and culture, describing the knowledge of the universe
as a vast, undiscovered ocean and himself like a child playing at the edge, speaking as a
man with great creativity and vision, and as a generalist.
I do not know how I appear to the world, but to myself I seem to
have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting
myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell
than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered
before me.
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Of course Kuhn developed his theory about 200 years after Newton, but Newton is, I
think, describing his ability to pursue truth by creating a new paradigm.
The Decline Of Reason In Our Culture
Science exists only within a tradition of constant
experimental investigation of the natural world.
Eiseley, p. 19
As I discussed in Chapter 2, so long as science and philosophy are aspects of
our culture, reason is also an aspect of our culture, so it might seem strange at first that
Edmund Husserl, a philosopher from early in this century (a phenomenologist), made it
part of his lifes work to save human reason. We are today discussing a crisis in
education; 100 years ago Husserl was describing what he called a crisis, the
seeming collapse of human reason (Stumpf, p. 470). Interestingly, Husserl believed
it was the fault of natural science, or more accurately, the fault of the assumptions and
methods of the natural sciences that began with a faulty attitude in Western mans
epistemology (Stumpf, p. 470):
The natural sciences rest upon the fatal prejudice that nature is
basically physical and that the realm of spirit or soul, the realm of
knowing, valuing, and judging, in short, the realm of culture, is
causally based upon corporeality. The possibility of formulating a
self-contained science of the spirit is rejected by the natural
scientist... (Stumpf, p. 470).
Husserl says that this rejection by the natural scientist explains the crisis of modem
man, the notion that nature envelops everything, which means, for example that all
psychology is psycho-physical, and that knowledge and truth are objective, based
upon a reality beyond the self (Stumpf, p. 470). Husserl looks back to the ancient
Greek philosophers that I discussed earlier in this chapter for guidance, noting that the
Greek philosophy developed a new outlook, raising mankind through universal reason
toward a radically new humanity that looked past the limits of customs, geography,
and social groups (Stumpf, 469-473). What made this possible was a new conception
of truth.. .independent of tradition, universally valid, and capable of infinite refinement
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(Stumpf, p. 471). As you can see, the Greeks and Husserl applied some sense of
universality to all of understanding, whereas our culture has applied this only to
scientific understanding.
Einsteins thinking conforms with the notion that there is a need for an
epistemological shift in science, and that the current epistemology is tied too closely to
physical reality. In a 1936 essay, Mechanics and Attempts to Base All Physics Upon
it, he wrote about the failure of the scientific model:
In spite of the fact that, today, we know positively that classical
mechanics fails as a foundation dominating all physics, it still
occupies the center of all our thinking in physics. The reason for
this lies in the fact that, regardless of important progress reached
since the time of Newton, we have not yet arrived at a new
foundation of physics concerning which we may be certain that the
whole complexity of investigated phenomena, and of partial
theoretical systems of a successful kind, could be deduced logically
from it (p. 71).
One interpretation that was a consequence of the failures of the models in sciencethat
Einstein was uncomfortable with for various reasons, and rejected later in his lifewas
that science was not objective, but was subjective, based on an indeterministic
philosophy. Quantum physicists Richard Liboff wrote that,
Out of the turmoil [of experimental data conflicting with classical
theory] came a new philosophy of science. A new way of thinking
was called for. At the very core of natural law lay subjective
probabilitynot objective determinism (p. 28).
Einsteins thinking was that although the only source of knowledge is experience,
scientific theories are the free creations of a finely tuned physical intuition and that the
premises on which theories are based cannot be connected logically to experiment. A
good theory, therefore, is one in which a minimum number of postulates is required to
account for the physical evidence. Einstein, and other physicists, believed that
mathematics and experiment provided tools for constructing theories in physics, but
that the theoretician required above all physical insight (Pyenson, p. 503-505).
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An Epistemology For Teaching (And Doing) Science And Writing
In this epistemology, scientific truths can originate within the scientist and we
can even use creative or heuristic methods for generating these truths or knowledge.
And they can be defended with rational arguments, thus preserving the place of reason
in our culture, perhaps again, as Husserl said, raising mankind through universal
reason toward a radically new humanity through truth that is independent of tradition,
universally valid, and capable of infinite refinement (Stumpf, pp. 469-473).
As I suggested in chapter 1, even though my physics teachers understood the
beauty in science, the teaching paradigm frequently led them to teach me what to think,
but I believe they felt something was missing. Kuhn describes why this might be the
case in his discussion about normal science, saying Mopping-up operations are what
engage most scientists throughout their careers (p. 24); these operations are what he
calls normal science. Kuhn says his definition of a paradigm shares essential
characteristics with the term normal science, which means research firmly based upon
one or more past scientific achievements, achievements that some particular scientific
community acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further
practice (p. 10). He continues:
No part of the aim of normal science is to call forth new sorts of
phenomena; indeed those that will not fit the box are often not seen
at all. Nor do scientists normally aim to invent new theories, and
they are often intolerant of those invented by others. Instead,
normal-scientific research is directed to the articulation of those
phenomena and theories that the paradigm already supplies (p. 24).
It is the absence of an inherent mechanism or method for creating new theories
that weakens the current-traditional teaching paradigm and its epistemology, making
critical review of what and how we think impossible or at least very unlikely.
On the other hand, Husserls transcendental phenomenology is based on the
idea that our own consciousness of phenomena is valid, and that we can grow an
understanding out of this. I agree with this notion and believe this is related to
epistemic rhetoric in which it is acknowledged that knowledge is generated. Together,
these are the basis for an epistemology of teaching that applies equally well to science
and the humanities that begins with our perceptions, which does not include all feelings
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and beliefs, only those that can fit into and be demonstrated by the scientific method,
even if it means suspending belief for a time while the idea is proven or disproven,
which is how the great scientists over the last 500 years have worked. Aristotle too
was a literate man having a universal knowledge that was a part of his own created
understanding of the universe. Each began with his own ideas, then proved them
through the scientific method, generating knowledge along the way.
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CHAPTER 4
THE CRISIS JN SCIENCE EDUCATION: FAILURES
Blown engines were par for the course in testing
aircraft prototypes and were inevitable in testing
an entirely new propulsion system such as jet or
rocket engines. Obviously you didnt send a man
up with an engine until it had attained a certain
level of reliability. The only thing unusual
about the testing of big rocket engines like the
Navaho and the Atlas was that so much of it was
televised and that these normal test events came
across as colossal failures.
(A description of the publics perception of U.S.
rocket engine tests in the early 1960s)
Tom Wolfe (pp. 72-73)
As illustrated in the quote from Tom Wolfes book, The Right Stuff, about the
aerospace industry and the race to the moon in the 1960s, science is not afraid of
failures. In the scientific method, failing is not the same as being a failure, and this is
the attitude that we must adopt when reviewing the teaching methods in science.
I discussed in chapter 1, with the help of Gasset, that the crisis in science
education is really due to the specialization of science itself: other areas of study have
imitated this specialization, and now none understand or appreciate the other. There is
a pervading sense that something is wrong, and although at times the blame is
misplaced, it is now accepted by the major scientific organizations that the problem lies
with science teaching. However, there are many paths that could be taken to change
science teaching. This chapter looks at some of the statistics that helped to persuade the
scientific community there is a problem with how students learn, and looks at causes.
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Roots: Institutionalizing The Educational Dualism
We cannot know all the best thoughts and
sayings of the Greeks unless we know what they
thought about natural phenomena. We cannot
fully apprehend their criticism of life unless we
understand the extent to which that criticism was
affected by scientific conceptions.
Thomas Huxley (p. 139)
So as to help in not repeating mistakes, it is useful to understand how the
current-traditional teaching paradigm developed, including the dualistic approach to
teaching. In 1892, the National Education Association formed the Committee of Ten,
made up of teachers from high schools and prep schools and faculty at public and
private colleges and universities, that was to recommend a course of study to prepare
high school students for college study in the sciences, which would best prepare
young people to grow up to be just like them. In 1894 their report was published with
a recommendation: One year of biology, followed by one year of chemistry and one
year of quantitative physics (K. Hoffman & Stage, pp. 27-28).9 In the 1890s, the
teaching method used was thought to be an imitation of the scientific method, with an
emphasis on learning content, which was an imitation of German universities. William
Riley Parker wrote the essay, Where do English Departments Come From? in 1967,
in which he describes how the dualismthe specialization or splitting of disciplines
came to be the standard in the U.S. Parker writes that
graduate education was.. .vigorously launched in the United States
when the John [sic] Hopkins University opened in 1876, frankly
setting out to import European (particularly German) ideals and
methodology. It meant to naturalize, if possible, the spirit of
specialization, the concept of the teacher as investigator and
producing scholar, and, for our field, the scientific approach to
literary and linguistic research (p. 10).
^The Hoffman & Stage essay appeared in Educational Leadership, February 1993, and was the same
month published as the Introduction chapter in a draft of the document National Science Education
Standards: An Enhanced Sampler, published by the National Research Councils National Committee
on Science Education Standards and Assessment.
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This scientific approach carried over into the teaching of writing and science. It did
not take long before some people began questioning whether or not this teaching
method and the expectations were working. In 1936, Albert Einstein, who was
schooled in German and Swiss schoolsand was not fond of the German teaching
methodsgave a speech entitled On Education, in which he said,
Sometimes one sees in the school simply the instrument for
transferring a certain maximum quantity of knowledge to the
growing generation. But that is not right. Knowledge is dead; the
school, however, serves the living....
The most important method of education... always has consisted
of that in which the pupil was urged to actual performance. This
applies as well to the first attempts at writing of the primary boy as
to the doctors thesis on graduation from the university, or as to the
mere memorizing of a poem, the writing of a composition, the
interpretation and translation of a text, the solving of a mathematical
problem or the practice of physical sport (Out of My Later Years,
pp. 32-33).
At a later time, he wrote the following in a letter to a young woman, who had asked
him to read a manuscript about her educational experiences:
I suffered exactly the same treatment at the hands of my teachers,
who disliked me for my independence and passed me over when
they wanted assistants (I must admit that I was somewhat less of a
model student than you)....
Therefore pocket your temperament and keep your manuscript
for your sons and daughters, in order that they may derive
consolation from it andnot give a damn for what their teachers tell
them or think of them.
Incidentally I am only coming to Princeton to research, not to
teach. There is too much education altogether, especially in
American schools. The only rational way of educating is to be an
example... (The World as I See It, pp. 21-22).
Clearly, Einstein was at odds with the teaching methods imported from
Germany, including the concepts of the teacher as expert and imparter of knowledge,
and the notion of specialization in disciplines and subdisciplines. As Kuhn
encouraged, we should listen to that someone in the field who objects to the paradigm.
This specialization was key to institutionalizing Aristotles separation of natural and
mental philosophy. It was only a few years after the Committee of Ten met that
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philosopher William James observed, The institutionalizing on a large scale of any
natural combination of need and motive always tends to run into technicality and to
develop a tyrannical machine with unforeseen powers of exclusion and corruption
(Cheney p. 2). The paradigm became a tyrannical machine, excluding students and
scientists, corrupting what I think is a noble pursuit, and producing science illiterates.
The practice of exclusion can sometimes be felt at the university level by science
students in literature or science courses, often justified by claims that an individual did
not have the correct aptitude; worse yet, this practice of exclusion goes on in filter
courses in the sciencesfreshman and sophomore level courses where it is hoped to
filter out the students who do not fit the correct profile. This exclusion is a
corruption of an educational system in a free society. Fortunately, it is evident even in
the title, Science for All Americans, that the AAAS has made scientific literacy a goal
for everyone, rather than a barrier. However, as Cheney points out, the first stage of
the education reform movement of the 1980s revealed how impervious tyrannical
machines can be. Exposing themshowing the world the multitude of ways in which
they violate good senseis not sufficient to alter them (p. 2). The sad fact is that
some science teachers at the university level believe the filter course is a useful thing.
Research shows that most elementary and high school teachers have only one or two
years of college science. Interestingly, these teachers only exposure to the sciences are
often these filter courses. It seems simple enough to me: too many teachers are
teaching science subjects they do not understand, and might not even like. The best
they can do, in this case, is attempt to convey someone elses understanding and
affection for the subject, which is bound to be inadequate. The fault lies with higher
education for not preparing these teachers to encourage rather than stifle their students.
The Crisis In Science Education
There are a number of ways to view this crisis: the number of patents issued by
the U.S. patent office; a general feeling of mistrust or misunderstanding of science and
scientists; by statistics showing how unaware of scientific knowledge and practice
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students and teachers are; studies showing how much less money is being invested in
basic scientific research; or as due to specialization of the sciences.
Gasset points out in 1930 that not even real progress of science itself is
assured by the specialists:
For science needs from time to time, as a necessary regulator of its
own advance, a labour or reconstitution, and.. .this demands an
effort towards unification, which grows more and more difficult,
involving, as it does, ever-vaster regions of the world of
knowledge. Newton was able to found his system of physics
without knowing much philosophy, but Einstein needed to saturate
himself with Kant and Mach before he could reach his own keen
synthesis (p. 124).
Kant and Mach, Gasset asserts, helped to liberate the mind of Einstein, but more
important than this history, is that physics is entering on the gravest crisis of its
history, perhaps affecting its existence:
If the specialist is ignorant of the inner philosophy of the science he
cultivates, he is much more radically ignorant of the historical
conditions requisite for its continuation; that is to say: how society
and the heart of man are to be organised in order that there may
continue to be investigators (p. 125).
Deciding There Are Problems
According to F. James Rutherford, Director of Project 2061 for the AAAS10,
the roots of science education reform go back to the 1930sto when Gasset was
writing, but of course he was in Spainmotivated by the Grand Cooley Dam project to
prepare for an industrialized society. Another movement began during World War n,
then another in the 1960s, motivated by the cold war, which began the Harvard Project
(on which Rutherford worked) and other science education reform projects.
Rutherford felt the science education community was nearly able to capitalize on the
interest in science education reform in the 1970s, but it fell apart.
iORutherford, F. James, in a presentation at the Annual Meeting of the AAAS, San Fransisco, Calif.,
February 19, 1994.
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Then, more reports about failures in science education began to appear in the
1980s, beginning with A Nation at Risk, and continuing with reports from nearly all of
the major scientific organizations claiming that we are becoming a nation of science
illiterates all of which prompted the AAAS to initiate Project 2061 in 1985.
Coincidentally, that was the year Haleys comet swept through our solar system, as it
does every 76 years, and so it was decided to recognize that education reform is a
painfully slow process and that progress would continue until the comet returned and
beyond, and the 76-year project was begun. We can hope the cyclic nature of Haleys
comet does not also describe cyclic concern for and attempts to change science teaching
methods.
Dating science education reform to the 1930s is ironic because it means the
machine has been flagged for replacement or refurbishment for longer than it was
initially in use. Rutherford believes that it was not the space race nor economic
competition that motivated the people behind any reform movements; rather, the
strongest motivation for the project was that people lack fundamentals in science. I
agree. And like Gasset, I think it will stop unless we keep it aliveperhaps a new
Dark Ages. We do not have to look and listen very long to understand there is a
different perspective on the fundamental question, Do people even care about
science? After all, as we have seen, it causes people fits in education and in religion,
and it causes some people personal crises.
A Statistical Look At The Crisis In Science Education
Since the 1970s, there has been a lot of discussion about the crisis in
education, by which most people mean that our education system is failing. We can
rarely look at a scholarly journal, newsmagazine, newspaper, or television news
broadcast without seeing some reference to this crisis. Typically, astonishing (even
frightening) statistics are cited about the numbers of functionally illiterate Americans
(about one out of four people). Unemployment figures are quoted, claiming about one
out of every 10 Americans who want to work cannot find work, and it is claimed that
most of the unemployed are undereducated. Surveys are cited demonstrating that a
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large number of American school children cannot find the United States on a world map
or globe. More surveys are cited indicating that the average American child watches
more than 25 hours of television per week, and charges are made that this is a root of
the problem. (Of course, too much television is also the cause of much of the violence
in our country.. .and causes our childrens preoccupation with sex.. .and it probably
causes some other things, too.)
An aspect of these statistics that is nearly always highlighted is that math and
science scores are low when compared with other countries. There might be some
relationship between education in general and the specific fields of teaching writing and
teaching science, but I am looking beyond that potential to focus on the teaching of
writing and science (including math).
Using the traditional deductive science modelwhich includes making
observations, collecting facts, and drawing conclusionsone of the things that we
observe is that math and science scores are important to educators, policy makers, and
parents who closely follow standardized test scores. But, the facts show only 3 or 4
percent of the work force is engaged in science and engineering (K. Hoffman, 1993,
p. 28). Thus, although few people actually work as scientists (and engineers), there is
a general understandingor at least a beliefthat math and science education are
important.
Another fact is that 70 percent of elementary students say they are interested in
science (K. Hoffman, 1993, p. 28). Yet, in 1983 only 7.3 percent of college degrees
were in science. Of course the numbers are not examining the same group, since all
elementary school children do not go to college, but this is still what is called an order
of magnitude of difference (the difference is about 10 timesfrom 70 to 7 percent).
Such an observation generally makes scientists say, Hmmmm, and make a mental
note to check on that again. Further, the elementary curriculum depends largely on the
interest of teachers, only a quarter of whom feel well qualified to teach science (K.
Hoffman, 1993, p. 28). The following are additional statistics compiled from a variety
of sources.11
11 Sources include the National Science Teachers Association, the National Science Foundation,
Univerisity of Michigan News and Information Services, The American Chemical Society, The
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In a survey of American high schools:
30 % offer no physics courses
17 % offer no chemistry courses
8 % offer no biology courses
70 % offer no earth or space science courses
75 % offer only one physics course, or none
50 % offer either one chemistry course or none
80 % of students take no science or mathematics after the 10th grade
The last statistic indicates that any interest in science wanes, but another study indicates
that many students only initially get interested in science in high school. In a 1983-84
school year study of Utah high school teachers:
82 % of Earth Science teachers didnt major or minor in the field
28 % of Math teachers hadnt specialized in math (major or minor)
25 % of Biology teachers hadnt specialized in biology
And comparing college students in two studies in 1975 and in 1983:
33 % fewer college ffeshmen plan to major in a basic science
9.4 % of all degrees, in 1975, were in the sciences
7.5 % of all degrees, in 1983, were in the sciences
Two different studies reported differently on science teaching in elementary
schools. A study from the early 1980s found that the typical elementary school does
not teach any science; a more recent study reported kindergarten through grade 3 have
about 1 hour per week of science and grades 4 to 6 spend about 2 to 3 hours per week
on science studies. Another study found 80 percent of U.S. high school students take
no math or science classes after the 10th grade.
An American Chemical Society study found that only 25 percent of
elementary-school teachers feel confident of their ability to teach science. The
National Science Foundation, in a 1985 report, said the typical American elementary
Council for Basic Education, Education Week, New York Times, & U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Appropriations.
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school teacher does not teach any science. Only one-third of junior high schools
require a three-year science program, and half of the junior high schools teach only
general science, rather than discipline-oriented science programs. My junior high
did teach discipline-oriented scienceas a ninth grader, I took physics with great
excitementfinally I could learn what science is about. What a let down. In most
U.S. high schools, biology is taught as a low level elective for non college students,
with chemistry and physics courses reserved for college-bound students.
This essentially conforms to a 1894 report discussed earlier from the National
Education Association put forth by the Committee of Ten that recommended the
following course of study in high school as preparation for college study in the
sciences: One year of biology, followed by one year of chemistry and one year of
quantitative physics.
Other Factors: Drive
The most important motive for work in the
school and in life is the pleasure in work,
pleasure in its result and the knowledge of the
value of the result to the community. In the
awakening and strengthening of these
psychological forces in the young man, I see the
most important task given by the school. Such
a psychological foundation alone leads to a
joyous desire for the highest possessions of men,
knowledge and artistlike workmanship.
Einstein (Out of My Later Years, p. 33)
I think that all of the above makes the point that there are problems in the
teaching of science, at least for what we are expecting students to know. On the other
hand, some people have insisted that the problem is simply that American students are
too lazy or too soft to push themselves to higher achievement. Perhaps what we
scientists and researchers need to do is isolate ways to measure work ethic and
fortitude, then invent an ethic-o-meter and a fortitude gauge, with scales such as,
High: Smooth Sailing, Medium: Begin Negative Reinforcement, and Low: Get the
Whip; students could be forced each day to walk through these like metal detectors at
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an airport. Data could be compiled and published, as are the GNP and worker
productivity indexes; then, when test scores are low, we can look to the indexes and
make explanatory comments such as, The work ethic is okay, but the fortitude is way
down. I am being facetious. But, I have been told by some teachers and others that
poor work ethic and fortitude are the root of the problem and that the focus should be
on making students learn, not the method used to teach them. (So far, we have roots
being too much television, poor work ethic, and lack of fortitude, and others say it is
no parental involvement.)
It is interesting to note that a panel discussing implementation of SFAA and
Benchmarks at the 1994 Meeting of the AAAS described a study that highlighted a
difference between American students and first generation students of immigrant
families. The study found that on average an American student spends one hour per
night studying whereas on average an immigrant student spends three hours.
Explanations varied, but one explanation was not that American students are lazy,
rather immigrant families are more motivated to push their students to excel.
Additionally, sometimes language barriers necessitated more time spent with the same
homework. Finally, it was suggested that American students may simply be allowed to
make choices about what is studied, and they are not choosing science. Generally, in
all my reading I have not encountered any quantified support for the ideas that
American students are lazy or soft, and therefore, unless we can find some support for
the ideas, they must fall under the category of preconceptions; unless we include
them in our hypothesis, they must be dismissed. These types of preconceptions are not
allowed in the scientific process. However, it is clear that American students are not
choosing science.
It Looks Bad For Current Scientists. Too
The AAAS sponsored a study of funding for science in 1991 and found it is
harder to get and more restricted when it is received. It also found that many science
graduates are turning away from scientific research when they leave college, and that it
is harder to fund and keep science graduate students interested and working (Lederman,
p. 6). The study also found that more than half of the patents granted by the U.S.
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Patent Office are to non-Americans, and that the top three companies awarded patents in
the U.S. Patent Office in 1990 were Canon, Toshiba, and Hitachi.
Responses To The Crisis In Science Education
A common (and current) response to the crisis in education, and to science
education in particular, is to demand competency testing and standardized testing,
which is of course also a cry for standardized teaching. In essence, this is the ultimate
insult to teachers, since it is telling them what and how to teach.
The what to teach is easy to see, especially in a field such as science (or in
literature), wherein there exist bodies of knowledge or canon that can be identified
and transferred; then tests can be administered to be sure the transfer was
accomplished. In this scenario, the how to teach is also dictated: rote memorization
will be mandated. However, it is a well understood fact that our school system already
favors the high IQ, low creativity student who is excellent at rote memorization; thus,
nothing will change from what we have now. The system and society will still lose the
high creativity students. The students who make it all the way through the system will
not know how to apply the knowledge they havethe knowledge or ideas are taught,
but how to use it cannot be taught: how to use it must be learned.
Actually, these two ideas, that rote learning is no learning and that schools
should foster creativity, are not new. Einstein wrote the following in 1940 about his
secondary school, the Lutipold Gymnasium in Munich, Germany, and his education
there, ending in about 1895:
When I was in the seventh grade at the Lutipold Gymnasium [and
thus about fifteen] I was summoned by my home-room teacher
[Einsteins teacher of Greek, who had prophesied that Einstein
would never amount to anything] who expressed the wish that I
leave the school. To my remark that I had done nothing amiss he
replied only your mere presence spoils the respect of the class for
me.
I myself, to be sure, wanted to leave school and follow my
parents to Italy. But the main reason for me was the dull,
mechanized method of teaching. Because of my poor memory for
words, this presented me with great difficulties that it seemed
senseless for me to overcome. I preferred, therefore, to endure all
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sorts of punishments rather than learn to gabble by rote (Hoffmann,
p. 25).
The current-traditional pedagogy, well described by Einstein as a dull,
mechanized method of teaching producing only an ability to gabble by rote, is still, a
century later, commonly in use in the teaching of science, and even many places in the
teaching of writing. Students learn by rote to gabble about grammar and mathematics.
Another failure of the educational system is that it is helping the United States to fall
behind much of the world economically and technically (it certainly is not preventing a
fall), and it is strengthening the polarity between the arts and the sciences.
In looking at the development of our views of knowledge and the educational
system, and recognizing that much of these are built on the philosophy of Aristotle, it is
interesting that Aristotle was the son of a physician, and until he entered Platos
academy at about age 17, he was trained as a physician, in the art of dissection as it
was called then. I find this interesting because this analytical model was the model
Aristotle used for general science; today, medicine is evolving away from dissection
or isolation and toward a more holistic method. Likewise, we need to do the same in
science. The sciences could continue to splinter into a thousand areas of specialization,
yet the basics of the scientific method remain the same.
The Process Of Science
Although the competition with the U.S.S.R. to be first on the moon and the
U.S. educational system are not necessarily connected, the U.S. did choose that time to
evaluate its educational system, which began a movement in the teaching of writing that
continues today. In Teaching the Universe of Discourse, which was first published in
1968, James Moffett noted that the teaching of both the social and natural sciences has
recently taken a turn toward process, emphasizing less the accumulation of facts than
the ways in which natural and social scientists go about ascertaining facts (p. 213). In
1968, it seemed to Moffett that science teaching was moving in the same direction that
writing teaching has movedperhaps because of a report from the AAAS but of
course it did not. Other major undertakings, such as the Harvard Project, Physics-a
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multi-media approach, produced little change. Most of the physics teachers I had in
college trained during that time, and what I always sensed was that they knew
something was wrong, but could not correct it themselves. They seemed to understand
that many students did not get it. There has been little change in science teaching, as
I show below.
In SFAA, the authors acknowledge what most teachers of science do notthat
science is a process. (I see this idea as being in opposition with the idea that science is
a content subject. Everything is a content subject.) Indeed, the first publication by
the AAAS about science education in the 1960s was entitled, ScienceA Process
Approach. Although this document from the 1960s has not changed much that we can
see in science education, it does provide me with more fuel for my fire as I insist we
think of science and writing as activities, in part because of what they produce: theories
of understanding about the universe; and literature, which may be understanding the
universe or ourselves.
We can consider two examples of process in writing and science. First, lets
look at literatureDarwins Origins. Then lets look at a theory of understanding
linguistics. Both produce works which are studied, as are the methods of writers;
however, the methods of scientists are frequently not discussed. Studying the
mathematical methods of scientists is not a study of their method or process for doing
science. This idea is supported in SFAA:
Science, mathematics, and technology are defined as much by what
they do and how they do it as they are by the results they achieve.
To understand them as ways of thinking and doing, as well as
bodies of knowledge, requires that students have some experience
with the kinds of thought and action that are typical of those fields
(p. 200).
The authors note earlier in the report that the present science textbooks and
methods of instruction, far from helping, often actually impede progress toward science
literacy. They emphasize the learning of answers more than the exploration of
questions, memory at the expense of critical thought, bits and pieces of information
instead of understandings in context, recitation over argument, reading in lieu of
doing"(p. xvi). They demand rote learninga young Einstein would hate being a
student in American schools today.
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Science Teaching: I Discover The Wicked Witch Of The West
What is it that terrifies a science teacher? What represents the Wicked Witch of
the West for a teacher of science? It is the thought that their students will not get the
answer right This corresponds with how much the student learned, and it is believed
to be a reflection on how good a teacher they are. I disagree.
I sat at dinner in San Francisco while attending the 1994 AAAS convention and
eavesdropped on a man in his mid-fifties or so wearing a tweed sport jacket and a tie,
who looked like he could be the chair of a science department; he was with a woman
that could have been his wife. She got up before the server came to get their order, so
he ordered for her. The server was not a native speaker and the scientist tried to
order for both him and his companion. He began by saying simply that there are two
of them, and stated his order, but could not seem to get the message across that he was
ordering for two people. Finally, he re-stated his order, then said times two. At that
point, the servers eyebrows raised, and his eyes closed as he nodded, having finally
understoodbut you could feel the tension. This incident made me aware of how
important it is to many teachers that the students get it, which implies there is a
concrete thing or idea that can be got, like ordering from a menu. This is not a good
concept if students create meaning in science for themselves. I had felt this tension
myself in science classes.
Discussing the frustrations and disenchantment of the writing teacher in the
current-traditional paradigm, Hairston points out that if they teach from the traditional
paradigm, they are frequently emphasizing techniques that the research has largely
discredited (p. 18).
What Is Needed In Teaching Science
Much of what is written in SFAA about how to prepare science teachers and
about the profile of a science teacher is for me an echo of an earlier profile by Donald
Stewart, which also underscores why one should study both writing and science.
Stewart described the modem composition teacher as having outgrown the current-
traditional approach, and as having read and assimilated recent research on invention,
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arrangement, and style; on protocol analysis and problem-solving; on rhetorical
epistemology; on the recursiveness of the composing process; on revision; on writing
anxiety; on the interrelationships between rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, sociology,
and other fields (Stewart, p. 20).
When I first read this, I wrote a parallel statement describing what is needed
when teaching science: recognize that invention and creativity are a part of problem-
solving (an activity), more than rote imitation; that the objective epistemology does not
apply to higher-level scientific studies and so may not be the correct epistemology for
teaching science; that a recursive approach to solving problems may benefit students
more than simply grading then forgetting assignments; that science-anxiety can be dealt
with rationally; that there are interrelationships not only between science and math, but
also between science and rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, sociology, and other fields.
It was encouraging to find a similar description in SFAA.
It Is More Than Just Science Teaching
I would like to place this what is wrong with science teaching in the context
of how it may adversely affect science and even intellectualism in general in hopes of
making the point that we do not have to change how children are taught science, then
wait 20-50 years for that to impact our culture. Technical writing in the personal
computer industry is a good example first of how people can be grandfathered into
technology, and second of how we can move ahead on the assumption that if we say it
well, anyone can learn this. There is quite a bit of research on the topic of students
going in and out of the sciences in high school and college. But then, if this is a
paradigm, I must also consider what Kuhn and Feynman said, and that is basically,
you have to wait for the old ideas or paradigms to die along with the old scientists.
Get On Board
The final chapter of SFAA, entitled Next Steps, attempts to focus education
reformers on what should be done next, stating that it attempts to contribute
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substantially to educational reform by serving as a starting point for two sets of critical,
reform-oriented actions. It goes on to state that the report should be used as the
conceptual basis for recommendations for change in all parts of the educational system
(p. 219). Having taught writing as a graduate teaching assistant for three years, my
eyebrows elevated upon hearing this last statement The teaching methods SFAA
endorse have been used with remarkable success in writing courses for at least a decade
and a half, in K-12 and university writing classes. I doubt that SFAA is deliberately
overlooking the successes in the teaching of writing. Frankly, the writing community
is rather small (and certainly poor in funding and policy-making clout) in comparison
with the scientific community, especially when one considers the political, industrial,
and funding impact of the AAAS. I believe a great deal can be learned from the success
of the teaching of writing paradigm, principally because the processes of writing and
science are the same.
In a presentation at the 1994 AAAS convention, Rutherford wrapped up several
presentations describing SFAA and Benchmarks saying, We are really re-designing all
learning with scientific method as a base. I agree with this notion, but I do not really
see these publications as being that comprehensive. SFAA is not complete for my
purposes because it does not advocate what Plato and Huxley encouragestudy of
both science and the humanities. SFAA does, however, encourage scientific education
for all college students, saying that is the pool from which teachers are drawn, and
acknowledging that is the best way to reform K-12 education. In the reports final
chapter, one of several recommendations is this:
The presidents of all colleges and universities establish scientific
literacy as an institution-wide priority; and direct their institutions to
reshape undergraduate requirements as necessary to ensure that all
graduates (from whom, after all, tomorrows teachers will be
drawn) leave with an understanding of science, mathematics, and
technology that surpasses what this report recommends for all high
school graduates (p. 226).
I think the teaching of scientific understanding is included in a call made by James
Moffett in his 1968 book, Teaching the Universe of Discourse, in which he states,
What is common to all subjects should be the unifying force of schools, and what is
common is precisely the human capacity to symbolize first- and secondhand experience
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into an inner world to match against and deal with the outer world (p. 215). I think
Moffett is talking about the same sense as Platos inner integrity of all our powers and
capacities. Although he is discussing writing education, Moffett seems to anticipate my
thinking, saying:
Content coverage, in short, simply cannot be allowed to remain the
educational issue it has been. Actually, in playing the range of the
discursive spectrum, in some such way as I have tried to envision in
A Student-Centered, Language Arts Curriculum, Grades K-13, the
learner will become well acquainted with literary, scientific, and
utilitarian sub-discourses, in relation to each other, and necessarily
cover a lot of content anyway even though this content is not
segregated into subjects (Moffett, p. 215).
I might take a more general interpretation than Moffett was perhaps intending as we did
with Kuhnalthough I am not so sure. As Moffett cautions, we should attempt less to
specify content, which many people will interpret SFAA as doing, and which I discuss
more in chapter 6. What students need in order to learn is primarily how to think, not
what to think. The how to think can then be used in all of the areas of study. The
SFAA identifies this as habits of mind, a combination of values, attitudes, and skills.
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CHAPTER 5
THE CRISIS IN WRITING EDUCATION: FAILURES AND SUCCESSES
You have noticed that the truth comes into this
world with two faces. One is sad with suffering,
and the other laughs; but it is the same face,
laughing or weeping. When people are already in
despair, maybe the laughing face is better for
them; and when they feel too good and are too
sure of being safe, maybe the weeping face is
better for them so see.
Black Elk
(Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks, p. 188)
In chapter 11 discussed and described two of the major paradigms for teaching
writing, the current-traditional and the process-centered paradigms. I noted that a
teaching paradigm is connected to current theories in philosophy by current
epistemological beliefs. In his survey of college writing teaching practices, James
Berlin points out that because societies are constantly changing it is common to find
more than one rhetoric at any single momenta simple result of there commonly being
more than one epistemology competing for attention at any given time (p. 4). While
reviewing the crisis in science education in chapter 4,1 discussed how one of the
teaching paradigmsin this case the current-traditional paradigmcan become
institutionalized. This chapter looks at how the paradigm shift in the teaching of
writing evolved. Many theorists and practitioners in teaching writing contributed to a
growing awareness of the problems in teaching writing, and to the still-changing
paradigm. Some have been introduced earlier in this essay and others are discussed in
this chapter, and a few have not been mentioned only because of limited space and
scope.
The so-called scientific approach to writing was carried over into the teaching of
both writing and science; it wasnt long, however, before some people began
questioning whether or not this teaching method and the expectations were getting the
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desired results. Whereas in 1894 the Committee of Ten established recommendations
that have changed little regarding what students need to study in high school to prepare
them to study science in college, the nature of writing instruction in some classrooms
has dramatically changed over the last century reflecting two changes in our culture:
One is changing philosophies and corresponding epistemologies; the second is due to a
change in the students preparation for college study.
Changing Epistemologies
James Berlins book looks at rhetorical theories in college teachingalthough
these trickle down to elementary and secondary education tooduring 20 year periods
beginning in 1900, demonstrating that rhetoric has always had alternative teaching
theories. As philosophies and epistemologies in our culture changed, writing also had
to change because every rhetorical system is based on epistemological assumptions
about the nature of reality, the nature of the knower, and the rules governing the
discovery and communication of the known (p. 4),
Berlin looks at changes in three epistemological categories, the objective, the
subjective, and the transactional, all of which he finds in various forms at all of the
periods of the century. The current-traditional rhetoric, based in the objective
epistemology, has been the dominant practice governing pedagogy, a compelling
paradigm for the majority of English teachers, making it impossible for them to
conceive of the discipline in any other way (p. 9). Especially in the 1950s and 1960s
it became apparent the theory was not consistent with current epistemologies, so there
was pressure to change the teaching practices. During those time periods, there was an
emphasis, resulting from an existentialist philosophy, on each person taking
responsibility for themselves and for their perceptions of the universe or life, and that
their own conception of reality was valid. Ironically, science may have helped validate
this feeling in students who saw religious views of the nature of reality challenged by
views constructed through the scientific method. Views previously presented
dogmatically as the only valid ones were challenged and replaced by views that
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admittedly can change. The irony is in that then science and writing were taught in a
dogmatic, current-traditional model.
I believe that a lot of pressure to change the teaching paradigm came from the
students, once they were empowered with the notion that what they think and feel is
valid and began to ask questions such as, Why am I learning this? when what they
are learning does not correspond with what they believe about the nature of reality, how
they learn about it, or when the students question the authority of teachers to teach in a
particular way. We all know that, for the most part, children (and adults) avoid doing
things that they do not like or are uncomfortable with, which is how students felt about
their writing classes. Although all three epistemologies existed all through the century,
the one emphasized is what changed, the one most consistent with how students and
teachers felt Students essentially voted against writing classes and writing by not
caring enough about what was being taught to do it well, or to even take the classes,
which then caused observers to ask why students could not write well. Another aspect
was that expectations began to change with the culture or dominant philosophy and it
became important to be able to express oneself. Still another aspect of empowered
individuals is the expectation that they can get more education, which changed how
prepared the students were for college study.
Changing-Student Demographics
Berlin points out that in the mid-nineteenth century, writing instruction was an
integral part of the British and American college systems at a time when only the well-
endowed and the well-prepared were in attendance, for whom remedial writing
instruction was not considered necessary (p. 2). However, following World War II
and the wars in Korea and Vietnam, many people began enrolling in colleges who had
not been well prepared by their high schools, and because writing is an essential aspect
of a college education, writing departments had to adjust by providing more writing
instruction. Berlin says that as these students encounter new ideas and new ways of
thinking at college, the rhetorical training they bring with them inevitably proves
regardless of their intelligence or trainingunequal to the task of dealing with their new
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intellectual experience (p. 3). These circumstances also brought pressure to change
writing instruction.
One might ask why there would be any more pressure on teachers of writing as
a group to find effective ways of helping students learn than there has been on science
teachers. Berlin points out that there has been a lot of pressure on writing departments
for the last 150 years to train writers to be competentnot just those for whom writing
seemed to come easier or those who had a special interest in writing, but for everyone
in the university. Science departments might not have had this same type of
accountability. We saw in the last chapter that there was pressure on science teaching
to change all through this century too, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, but perhaps
because of the many successes in science and technology, science teaching theorists
and administrators did not feel the need to respond to the pressure to change.
One example of some formal questioning of the teaching method in writing is
Mina Shaughnessy, quoted in chapter 1, who was teaching at City University of New
York about 1970 when admissions were opened to all high school graduates. This
brought in to the writing classes a flood of students who were completely unprepared
for writing at the college level. Shaughnessy wrote her book, Errors and Expectations:
A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing, to describe how she and her colleagues
learned to teach these students, even though at first they felt there was no hope. She
came to the conclusion that If these students had come through schools in which
writing had been taught with standard textbooks and standard methods, then one had to
conclude that the method and the textbooks did not work (Hairston, p. 21). Through
the years, as Maxine Hairston discussed in her essay, many things were learned about
how to teach writing, which included a resurgence of interest in classical rhetoric that
led to a view that writing can not be separated from its context, that audience and
intention should affect every stage of the creative process (p. 22). Overall, the
changes in student demographics or preparedness helped to force the change in teaching
writing, but implicit in the change is a respect for the student and policies that the
United States has championed since its beginning that education is for everyone. These
successes have helped the community of writing teachers to view themselves with
greater respect. As part of this review of the changing writing paradigm, I look next at
the change in status of rhetoric.
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The Renaissance Of Rhetoric
Effective writing instruction has been a priority for over 150 years in American
schools in part because of goals to have a literate population, with literacy defined in
terms of reading and writing skills. A step beyond that motivation is the importance
writing or rhetoric has always held in higher education, as Berlin observes:
Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian, and Augustine all considered rhetoric
to be the center of learning and were themselves specialists in the
teaching of rhetoric...[and] rhetoric has continually been an essential
feature of college training. In the nineteenth century, for example,
instruction in speaking and writing was a principal feature of the
college curriculum in America... (p. 2).
We have seen this level of respect for rhetoric change somewhat over the last two or
three decades. Many people viewed the humanities as extravagant or non-essential,
unlike technical or scientific or business training; in many ways the pendulum has
begun to swing back again, with writing seen as a basis for effective communication
and writing classes being a requirement for graduation from most universities in the
country. This renewed respect for rhetoric helps to support my theory that rhetoric and
science are equally important activities in a literate individual.
Berlin views the period of 1960-1975 as the Renaissance of Rhetoric,
pointing to the 1957 flight of Sputnik as the catalyst for educational review, especially
in the sciences. But, he notes, in 1964 for the first time ever in American history,
federal funds were invested in the teaching of literature and composition (p. 120).
He thinks of this period as the Renaissance period because, the research ideal again
proved to be the dominant influence in higher education (p. 120). There was at that
time research conducted to illuminate that students could not write well, and how they
fare once they get to college, much like the studies in the previous chapter about
science teaching over the last decade. Because, as Maxine Hairston says, the paradigm
shift already is underway, I have not included those statistics here. And because we are
in the paradigm shift, the current-traditional pedagogy, well described by Einstein as a
dull, mechanized method of teaching, producing only an ability to gabble by rote,
is still commonly in use in many writing classrooms, but the shift is toward a student-
centered process, with emphasis on process rather than product.
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The Student-Centered Process In Writing
The community of composition teachers has over the last two decades
successfully demonstrated how student-centered theories of teaching, and more recently
critical thinking theories, can be implemented in the writing classroom, and has shown
that writing (and language in general) is a fundamental learning tool. The writing
community has moved this understanding out of the composition classroom and turned
it into numerous, successful, long-running writing across the curriculum programs that
help students learn in disciplines other than composition; they are successful to the
point that many composition teachers no longer need to team teach with instructors in
other departments, but need only to act as consultants to other departments.
The student-centered and process approaches to teaching writing are not based
on an objective epistemology, but are based on either subjective or transactional
epistemologies, especially transactional ones. I see a natural evolution in the writing
paradigm, applying it to other fields of study. This is being done in some classrooms
today following a method called constructivism.
The Constructivist Classroom
Jacqueline Brooks and Martin Brooks, in their book, The Case for
Constructivist Classrooms, describe a recent model called constructivism, and provide
examples of how it can be applied in the classroom. They explain that it is not a
theory about teaching. Its a theory about learning (p. vii). I find it is practicing many
of the same principles that I have been deriving for teaching science in a way similar to
writing, on principles used successfully in the process-centered approach to teaching
writing over the last two decades. Brooks and Brooks describe the logical foundation
for the theory here:
Drawing on a synthesis of current work in cognitive psychology,
philosophy, and anthropology, the theory defines knowledge as
temporary, developmental, socially and culturally mediated, and
thus, non-objective (p. vii).
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In particular I like what they call honoring the learning process, which I have called
honoring students questions because this is when, I have observed, students first get
feedback whether they and their questions are valuable or useful; we have seen that the
negative feedback results in feelings of pain or guiltthe beginning of the end of
learning for students. In the constructivist classroom, students interact with their
teachers and are encouraged to search for their own understandings, which is also
consistent with Frank Smiths ideas about comprehending. Some aspects of
constructivist teaching is based in a subjective epistemology, although most of it based
in a transactional epistemology, following an epistemic rhetoric. Generally, it follows
the learning and developmental theories of Piaget.
Brooks and Brooks criticize traditional learning for being based on mimetic
activities, which we have called rote learning. They say that in their work with
teachers, the teachers see constructivism as the way theyve always known people
learn (p. 101). Brooks and Brooks also provide 12 descriptors of the constructivist
classroom, listed below, that are consistent with Maxine Hairstons list of twelve
principle features of the new writing paradigm (written in 1982):
1. Constructivist teachers encourage and accept student autonomy and initiative.
2. Constructivist teachers use raw data and primary sources, along with
manipulative, interactive, and physical materials.
3. When framing tasks, constructivist teachers use cognitive terminology such as
classify, analyze, predict, and create.
4. Constructivist teachers allow student responses to drive lessons, shift
instructional strategies, and alter content.
5. Constructivist teachers inquire about students understandings of concepts
before sharing their own understandings of those concepts.
6. Constructivist teachers encourage students to engage in dialogue, both with the
teacher and with one another.
7. Constructivist teachers encourage student inquiry by asking thoughtful, open-
ended questions and encouraging students to ask questions of each other.
8. Constructivist teachers seek elaboration of students initial responses.
9. Constructivist teachers engage students in experiences that might engender
contradictions to their initial hypotheses and then encourage discussion.
10. Constructivist teachers allow wait time after posing questions.
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11. Constructivist teachers provide time for students to construct relationships and
create metaphors.
12. Constructivist teachers nurture students natural curiosity through frequent use
of the learning cycle model (pp. 103-118).
The descriptors encourage listening to student feedback and adjusting the
classroom to the responses. To their credit, Brooks and Brooks attempt to fit the
descriptors with how most K-12 schools are currently structured, with curriculum
being largely decided by someone outside the school and teachers and students working
with this curriculum.
The Next Phase
There will, of course, be patterns or orders
wherever one lookssome trivial, some not; and
it is the special genius (or curse) of logicians and
mathematicians to discern these patterns wherever
they happen to be found (Frames, p 168).
Howard Gardner
The constructivist practices are a positive step toward learner-centered
classrooms in all disciplines, as we have been practicing in writing classrooms. The
next step, I believe, is for greater responsibility and flexibility for the teacher. I am
encouraging a change in college classrooms for several reasons. Since college
classrooms are where teachers get their training (most instructors imitate their best
teachers) and re-training, this is where a change can most realistically begin.
Moreover, college teachers already have the responsibility and flexibilitythe
autonomyto put such new principles into practice. They do not have to follow
prescribed curriculum on a daily basis; supervisors are more concerned with results
than method. With success in the college classroom, there would be pressure to change
K-12 learning practices too.
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CHAPTER 6
SCIENCE AND WRITING AS LITERACY ACTIVITIES
We cannot know all the best thoughts and
sayings of the Greeks unless we know what they
thought about natural phenomena. We cannot
fully apprehend their criticism of life unless we
understand the extent to which that criticism was
affected by scientific conceptions.
Huxley (p. 139).
Writing early in the seventeenth century, Francis Bacon had a profound impact
on how we know things, on the scientific method. Because of his belief that traditional
teaching focused on memorizing ancient texts (as at Cambridge and Oxford) was
harmful and distracting to the mind, and because he believed Knowledge is power,
he developed a new method for assembling and explaining facts (Stumpf, p. 228).
Bacon was impressed by Galileos construction and use of telescopes, which included
shaping and polishing lenses. Similarly, he thought traditional teaching had left the
mind rough and uneven and hoped to make the minds surface clean and smooth and
to supply it with new and adequate instruments so that it could observe and understand
the universe accurately (Stumpf, p. 228).
At the risk of sounding as though I am writing in the time period that I actually
am, I am thinking of the untrained mind as a sort of wilderness area. A wilderness is,
according to Websters, empty or pathless, and uncultivated, but also is a part of a
garden devoted to wild growth. As Americans, our pattern has been to perceive
something empty and pathlessthe wildernessas crying for us to impose order upon
itbulldoze roads, slash forests, and drive the native inhabitants away to be replaced
by domesticated inhabitants. As we have discussed, Plato saw philosophyor
educationas the continuous and passionate exercise of the mind [by which] men
could relate themselves to the world and also achieve an inner integrity of all then-
powers and capacities (Stumpf, p. 50). The idea of relating ourselves to the world
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as Plato entreatsas opposed to conquering it is important in my perception; thus,
teachers need to be guides in the wilderness that is the mind, not only helping students
find their way through, but also showing them all of the comers and hidden caves and
traps, giving students the knowledge and resourcefulness to be their own guides.
Tandem ideas in this conception of the mind are the notion that a part of our
fertile mind be deliberately set aside and left as wilderness, and the concept of an inner
integrity of all our powers and capacities. The wilderness set aside is the fertile ground
we call creativity. To achieve the inner integrity, teachers must be more like coaches,
teaching students how to succeed with their individual and team skills within a strict
framework of rules, sometimes with opposition; the role of the teacher is as guide or
coach, not imparter of knowledgemore of the responsibility for learning must be
given to the student The goal is to make students at least confident that they can write
a difficult letter, program a VCR, learn to cook, understand the complexities of social
and physical interactions. Chapter 7 further explores and clarifies these ideas,
providing examples of how we might teach science.
This chapter continues with ideas presented earlier in this thesis that science and
writing are two aspects of literacy, keeping in mind the failure of the current science
teaching paradigm to capitalize on students innate curiosities in order to build an
understanding of the activity of science and how it relates to them. I have argued that
activities, such as science and writing, combine with knowledge to form the basis of
literacy. This chapter takes a brief look at learning theory and intelligence,
demonstrating that science and writing utilize similar brain and learning functions and
mental processes.
Rhetoric and science require the same capabilities in the brain and mind because
they are the same process, and intelligence theory does not dispute this. Consequently,
there is no basis for the notion that science and rhetoric are fundamentally different, or
that people who pursue one or the other are fundamentally different from one another.
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How Can We Use The Teaching Of Writing Paradigm In Science?
The oldest definitions of written literacy were as simple as, Can you sign your
name? Illiterate people marked X and literate people wrote other letters. Later, even
today, literacy is often defined in terms as simple as, Can you read and write? Other
definitions are put forth by people such as E.D. Hirsch who proposes a cultural
literacy in his book, where what we need to know are a lot of facts and history that
constitute a common knowledge. But, I think that the person who can read and
writewho can send and receiveeffectively is actually better off. I add to this
scientific literacy, as a process, not as lots of facts. If a definition of literacy, or being
educated, includes an ability to continue to learnwhich it mustthen an educated
person must be able to look at information and decide how to understand, then apply it.
A person must be a critical thinker. And, an educated person must be able at some
point to educate himself or herselfthis too must be a definition of educated or
literate. Educating oneself requires methods; I have been encouraging heuristic
techniques.
I see a parallel in the crises in teaching writing and teaching science in the
demand for heuristic techniques. A heuristic, says Websters, is an adjective that
means to serve as an aid to learning, discovery, or problem-solving by experimental
and especially trial-and-error methods.. .that utilize self-educating techniques. A
couple of decades ago, writing began to be viewed as a tool in the learning process.
This same attitude should be shared with the process of science: learning science is not
the goal; rather, the goal is to use science as a method for learning. Thus, each student
is armed with two methods for continuing self-education that are based on logic and
creativity.
I see the learning activities of science and rhetoric as being the methods for
learning in all the disciplines, in part because these techniques utilize the various
capabilities of the human brain. Intelligence theory demonstrates that there are six
different kinds of intelligence, but creativity is not one of them. The next section
discusses how current theory about our brains fits with teaching science and rhetoric.
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Reconciling Writing And Science And Our Brains
I am moving ahead with certain beliefs as building blocks: One is contrary to
the brain as split for different intellectual activities and of hemispherical dominance;
instead I am assuming a whole-brain capability and aptitude. Another is that science
and writing are similar in that each is a process. Most writing theorists define writing
as a process; and, the American Association for the Advancement of Science also views
science as a process in SFAA. That part is easy to illustrate; what is more difficult is
that I believe science and writing are the same intellectual process. William Zeiger
helps to tie these ideas together in his discussion of demonstration:
Demonstration, or exposition, expresses the sequential activity of
the left brain; exploration, or inquiry, expresses the holistic activity
of the right brain. In a Theory of Discourse: The Aims of
Discourse, James Kinneavy treats these two processes as equal
partners. Exploratory discourse, he says, fundamentally asks a
question and suggests a tentative answer, while expository
discourse asserts an answer and supplies proof; together,
exploration and exposition compose the two complementary stages
of scientific method. Inquiry is logically prior to exposition.
Exploration leads to a testable hypothesis which scientific proof
then demonstrates as tenable or not (Zeiger, p. 457).
Evidence illustrates that in processing, there are many connections between the halves
of the brain; indeed, Kinneavy claims both halves are connected and needed for the
scientific method (Zeiger, p. 458). Also, if one half should become dysfunctional
following physical trauma, the other half actually assumes processing previously
performed in the damaged half of the brain. Problems learning may be better explained
in the language of cognitive psychology than by an arbitrarily labeled aptitude
deficiency. In fact, some psychological studies have shown that the key ingredient in
adolescent students reaching their potential is teacher (or parental) expectations,
which is the reverse of, you are not good at... (Jacobsen & Rosenthal, 1982).12
Thus, there is little support for the idea of exclusive aptitudes in normal minds, and
12Seifert, Kevin L. & Robert J. Huffnung. Child and Adolescent Development, p. 497.
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good evidence in favor of reinforcing students and maintaining high expectations of
them.
A more recent theory stemming from psychological studies of the brain looks
beyond the hemispherical characteristics of the brain and has the physical brains
capabilities divided into six intelligences. Howard Gardner developed this theory in his
book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, first published in 1983
and re-published in 1993, and has looked at practical applications of the theory in his
book, Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice, published in 1993. Gardner
delineates six intelligences each of us possesses to greater or lesser degree, which are
listed here:
Linguistic Intelligence
Musical Intelligence
Logical-Mathematical Intelligence
Spatial Intelligence
Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence
The Personal Intelligences
At first glance this theory could seem to be an expanded version of the aptitudes notion,
especially with regard to musical intelligence, linguistic intelligence, and logical-
mathematical intelligence. The above list would seem to reinforce the splintering of
disciplines along well-defined lines, according to aptitude: Writers or literary scholars
would have high linguistic intelligence; musicians would have high musical intelligence;
scientists, engineers, and mathematicians would have high logical-mathematical
intelligence; architects and artists would have high spatial intelligence; gymnasts would
have high bodily-kinesthetic intelligence; well-adjusted people or psychologists might
have high personal intelligence. But this is not what Gardner says at all.
Rather than discouraging my notion that the processes of writing and science
are similar, Gardner says that linguistic intelligence and writing are not tied, nor is
science strictly tied to logical-mathematical intelligence. I interpret his findings to say
that both writing and science cross overa point Gardner does not makeand that
rhetoric and science are not related to specific intelligences and are similar activities.
According to Gardner, all of the intelligences are related to others, and many activities
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demand more than one. Gardner does talk about exceptions, and so I ask why we see
exceptions that we so often define as prodigies in areas such as music, or chess, or
athletics, but never in science or writing? Occasionally we discover a prodigy in
mathematics or language (or a programming language), but they do not seem to develop
into great scientists or writers as do those in music or chess or athletics. The
exceptional people in science and writing all seem to have a high degree of integrity of
the intelligences, of the capabilitiesas Plato said long ago.
Writing And Linguistic Intelligence
As may be true for all of the intelligences, Gardner says that language is as
often as not a toola means for accomplishing ones businessrather than the central
focus of attention, noting further that,
scientists certainly rely on language for communicating their
findings to others. Moreover, as I have noted, break-throughs in
science are often presented in terms of revealing figures of speech or
through well-organized essays. Still, the focus here falls not on the
language per se but rather on the communication of ideas
that.. .ultimately, may be quite adequately expressed in pictures,
diagrams, equations, or other symbols (Frames, p. 96).
Much of this sounds like a description of technical communication. Gardner explains
that linguistic intelligence is not about only language, written or oral, with the possible
exception of the poet, whose role is to stretch the language (Frames, p. 97). He also
notes that reading is not tied to forms of spatial intelligence, as we might expect, but is
tied to linguistic intelligence, and that language does not appear to be related to any
auditory-oral form of intelligence, since deaf individuals can acquire natural
languageand also devise or master gestural systems (Frames, p. 98). Moreover, he
says that linguistic intelligence seems more closely related to musical intelligence
(Frames, p. 98).
What they share is an existence that is not closely tied to the world
of physical objects (in contrast to spatial and logical-mathematical
forms of intelligence), and an essence that is equally remote from the
world of other persons (as manifest in various forms of personal
intelligence) (Frames, p. 98).
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Thus the writer utilizes a dynamic relationship between logical-mathematical intelligence
and linguistic intelligenceand perhaps some elements of musical intelligencebut it
seems the potential of a writer could not be measured in terms of medium or high
intelligence in these areas.
Science And Logical-Mathematical Intelligence
Gardner sees close ties between science and logical-mathematical intelligence,
but does not see it as a limited one, and sees in the continued development of western
science a growth beyond this relationship. Gardner says, It should be apparent from
this chapter that logical-mathematical intelligence has been of singular importance in the
history of the West, and its importance shows no sign of diminishing (Frames, p.
167). But he says this link has been less important in other cultures, and makes the
point often in the book that there are unifying trends among the intelligences,
meaning more and more we use multiple intelligences for tasks.
Gardner also makes the point that logical-mathematical intelligence is just one
among the six (or more) intelligences:
It is far more plausible to think of logical-mathematical skill as one
among a set of intelligencesa skill powerfully equipped to handle
certain kinds of problems, but one in no sense superior to, or in
danger of overwhelming, the others. (Indeed, there are even
different logics with contrasting strengths and limitations.) (Frames,
p. 167).
He also states that linguistic and musical intelligences also use logic, but it may not
always be the same logic as the logical-mathematical intelligence. Gardner even
questions himself, asking if it still makes sense to group all of logic and mathematics
together, as one form of intelligence, and to set it off sharply from other forms?
(Frames, p. 169).
Important to my arguments in this thesis is that Gardner sees the intelligences
and how we utilize them as evolving and different in different cultures, and that they
might be utilized in different ways that has been the case:
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As science and mathematics continue to expand, there is every
reason to think that even stronger and more extensive bonds will be
established with other intellectual domains.... At present, I remain
persuaded that the line of development described by Piaget, which
begins with an intuition of number and an appreciation of simple
cause and effect, can be traced through to the highest reaches of
contemporary logic, mathematics, and science {Frames, p. 168).
Recall that Gasset said Newton needed little philosophy, but Einstein, who took science
that next step, immersed himself in Kant and Mach, utilizing more than just his very
large logical-mathematical abilities.
Higher Order Thinking
If man has succeeded in dominating the natural
forces within him and around him, and in giving
both to himself and to his environment a unique
character, the character of being a self-made
inhabitant of a world called civilization which he
has made for himself to live in, the original
nature both of himself and of his surroundings
serving only as the raw material of his craft; if
man has done this, it is because in addition to
low-grade thinking he is capable of high-grade or
scientific thinking (p. 36)
R.G. Collingwood
One of the indicators of literacy, or of self-educating, is higher order thinking.
At dinner once when my daughter Melanie was six years old, she was trying to
formulate some questions, and asked me, How come were here doing stuff? I mean,
when you die as a person, do you live forever as the same person? I like what this
question represents, because rather than thinking about the problem as a philosopher
mightthat is, asking a question such as, Is there a meaning to life?Melanie is
turning such a question inside out, asking from the perspective of someone discovering
that many people have a belief in heaven. After a few questions of clarification, I
realized that she was asking, If there is a heaven, why is there an earth? This type of
probing question seems to me to represent higher-order thinking.
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Just what is higher order thinking and does scientific thinking represent this?
By way of illustration, think about the beginning of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey,
where the primitive ancestors pick up a bone and use it as a weapon to gain superiority.
This was no doubt an early use of tools, which is what much of science and technology
concerns itself with. However, it was much laterperhaps a week or morebefore
our primitive ancestors began to contemplate that, like the animal that left the bone, they
too would die, were mortals, and began to wonder about where they came from, and if
there is a god. These are higher order thoughts, which are not in the domain of
technology or engineering, or even much of science, but rather are in the domain of
physics, chemistry, biology, philosophy, poetry, and theology.
Creativity
As I stated earlier, creativity is a crucial aspect of learning, and especially of
creating new understandings; recall that Popper could not account for creativity in his
philosophy of science. In Frames of Mind, Gardner discusses that he could not
delineate a creative intelligence, and that it seems to transcend the basic intelligences. In
a similar way, Einstein speaks of intuition, saying there is no logical path to highly
universal laws. They can only be reached by intuition, based upon something like an
intellectual love of the objects of experience (p. 32). These are where higher order
thinking makes leaps that sometimes later can be explained with logical proofwhich
we could then call a scientific understandingor a logical treatisewhich we could
then call a rhetorical understanding.
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CHAPTER 7
GUIDELINES FOR A NEW SCIENCE TEACHING PEDAGOGY
I want to oppose the idea that the school has to
teach directly that special knowledge and those
accomplishments which one has to use later
directly in life. The demands in life are much too
manifold to let such a specialized training in
school appear possible.
Albert Einstein
William Stafford says of the process of writing, A writer is not so much
someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will
bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.
That is, he does not draw on a reservoir, instead, he engages in an activity that brings to
him a whole succession of unforeseen stories, poems, essays, plays, laws,
philosophies, religions... (Stafford, p. 17); Stafford ends the list here; I would add
or sciences. Stafford is describing serendipitythe faculty of finding valuable or
agreeable things not sought for.13 Staffords quote is especially true for scientists
because we are not trying to re-state anything as are other subjects, but are always
moving ahead in the process and reviewing what we said earlier on, when necessary.
Regarding the process, no less a scientist than the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
recipient, Thomas Cech, from CU in Boulder, attributes at least part of his success to
serendipity: People arent smart enough to know what will be of great import. They
sort of stumble on it.... There was a pretty heavy dose of serendipity in all of this.14
All of this being the Cech teams discovery that RNA, in addition to carrying coded
genetic information, can trigger the formation of new life.
^Websters Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.
14Cech credits Nobel win to serendipity, The Denver Post.
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In chapter 4,1 quoted James Moffett, who cautioned that we should not attempt
to specify content in writing, a guideline which I have also applied to learning science.
If the arguments made thus far in this essay about science and rhetoric being innate
aspects by which we pursue our natural curiosities are an accurate way of
understanding learning, then we can assume that the students natural, varied interests
are by definition going to cover most areas of study. With some guidance from
teachers, students can easily cover all the important topics that SFAA outlines. What
students need in order to learn is primarily how to think, not what to think.
Keeping in mind the appreciation I have been encouragingthe perspectiveof
the nature of science and rhetoric, I can describe the necessary environmentor
conditionsfor learning and some of the interactions that take place. I first discuss
some guidelines. In forming a method for teaching science, I tried to keep in mind all
of my own experiences and the fact that there are many different ways of learning, but
to bear in mind what Frank Smith said: It is what we know that makes our
experiences meaningful (p. 12), so learning must begin with what the student knows
already.
I use Frank Smith as a reference for much of these guidelines even though he
was writing about children. I have found, unless the attitudes have been spoiled, that
these are still true for adults on the college level, too. For clarity, I have divided this
section into perspectives, the teachers and the students, then attempted to define two
simple guidelines for the pedagogy, the KISS guideline and the honoring questions
guideline, ending with more illustrations.
A Basis For A New Pedagogy
I see a portfolio, something like the portfolios in writing or art, as fundamental
for this teaching method, that would stay with the students throughout their education,
or if they choose, for their career. The portfolio will provide teachers with a long-term
measure of student progress and the basis for measuring the learning that has taken
place. As the years of doing projects and experiments go by, it would also help
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teachers to see areas of science or understanding that have been overlooked for a
particular student.
I think that there is a finite number of problems or concepts in science that are
repeatedly practiced in the Problems sections of textbooks. For students with a
particular interest, paleontology or psychology for instance, they could continue to
work on the primary problems in the sciences throughout their studies through that one
field, doing self-directed work on these problems and keeping results in the portfolio.
Then, this portfolio could grow and mature even after college in their field.
From The Teacher's Perspective
The teacher in this science classroom would spend a lot of interactive class time
helping students to see how much they know about a wide variety of topics, helping to
empower students. Rather than being information segregators-just like our systems
of separate disciplinesteachers would be integrators. When thinking about problems,
teachers would try to fit it into what they and the students know, try to think about
problems from different aspects.
Through my process of writing previous papers, I have distilled some key
concepts that must become a fundamental part of the pedagogy for teaching science
(and writing) that have become my own list describing the classroom:
Curiosity. Curiosity is what drives the student to learn, and learning cannot
take place without it. Teachers must respect student questions.
Imagination. Imagination is what enables the student to create his or her
own understanding of a problem, and to reach into his or her own intuitive
understanding of physical reality to pose or frame their own questions and
problems.
Genuine problems. Genuine problems are the ones the students find
themselves and can relate to, that they will integrate into themselves and how
they think about later (and previous) problems.
Freedom. Freedom means the students are free to find their own questions
and problems to solve.
Responsibility. Responsibility means that students are responsible for their
own honesty and integrity in their work and in finding problems.
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Expectations. Expectations are what teachers have regarding the ability that
students have (thought they might not believe it themselves at first) that
students can and do learn.
Iteration. Iteration means an understanding by the teacher and student that
comprehension often comes in small steps, and so similar problems and
solutions will appear and reappear.
The Attitude For Teaching
Some attitudes about teaching and learning must be adopted and others
forgotten. First, we have to abandon the notion that literature and science are only
bodies of knowledge. This notion is precisely what turned Einstein off in his early
education. It was his creativity, not his ability to memorize, that ultimately benefited
him and society. We cannot be so smug as to suggest that now there is nothing new to
discover (create), and all that is left is to memorize the mathematical descriptions of the
work of Einstein and others. This was the attitude at the beginning of the century, but
people like Feynman said this is still not the case. It first takes a commitment to the
notion that there is still much to do in science and the arts, and second takes a
commitment to the idea that the advances may not be made in the current paradigm.
Bear in mind what Smith said, that the effort to learn is an effort to
comprehend (p. 8), so learning is an attempt to make sense of the world through our
perceptions, intellect, and emotions. Smith contends that we do not stop learning, we
learn how not to learn through pain or guilt.
Motivation for Learning
Frank Smith offers three aspects of learning from the learners perspective,
mosdy about why students learn.
Smith says, Children attempt to make sense of their environment from the
moment they are bom. There is no reason to try to account for a childs ability to learn,
because a child is a learning device, the most efficient there is. A child who cannot
learn is not a child, he is not human... (p. 243).
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Smith goes on to say, There is no reason to try to account for a childs
motivation to learn. Anything a child cannot understand, cannot make sense of or
cannot predict is stimulus enough for him to learn. What children cannot tolerate is a
situation in which there is nothing to learn, the state of boredom. So motivated is an
infant to learn that he will seek out uncertainty, and ignore the familiar... (p. 243).
Finally, there is no reason to try to account for the reinforcement of a childs
learning. Learning is its own reward, as when a child will talk about things she didnt
even know she learned. A child does not need to be bribed to learn, only to stay in a
situation where learning is impossible. For an organism that feeds on information,
information is reward enough. A child will not stop learning until he learns that trying
to learn may not succeed, until learning causes him pain or guilt A learning device can
learn to shut itself off (p. 244).
From the Learners Perspective: You Are A Scientist!
The most important method of education...
always has consisted of that in which the pupil
was urged to actual performance. This applies as
well to the first attempts at writing of the
primary boy as to the doctors thesis on
graduation from the university, or as to the mere
memorizing of a poem, the writing of a
composition, the inteipretation and translation of
a text, the solving of a mathematical problem or
the practice of physical sport.
Albert Einstein
Throw out preconceptions about what is a scientist and let students know they
are so, in the same way student-writers are treated as writers. One recent summer,
when my daughter Katie who has believed since she was six that she wants to be a
paleontologistwas eight years old she began to take interest in some large dragonflies
in our yard, and asked many questions about them. Later, in the fall, she found the
body of a dragonfly in the yard, about two to three inches long, with perfect wings and
a shell of a body. We talked about the insect as much as I could, and I suggested she
try to make it a science project. She began to study parts of the insect under her small
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microscope, and told me she was pretending to be a scientist I responded that if she
was studying an insect and using a microscope, she is a scientist.
Students, by nature, want to learn, as Frank Smith has said. The school should
be a place, an environment, wherein students can pursue their curiosity, as did Katie in
her study of a dragonfly. The teachers role, then, is to provide the depth and breadth
of the curiosity. For instance, in studying a dragonfly through the course of an
education, Katie could study many scientific concepts: in biology, the general species
and other similar species, the anatomy of the dragonfly, reproductive behavior,
migratory behavior, eating habits, being eaten habits; in physics, there are fundamentals
of flight that can be learned, aerodynamics and fluid dynamics,
There are programs in schools that try to implement similar ideas, where
students focus on an earth worm, for instance. But what is missing from those, and
what is so important about Katies discovery, is that she was not told that she was
going to study dragonflies (or worms), rather she observed the dragonfly in its
environment, became curious, then discovered one that was dead. This was her own
process, rich with luck and serendipity, as the scientific process of the great scientists
has shown itself to be. The ability to observe, then interpret what is observed is a
fundamental requirement of being a scientist (and a writer); the curiosity about what has
been observed is innate and will fuel a students learning.
This construction of a project is what gives most teachers a problemthey do
not have enough general knowledge. So, someone will write a book, which kids
wont read. Again, falling back on the writing paradigm, the teachers of science should
be scientists themselves who have all of these understandings. It may be that it is too
early to have so many scientists in classrooms. In that case, the portion of university
professors time dedicated to community work should go to being a consultant in
classrooms, assisting the teachers not qualified to teach science.
Conditions For Learning: Assumptions
While attending the Annual Meeting of AAAS at San Francisco in February of
1994,1 met the Director of Project 2061, F. James Rutherford. He was of course
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excited about the project, and mentioned that he had worked on the Harvard Project in
the 1960san attempt at science reform following the great influx of government
money and interest after Sputnik; about that project he indicated simply that they had it
all wrong. As quoted earlier in this essay, he also felt the scientific community came
close to meaningful science education reform in the 1970s. In the 1990s, it seems, they
might have it right and there is enough interest in reform, but I believe that the
epistemological problems in science teaching are not solved in SFAA and
Benchmarksthere still is not enough student-directed learning encouraged that
originates in the students curiosity and creates a comprehension of the nature of
scientific problems as well as the dynamic nature of scientific solutions, and ultimately
builds an intellectual confidencea level of literacywhich is not currently even a
goal. If we think Einstein is correct in saying there is no necessary connection between
theory and experiment, then the intellectual confidence that we are understanding nature
accurately is the only way to get to the next level of understanding.
As teachers, we have to recognize that each student creates his or her own
individual understanding, and we are in a process of helping students practice using
tools so they can go and build an understanding. We have to balance on a fine line that
separates telling a student what to think and telling a student how to think in a way
consistent with the discipline, reminding ourselves that according to philosophic and
scientific principles, this how to think can change at any time. In quantum physics,
there is a concept called tunneling in which a subatomic particle, which is supposed
to stay within the confines of some time-space boundaries, goes outside these expected
boundaries. We have to adjust for this behavior that we know exists by understanding
the boundaries where this particle can exist as a probability; thus, we expect it to beit
has the greatest probability of beingwithin a certain area. All the while we know that
the rules by which this little particle exist allow it to tunnel outside the boundaries
where we most expect it to be, which is an unusual but completely natural occurrence
for this particle. If one of our students starts to tunnel, we have to remind ourselves
that the boundary is not a wall, it is a probability. We could think of the learning
dynamic in this way: There are certain boundaries for each disciplines paradigm; if
students stay within those boundaries there is the greatest probability they will
understand it and possibly make a contribution to it, but some of their innocent or
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probing questionstheir intellectual tunnelingcould lead them to an equally good
understanding of a different aspect of the paradigm, or a even whole new paradigm.
Guidelines
As I have discussed, students are not pursuing science degrees and careers, and
indeed do not even study science as preparation for other careers. A significant part of
the problem has been too many teachers are teaching science subjects they do not
understand, and might not even like. Thus, one aspect of the solution is to teach
teachers. They will enjoy teaching and convey the beauty of science. In the teaching of
writing, we do not differentiate ways of learning writing for third graders from college
students. What changes is expectations of what they will do, and how they do itit is
an iterative process in which students continue to polish skills, adding new
understandings about grammar and usage and vocabulary bit by bit. This same
scenario can apply to learning science: We do not have to devise different methods for
college and grade school students; the guidelines in this chapter apply equally well to
young and old students. For instance, if a student uses a particular mathematical
method for solving part of a problem she or he framed, the instructor can point out that
similar methods are used to solve some other problems, and can assign this student to
the task of looking at these other problems to see how a method they already
understand can be applied, thus dramatically expanding the students understanding of
the field of scientific study by building on a concept she or he already understands.
A second, crucial aspect is to honor students questions, and always honor
student thinking. Recognize what Smith says, that many of the learning problems
with which teachers are faced [are] fundamentally language problems (p. 7).
Thirdat the risk of sounding as though I am approaching this problem
backwardsI will outline a couple of things to avoid. Forget the incorrect idea that
literature and science are bodies of knowledgethis is boring. The fields are not static
or stale, but are dynamic and lively. Sometimes teachers think it necessary for them to
be the gatekeepers of a discipline, but they are not; a discipline such as science or
writing is not a club, it is the activity.
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A Simple Solution: Developing The KISS Guideline
I had virtually no experience with children before my first child, Sheila, was
bom. I spent a lot of time with her and as she grew into a toddler, I was left alone with
her frequently. Somewhere along the line I got the idea that I had to entertain her, and
so I began to devise elaborate ways in which to entertain her and encourage her
development Well, this became quite a burden until, in a moment of exhaustion, I
realized that maybe I should act more as her guide than her leader, so, I began letting
her discover ways to entertain herself, and I was there to guide her away from hazards
and answer questions. This worked pretty well. I wanted to also direct her subtly
toward ideas or what I thought were useful activities; then I began to realize that so long
as I was directing her, she was not directing herself, so I returned to the metaphor for
myself of the guide.
In philosophy of science, there is a rule that is invoked whenever two or more
theories are competing for dominance called Ockhams Razor. Essentially it says that if
two theories or models produce the same result, then whichever is simpler prevails for
no reason other than it is simpler. Many of us use a similar, less eloquent guideline in
our lives, which we call KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
I have applied the KISS guideline to the crisis in education, in particular the
crisis in science education. In fact, I think it is partly what drove SFAA. It seems now
to be very obvious, yet I had to look to one side in order to see it:
KISS Guideline:
Students do not like the way in which they are taught science, and
they are not learning itfind a different way.
Recall that the percentage of students who like science plummets from 70 percent in
elementary school to 10 percent in high school to 7 percent in college (I am assuming
the people who get degrees in science would say they like it). We all know that for the
most part, children (and adults) avoid doing things that they do not like. Indeed, I view
the problem with students flocking away from the sciences as a kind of vote or poll the
scientific community continues to ignore; in economics, consumers are understood to
vote with their dollars; in science, students have voted with their feet as they run away
from science classes. We in the scientific community have to get a clueeven though
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