concepts, how can adolescents be deemed to hold an “absolutist” position toward knowledge? Chandler, Hallett, and Sokol (2002) suggest that, although young children are aware of representational diversity, this does not mean that they consider it a necessary or legitimate aspect of knowledge. Instead, they are more likely to believe that there is one right answer and that other interpretations are simply wrong or misinformed.
Chandler, Hallett, and Sokol (2002) propose that young children do not understand that diversity of interpretations is “somehow intrinsic to the knowing process;” that is, that interpretation is an unavoidable aspect of all knowledge. Hence, the criteria for knowledge cannot easily be specified, and all knowing is associated with an unavoidable degree of ambiguity.
Multiple lines of research are relevant to the issue of children’s understanding of the nature of science and how it is constructed. And once again, the relations between the lines of research are complex. Relevant lines of research include the science-specific developmental literature, the epistemic cognition literature focused on understanding of science as a way of knowing, and survey-based data focused on children’s beliefs about the nature of scientific knowledge and how it is constructed. Finally, we consider how science curricula, instructional interventions, and teachers’ notions of science may influence children’s understanding of science as a way of knowing.
It is straightforward to imagine how holding either absolutist or relativist epistemologies could lead to a distorted view of the nature of science. Indeed, research directed more explicitly at young students’ grasp of the nature of scientific knowledge and practice has produced findings with interesting parallels to the more general developmental literature. For example, Carey and Smith (1993) point out that many students do not understand that science is primarily a theory-building enterprise. They may learn about observation, hypotheses, and experiment from their science textbooks, but they rarely understand that theories underlie these activities and are responsible for both the generation and interpretation of both hypotheses and experiments. The commonsense epistemology that young students typically hold is unreflective; to the extent that they think about it at all, children often think of knowledge as stemming directly from sensory experience, even though they do know that some knowledge is inferred rather than observed (Sodian and Wimmer, 1987), and they are even aware that the same object may be interpreted differently by different observers (Taylor, Cartwright, and Bowden, 1991).