1996; Ogbu, 1995). Research on identity and learning in specific domains builds on the premise that how one learns and what one learns are fundamentally related to the kind of person one wants to become.
Developing an identity that includes excelling in science may be more challenging for some students than others. The culture of science is foreign to many students, both mainstream and nonmainstream, and the challenges of science learning may be greater for students whose cultural traditions are discontinuous with the ways of knowing characteristic of science and school science (Cobern, 1996; Jegede and Okebukola, 1991; Lee, 1999). It is also true, however, that nonmainstream students frequently bring values and practices to the classroom that can be seen as continuous with scientific practices. However, such experiences that could serve as intellectual resources for new learning in science classrooms may not be easily recognized.
The challenge for these students in learning science is “to study a Western scientific way of knowing and at the same time respect and access the ideas, beliefs, and values of non-Western cultures” (Snively and Corsiglia, 2001, p. 24). The ability to make cultural transitions is critically important to nonmainstream students’ academic success. Giroux (1992), among others, has used the notion of border crossing to describe this process. To succeed academically, nonmainstream students must learn to negotiate the boundaries that separate their own cultural environments from the culture of science and school science (Aikenhead, 2001; Jegede and Aikenhead, 1999).
Even within the cultural mainstream, relatively few children’s primary socialization is so science-oriented as to be perfectly continuous with the demands of school science. Thus, border crossing between the culture of science and the culture of the everyday world is demanding for all students in science classes (Driver et al., 1994). At times, students may find themselves caught in conflicts between what is expected of them in science classes and what they experience at home and in their community. If they appear too eager or willing to engage in science inquiry, they may find themselves estranged from their family or peers. If they appear reluctant to participate, they risk marginalization from school and subsequent loss of access to learning opportunities. Although some students may successfully bridge the cultural divide between home and school, others may become alienated and even actively resist learning science.
In order to manage these differences, a child from a marginalized culture may temporarily adopt an identity for science learning experiences (Heath, 1982). Better understanding how children come to integrate science into their existing culture, rather than temporarily adopting an identity, may make it possible to create formal and informal science learning environments that are more accessible and meaningful.