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Science, Society, and Education: Summary of Discussion

BARBARA SCHAAL

Washington University


HENRY VAUX

University of California, Berkeley


“Science is feared because it is dangerous.” Science is highly admired, but an overwhelming number of school children think that science may be dangerous for humankind. There is some evidence, however, that science is not feared when it is taught decently.

“Science is feared because it is too difficult.” Many teachers believe that science begins somewhere above them. They do not perceive that it is a continuum, with simple science at the bottom. Ten years ago it was discovered that only three percent of children had science in elementary school.

The mode adopted is usually vertical teaching, but now horizontal teaching is being promoted. Horizontal teaching tends to be inquiry driven as follows:

  • The child asks a question.

  • The teacher does not answer but sends back another question and encourages the child to pose a hypothesis.

  • The children then work on a small-scale experiment.

  • Children are consistently required to express themselves orally to some degree and more so in writing. An important aspect is to teach the children to write clearly.

This type of horizontal teaching has started to spread throughout the world. The horizontal teaching method teaches science at a very simple level, but it teaches the scientific method in a completely valid way. It moves away from the problem created by perceiving science as only “big science,” which is incomprehensible to most people.



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Science, Society, and Education: Summary of Discussion BARBARA SCHAAL Washington Uniersity HENRY VAUX Uniersity of California, Berkeley “S cience is feared because it is dangerous.” Science is highly admired, but an overwhelming number of school children think that science may be dangerous for humankind. There is some evidence, however, that science is not feared when it is taught decently. “Science is feared because it is too difficult.” Many teachers believe that sci- ence begins somewhere above them. They do not perceive that it is a continuum, with simple science at the bottom. Ten years ago it was discovered that only three percent of children had science in elementary school. The mode adopted is usually vertical teaching, but now horizontal teaching is being promoted. Horizontal teaching tends to be inquiry driven as follows: • The child asks a question. • The teacher does not answer but sends back another question and encour- ages the child to pose a hypothesis. • The children then work on a small-scale experiment. • Children are consistently required to express themselves orally to some degree and more so in writing. An important aspect is to teach the children to write clearly. This type of horizontal teaching has started to spread throughout the world. The horizontal teaching method teaches science at a very simple level, but it teaches the scientific method in a completely valid way. It moves away from the problem created by perceiving science as only “big science,” which is incompre- hensible to most people. 2

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 SCIENCE, SOCIETY, AND EDUCATION Conditions for the horizontal teaching method are to provide teachers with resources, to create links between teachers so that they consult with each other, and to create links between teachers and the world of science. The most important element of this method is to train the teachers as the children will be taught. This approach minimizes or eliminates the fear of difficulty. Goals for the future of this program are to have a worldwide citizenry capable of recognizing the fear of science as dangerous and to have a more focused method for addressing teachers’ fears that science is difficult. The discussion following the presentations illuminated the fact that science teaching at the secondary level is inadequate. One participant described a number of the structural barriers that need to be overcome to achieve reform in teaching science at the secondary level. During the discussion on teaching science, society, and ethics, one partici- pant was intrigued by the idea that scientists can be outside an experiment. Of course, many scientists may be involved in an experiment. They then interact directly with the system and influence it. Xenotransplantation also came up. With xenotransplantation there is the risk of a pandemic, and there are immunological barriers. For example, the first heart transplants were unsuccessful because of the patients’ autoimmune response and rejection. Xenotransplantation was stopped when immunological difficulties were encountered. When these were resolved, it began again. At a conference of the Institute of Medicine on xenotransplantation, the conclusion was that the field can police itself. This raises question of who polices science. Stating that self- regulation is better than having politicians regulate science brings up the same point that has been discussed before institutional review boards; namely, that the institutions should self-regulate. For studies of populations (as opposed to individuals), ethical questions are often raised. In Iceland, genetic data were requested for the whole population. Who gives consent for an entire population? How does one receive informed consent? Another participant commented that someone needs to be a pioneer regarding transplants. In terms of the ethics of organ donors, regulating money provided to donors will not necessarily solve the ethics problem. In addition, there is an animal rights issue associated with xenotransplantation. Ethics is a vast field. Self-regulation does not work for stem cell research. Permission to take personal data in Iceland was rammed through Parliament. Ethicists were hired by companies in order to push their agendas. In the 1960s, James Neel made decisions about blood samples and vaccinations in the Yanomamo community. In the 1990s, ethics issues were no longer left to the scientists. A discussion followed the presentation on the promotion of health education in primary schools. Without information for parents, the La main à la pâte health

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 SCIENCE, SOCIETY, AND EDUCATION education program would not work. Parents give their consent, and children pass on messages to parents. Evaluation of the program involves an assessment of the consequences of the program. One participant underscored that the evaluation of the program is extremely important. An example was given of an instance in which young schoolchildren were given instant food to bring home for lunch. The girls’ food was taken away and given to the boys and their fathers. The solution was to serve lunch at school so that each child received an equal portion of lunch. In the United States, obesity is becoming more prevalent. In Brownsville, Texas, 30 percent of the population is diabetic. Also, there are vending machines in many U.S. schools serving regular (as opposed to diet) soft drinks. One par- ticipant emphasized the importance of putting only low-calorie sodas in all U.S. schools. In terms of obesity prevention in the United States, a lesson can be learned from programs in place for asthma that have resulted in greater school attendance. With better funding, better programs will result. One participant brought up the correlation between overweight parents and overweight children. He suggested the 4-H principle in which children bring home relevant information to their parents. The situation is somewhat different in Iran, where many rural areas still need education opportunities. The La main à la pâte program may be exported to other countries, even though it is not yet implemented throughout France.