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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
titudes toward science among indigenous communities. Indeed, researchers have found that incorporating culturally responsive approaches into science education results in a more positive attitude toward science, which in turn impact academic achievement (Matthews and Smith, 1994; Ritchie and Butler, 1990). Indeed, if the primary goal is more effective science education for indigenous students, epistemological and sociocultural issues should be recognized.
The issue of world views or indigenous epistemologies is especially relevant to culturally based science education as Nelson-Barber and Estrin (1995) note:
In considering what would constitute a curriculum and an approach to instruction that is valid for a given cultural group, we must first consider the customary ways of knowing and acquiring knowledge of that group. We are faced with essential epistemological questions such as, “What counts as important knowledge or knowing?,” “What counts as evidence for claiming something to be true?,” and “How and when should knowledge or understanding be expressed or shared?”… A blanket approach to students that fails to take socio-cultural factors into consideration is not likely to succeed in reaching all students (p. 22).
The concept of an indigenous science recognizes the role of culture, subjectivity, and perspective in making sense of the world and draws attention to the notion that people interpret reality through a particular cultural lens. Epistemological concerns and sociocultural factors must be central to the discussion of native or indigenous science and to efforts to provide a more culturally responsive science education to indigenous students.
Haukoos and LeBeau (1992) further elaborate this point:
Science is also problematic because it fails to consider the socio-cultural environments in which students and communities live, it presents scientific knowledge as objective and universal, and thus fails to recognize that scientific knowledge is itself socially constructed…. This presumed objectivity and universalism of Western Science rationalizes our failure to acknowledge other ways of knowing. And, as Snively and Corsiglia (2001) have pointed out, “many scientists and science educators continue to view the contributions of Indigenous science as ‘useful,’ but outside the realm of ‘real science’” (p. 15).
As discussed throughout this chapter, science is itself a subculture of Western culture, thus engaging in science education is already a cross-cultural event for many students (Aikenhead, 1998; Cobern and Aikenhead, 1998). Many indigenous students attempting to learn Western science must cross cultural borders and acquire facility in another culture. They must be able to use the linguistic traditions of both their own and the majority culture. Delpit (1988, 1995) argues that teachers must explicitly teach their students