Click for next page ( 112


The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 111
PART III Curriculum: Perspectives and Content l

OCR for page 111

OCR for page 111
1 ~ The Evolution of Biology and Adaptation of the Curriculum TIMOTHY H. GOLDSMITH At the outset I would like to salute those many dedicated high-school teachers who are doing a marvelous job under far from ideal circumstances. They are true professionals, and continuing to nurture and support them is one of the challenges that face us. But it is despite their best efforts that this conference is being held. In little more than a century, the science of biology has undergone two "evolutionary" changes of major magnitude. First, of course, was appreci- ation of the reality of organic evolution and its power as an explanatory principle, a change that only began with Charles Darwin. Second was insight into the structure of the genetic material, DNA, which opened the way to the broad range of both techniques and fundamental understanding of basic biological processes that are encompassed by the term "molecular biology." The first of these events provided a new and profoundly impor- tant way to view the natural world. The second has led to such enormous progress that virtually for the first time in the history of our science we can ask meaningful experimental questions about such central problems as how a fertilized egg develops into a functional adult organism and how a collection of neurons can learn and remember. I would like to set the stage for this session on perspectives and curricular content by stating a proposition, perhaps audacious, but one Timothy H. Goldsmith, a neurobiologist, is professor of biology at Yale University. He is a mem- ber of the National Research Council's Board on Biology. 113

OCR for page 111
114 HIGH-SCHOOL BIOLOGY I believe to be defensible. Not just despite, but in some sense because of, these exciting changes in biology, our educational system has failed in deeply important ways. Not for a total want of trying. There have been commendable and temporarily or locally effective efforts, of which the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study project is the most noteworthy. But viewed over time, instead of a harmonious coadaptation of the biology curriculum and the science of biology, we see episodic outbursts of interest, followed by periods in which in my metaphor-selection is relaxed. We forget that evolution is unremitting change. I see no blanket prescription for dealing with this dilemma, for it represents a complex of problems. But let me try to focus on several that have to do with our theme. I am not going to offer solutions, for my present role is to learn. But I am going to point to some of the broader issues that lurk in the background, forming part of the social fabric on which we must embroider. The proper teaching of evolution has not been solved. Our national tradition of local autonomy in education has produced an anomalous situa- tion where perceived local social and religious values determine the content of nationally marketed textbooks and warp the scope of the science curricu- lum. As in other subjects, we have virtually no national standards in a world of international competition. The situation is so bad, according to a recent study, that 19% of biology teachers believe that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time. But the problem only starts in the schools. By the time the most talented and motivated students elect to pursue the study of biology further, many of them fail to understand that biological questions always have two kind of answers-one reductionist in nature, the other historical and that these two quite independent explanatory approaches are of equal intellectual validity and importance. Evolutionary biology is not stamp-collecting, and understanding bi- ological diversity is an immensely important task. If we view ourselves as part of nature, we are more likely to develop a respect for the only Earth we have, a theme eloquently developed earlier here by John Harte. We may also view our own behavior in new and different lights. At an intellectual level, most of the political arguments that energize democracy reflect philosophical disagreements about the relative importance of differ- ent facets of human nature. At a practical level, most political struggles, and the wars they generate, involve competition for resources. One can make the case that the religious and political rationales for conflict are but evocations of group identity to solidify effort in the protection of presumed common interests. What passes for political dialogue is frequently a vocal demonstration of how easy it is for the limbic system to escape control by the cerebral cortex. All of this involves interesting biology, evolutionary biology.

OCR for page 111
THE EVOLUTION OF BIOLOGY 115 The religious fundamentalists are correct in their expectation that proper education in biology will produce citizens prepared to question many of the traditional assumptions of society. I would firmly disagree, however, that this must undermine the inculcation of moral values. But, frankly, this is not the central issue. As was stated in a recent letter to the editor in The New York Times, "Allen Bloom is wrong there can be no closing of the American mind, for it has never really been opened" (New York Times, 1988a). At the risk of projecting a pessimism I do not in fact feel, this sentiment is an echo of Alexis de ~cqueville (1956), who observed a century and a half ago, "I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America." We fare little better in teaching the parts of the science that are related to the new molecular biology, but for rather different reasons. Traditionally, school biology has been offered before chemistry and physics. This has made sense, for it is easier to introduce the unknown by way of the known. Plants and animals are familiar to children; the concepts of atoms and molecules, coulombs and photons are not. But as the pace of discovery in biology has increased, there has been an understandable wish to bring the latest news to the classroom. My impression, however, is that we are not very clever about teaching biological concepts many of which have an intrinsic beauty- without either smothering students in the vocabulary of biochemistry at a time when they have little or no idea what it means to be a molecule or confusing them with presentations that have been edited into chaos by people who do not have appropriate knowledge. I have known high-school students who could tell you, haltingly, that DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid, but ask them another question about DNA, and you find that you have seen to the horizon of their understanding. At its best, the result of this kind of education is likely to be tedium. At its worst, it provides wrong information. And somewhere in the middle lies confusion. It is important to recognize the larger context in which we face this problem. It is not just the teaching of biology, or even science, that has this disease. The Bradley Commission on History In the Schools has recently called for more emphasis on broad trends and questions and on the teaching of critical thinking, rather than the memorization of facts without context. Less than 2 weeks ago, Kenneth Jackson, the commission chairman, was quoted as saying that "history should not be just a mad dash through the centuries with teachers trying desperately to get to the 1980s before school lets out in June" (New York Times, 1988b). By changing only three words, that sentence could just as well address the presentation of biology. And that, I submit, may be telling us something important. Could it be that a citizenry that resonates so easily with the notion that teachers should be required to lead their classes in the Pledge of

OCR for page 111
116 HIGH-SCHOOL BIOLOGY Allegiance to the flag is really more interested in an educational system that indoctrinates than an educational system that teaches critical thinking? We should not take refuge in the thought that science, being "objective," is immune to this influence; our experience with the teaching of evolution shows otherwise. No, on this issue we should be making common cause with our thoughtful colleagues in the humanities, for our aspirations for the children of this nation are fundamentally the same. We need to ask what it is we are trying to do and for whom we are trying to do it. Only when we have answered those questions can we address the specifics. But somewhere in the process we should ask whether we have the right relationship between the sciences in the high-school curriculum. Do we do things in the right order and with the right degree of integration? And if we do not, what must we do to change? What do we need to do to bring observation, excitement, and the joy of discovery to the classroom? And can we hope to inject these same goals into the elementary-school years without measuring our progress on the geologic scale of time? Finally, I would like to suggest that there is not enough imagination in what is taught. All too frequently, pedestrian or muddled presentations of elegant concepts fail to connect with the backgrounds, interests, and needs of the children. It is not the ideas themselves that are inappropriate, but the way they are treated in many of the textbooks. Is it hopeless to expect more of an author-editor formula that appears insensitive to accuracy and nuance and explains material to the student with all the finesse of a delivery of loose gravel? If we as a nation are going to get excellence in education, the textbook industry will have to show more concern for real expertise in both biology and teaching and less of a preoccupation with mass marketing. I have developed impatience with the assertion that publishers cannot afford to produce material unless it conforms to some lowest common denominator that enables it to be sold nationally. This is not true for college textbooks. I therefore conclude that it is a doubtful proposition in the first place, and one that we have accepted passively for far too long. I hope I may be persuaded in what is to follow that we are moving in some of the right directions, and that in its own evolution, the curriculum is at last adapting to the needs of both science and society. REFERENCES de l~ocqueville, A. 1956. Democrapy in America, p. 12. Abridged and edited by R. D. Heffner. New York: New American Library. New York Times. 1988a. Letters to the Editor, Sept. 17. New York Times. 1988b. Pg. A36, Sept. 30.

OCR for page 111
14 Human Ecology: Restoring Life to the Biology Curriculum JOSEPH D. McINERNEY Anyone who undertakes an examination of the high-school curricu- lum irrespective of the subject matter would do well to consider Gar- rett Hardin's (1985) first of several "postulates of impotence" that guide ecological thinking: "We can never do merely one thing." The content of the curriculum influences and is influenced by so many variables from budgets to buses that to consider the curriculum In isolation is pure folly. Nonetheless, my task is to address the content of the biology curriculum, and that will be my central focus. I shall allude briefly to other issues that are Inextricably bound to content, but shall leave the full explication of those issues to others who are more qualified to give them the attention they deserve. REFORM IN SCIENCE EDUCATION The 5 years since the publication of A Nation at Risk (National Com- mission on Excellence in Education, 1983) have been interesting, confusing, and sometimes frustrating for those of us who spend our time thinking about and developing science curricula. Since the publication of the report, there Joseph D. McInerney received his undergraduate degree in education in 1970 from the State University of New York (SUNY), Cortland, and an M.S. in human genetics in 1975 from SUNY, Stony Brook. He joined the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study in 1977 and has been its di- rector since 1985. He is a member of the editorial board of Quarter) Review of Biology. 117

OCR for page 111
118 HIGH-SClIOOL BIOLOGY have been more than 100 attempts (Mullis and Jenkins, 1988) to clarify what Americans educated at the high-school level in science should know about science. Project 2061 (Rutherford and Ahlgren, 1988), sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is perhaps the most complete, with its emphasis on all disciplines and its suggestions for what should be omitted from the already overcrowded science curriculum. With respect to biology, the project Science as a Way of Knowing (SAAWOK), organized by the American Society of Zoologists and cospon- sored by nine other professional societies, has been particularly informative, notwithstanding that it is intended to induce change in the undergraduate curriculum. SAAWOK has demonstrated anew-as the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) did in the 1960s that one can take any of sev- eral conceptual approaches to biology (such as evolution, human ecology, genetics, development, form, and function) and do a first-rate job of con- veying essential, enduring principles of the discipline. Each approach, in fact, can encompass the others. Given that any of several approaches will convey the principles of the discipline very well, curriculum developers must ask: "Which approach is most likely to meet the educational needs of all high-school students?" That is, what is the proper approach for students who will likely have no further formal exposure to biology, as well as future biologists? This question is very different from one that influenced the reform movement of the 1960s and 1970s: "How can we best prepare young people for careers in biology?" The answer to that question was to develop curricula that focused on the structure of the discipline under consideration (McInerney, 1987~. The assumption this time around, however, is that the wave of reform should reach farther up the beach to encompass all citizens, not only those who wish a career in science, and not only those whom Jon Miller and co-workers (1980) called "the attentive public for organized science." We must, therefore, take a different view of the curriculum, and there is an emerging consensus that the objective of the science curriculum should be the development of scientific literacy in the general public. Achieving consensus on the definition of scientific literacy, however, has not been quite so easy. The definition I shall use is taken from a 1983 essay by Kenneth Prewitt; I consider it the best definition of the many I have seen in the current upsurge of interest about science education: From the perspective of democratic practice, the notion of scientific literacy does not start with science itself. Rather, it starts at the point,of interaction between science and society. My understanding of the scientifically savvy citizen . . . is a person who understands how science and technology impinge upon public life. Prewitt's view of scientific literacy requires a different set of assump- tions about the selection of content and pedagogy for the biology curricu- lum. No longer can we assume that the structure of the discipline will

OCR for page 111
HUMAN ECOLOGY 119 provide sufficient guidance; we must, instead, follow Paul Hurd's advice and insist that the context of the learner be the touchstone for the selection of content and teaching strategies. What is the context of the learner? There are many components, but the essential element for the learner in our society is change- rapid and pervasive change in economics, politics, demographics, the home, the workplace, and social mores. Both the rate and direction of change are influenced profoundly by science and technology. The biology curriculum, therefore, must prepare students for a rapidly changing society that is wedded to science and technology. Among the objectives of this curriculum are the following. An understanding of major concepts from a varied of disciplines. The conceptual boundaries that once separated the major scientific disciplines are fast eroding, and the biology curriculum must acknowledge that one must understand chemistry, physics, and biology to comprehend the impact of science on human affairs and the complexity of the science-related issues that confront us as a collective. Furthermore, the curriculum must inform students that we cannot accommodate rapid change, promote an improved quality of life, or solve science-related social issues with information and expertise from the natural sciences alone. We must introduce students to basic principles from the social and behavioral sciences, so that students understand the critical social and cultural dimensions of our species. An understanding of the history of science as an intellectual and social endeavor. Contemporary science education is crowded with examples of the history of science, but taken together the examples amount to little more than a poorly articulated chronology of discoveries and inventions. Nowhere in the high-school science curriculum is the student likely to encounter a cohesive picture of the ways in which the intellectual development of the sciences and of science as an enterprise shaped history and society and was in turn shaped by them. Science has been and continues to be among the most influential forces in society. It has been responsible for the growth of a rational, empirical view of the natural world that has been instrumental in shaping western society for the last 400 years (Bronowski, 1978~. An understanding of the nature of science as an intellectual endeavor. Science is an attempt by humans to construct rational explanations of the natural world, yet the persistence of widespread belief in astrology, creationism, and other such supernatural nonsense shows that a rational- empirical view of the world is not as pervasive as we might hope. Many American newspapers carry a daily astrology column, while a scant few have even a weekly column on science. The biology curriculum must impress on students that science is a method of rational inquiry into the nature of the universe. The results of this inquiry are always tentative; as Garrett

OCR for page 111
120 HIGH-SCHOOL BIOLOGY Harden (1985) has put it, science is "ineluctably married to doubt." That view is essential to counteract a growing tendency in this country to seek ideologically pure, immutable answers to complex and mercurial problems. An understanding of technology. Most Americans are likely to en- counter science in its technological manifestations and are unlikely to distinguish science from technology. Indeed, it is increasingly difficult even for professional scientists to tell where one ends and the other begins. A recent report prepared by BSCS for the National Center for Improving Science Education (1988) stresses the importance of education about tech- nology, not merely with technology. The report distinguishes science from technology as follows: "SCIENCE proposes explanations for observations about the natural world. "TECHNOLOGY proposes solutions for problems of human adap- tation to the environment." The center's report also provides an overview of basic principles that biology students should understand about technology as a force for change: "Technology exists within the context of nature; that is, no tech- nology can contravene biological or physical principles. "All technologies have unintended consequences. "Just as proposed explanations about the natural world are tenta- tive and incomplete, proposed technological solutions to problems are incomplete and tentative. "Because technologies are incomplete and tentative, all technolo- gies carry some risk; a society that is heavily dependent on technology cannot be risk-free." An understanding of the relationships between science and technology and between ethics and public policy. John Moore (1984) reminds us that science can tell us what we can and (more often) cannot do, but it is powerless to tell us what we should do. The latter question involves values and ethics, where questions of right and wrong-of "oughtness"-dominate the discussions. Students should recognize that ethical analysis is, like scientific analysis, a form of rational inquiry (BSCS, 1988~. Unsupported statements and opinions carry no more weight in ethical analysis than they do in science. Ethical analysis is not the sharing of uninformed opinions- what someone once called pluralistic ignorance but requires instead that we provide well-reasoned arguments for what we ought or ought not to do. The next step, of course, is public policy, wherein consensus on ethical positions (as well as our imperfect systems can establish it) is expressed as laws and regulations to help to ensure that our ethical vision is translated

OCR for page 111
HUMAN ECOLOGY 121 into actions. Progress in science and technology (genetic engineering and nuclear weaponry, for example) forces us to confront rapid change and raises what were once intellectual abstractions to the level of hard, often painful, reality for individuals, families, and nations. We often must make decisions about new knowledge and technologies that we have barely begun to understand, much less embrace. The ability to use knowledge and solve problems. If students achieve the foregoing objectives, they will be prepared to use information and the skills of critical inquiry to make decisions and solve problems-for themselves, for their families, for their employers, and for the nation as informed participants in the democratic process. The objectives listed above are subsumed by the more global goals of improved quality of life and personal development that are important objectives for general education. HUMAN ECOLOGY Which of the many possible conceptual approaches to biology will best help students and teachers to achieve the foregoing objectives? I believe that it is a framework organized on the principles of human ecology. Paul Ehrlich (1985) notes that "human ecology has normally focused on four main areas: 1. the dynamics of human populations; the use of resources by human beings; the impact of human beings on their environment; the complex interactions among 1-3. Ehrlich proposes human ecology as only part of an introductory under- graduate course in biology. I propose it as a conceptual framework for high-school biology, because it attends to the context of the learner and because it best meets the objectives listed in the preceding section. How might a course In human ecology be structured? What follows are very brief overviews of four hypothetical units of instruction, corresponding to four quarters of the school year. (The assumption that the school year should remain as currently structured is itself open to question, as is the current, year-bound sequence of earth science, biology, chemistry, and physics.) Unit 1-Human Ecology: Population, Resources, and Environment. This unit helps students to analyze the place of Homo sapiens in the bio- sphere and emphasizes that humans are not exempt from the scientific imperatives that affect all other organisms. Indeed, as Kormondy (1984) points out, human ecology is "not as a kind different from any other kind of ecology, but in degree, the degree to which humans serve in their relation- ship role" by virtue of their pervasive effect on all other organisms and all

OCR for page 111
138 HIGH-SCH~L BIOLOGY into a rational curriculum for all students. We have not yet considered how and where to introduce concepts from the physical sciences. Nor have we agreed that all topics now listed should actually be covered. However, we strongly agree that less is better, provided that what is covered is truly learned by students. If the philosophy statements are translated into practice, we believe that this will be the case. REFERENCES American Association for the Advancement of Science. 1989. Science for All Americans. Washington, D.C.: American Association for the Advancement of Science. Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. 1987. Biological Science: An Ecological Approach. 6th ed. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co. Otto, J. H., and A. Towle. 1985. Modern Biology. New York: Halt, Rinehart and Winston. Ramsey, W. L^, Lo A. Gabriel, J. F. McGuirk, ~ R. Phillips, and F. M. Watenpaugh. 1986. Life Science. New York: Halt, Rinehart and Winston.

OCR for page 111
16 Biology Education: Asking the Right Questions FRANCES S. VANDERVOORT The title of my presentation is "Biology Education: Asking the Right Questions." What are the right questions for biology educators to ask? I offer the following: How much biology should be taught? What can we learn from the past? What kind of biology should be taught? What is the social importance of biology education? HOW MUCH BIOLOGY SHOULD BE TAUGHT? A few years ago, I attended a lecture by Victor We~sskopf (1984), the distinguished physicist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In this lecture, which focused on the critical state of science education, he described how, as an 8-year-old child in Vienna, he was waltzing with his father in the forest. He saw a bird and said, "Father, what is that bides name?" His father chided him. "Do not ask that question, my son," he said. '`The essential thing about that bird Is not its name, but that it Frances S. Vandervoort received a B.S. and M.S. in zoology in 1957 and 1965 from the University of Chicago. She was an instructor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, in 1965-1967 and at Chicago State University in 1969 and 1974. She has been a teacher of biology and physical science in the Chicago public schools since 1975. She was the recipient of the Illinois Governor's Master Teacher Award in 1984 and was an Illinois finalist for the Presidential Award in 1987. 139

OCR for page 111
140 HIGH-SCHOOL B. OLOGY flies, that it has wings, that it lives!" In other words, do not trivialize this wonderful animal by being concerned only about its name. Weisskopf offered these words of advice: "Begin teaching," he said, "by asking questions." "Ask questions," he said, "but don't give answers. Teachers cannot give definite answers to questions and students must learn not to expect them to. Students learn poorly if teachers attempt to press information into their brains." Weisskopf went on to say that, when students ask him how much of the subject he expects to "cover" during a course, he answers that he never attempts to "cover" a subject. Instead, he promises to "uncover" parts of it. Students must learn that science is, not that it covers something. Weisskopf encouraged all teachers to "foster the joy of insight." For this, he said, "the question is the key. We must never lose sight of the social significance of this." What is the origin of this idea that teachers should regard a young person's brain as an empty vessel to be furnished with facts, rather than a uniquely specialized organ to be carefully nurtured and trained? One problem is the-enormous productivity of the scientific community. Ibday, high-school biology textbooks average 450 pages in length and contain as many as 2,400 new terms, far more than a first-year foreign-language course. Publishers feel compelled to provide students with information about all the latest scientific discoveries. What, then, do they dare leave out from previous editions to make room for the new material? The answer is usually nothing. The other day, I happened across an article in U S. News and World Report entitled "Drowning in a Sea of Knowledge" (Allman, 1988~. The article described the flood of scientific papers published in the thousands of scientific journals now on library shelves. In this article, one scientist commented that, "If 80 percent of the papers weren't written, the progress of science wouldn't be affected at all." First-year biology students must indeed feel as if they are drowning when confronted with the deluge of detail in so many of today's biology textbooks. What would be the effect on biology education if publishers decided to reduce by 80% the additions they make to new textbooks? I am convinced that teachers, students, and publishers would all benefit from such a step! For some reason, I seem unable to "cover" as much material as other biology teachers in my department. I sometimes regret not finding time to teach more physiology or anatomy. I enjoy these subjects and think my students would enjoy them as well. I like to think I make up for these omissions by taking time for inquiry-based activities. Some of these are the "Invitations to Inquiry" from the Biology Teachers' Handbook (Mayer, 1970), and some I have prepared myself. If you are not familiar with them, these open-ended discussion sets provide excellent opportunities for

OCR for page 111
BIOLOGY EDUCATION 141 students to practice scientific thinking. Each inquiry takes at least an entire class period to complete. Students find them very satisfying to do. Another reason I don't "cover" so much material as other teachers may be that the students themselves try to slow me down. This is not so much because they are lay (they are not) or because they are overloaded with homework in other subjects. Instead, it seems that they develop a genuine interest in what we are doing and simply don't want to leave it. I often feel myself rushing on, faster than I wish, knowing full well that much of what I teach will be forgotten before my students graduate from high school. Why do teachers do it? Why do I do it? Why is the emphasis in biology still on the amount of material "covered," rather than on how much the students learn about the processes of science? One argument for teaching a content-oriented course is that this "prepares" students for the next level of science offered in the school. Unfortunately, overemphasis on detail too often ensures that the student will never again have interest in taking other science courses. In fact, in their view, excessive detail can actually mivialue science. How can they learn of the importance of a crayfish to a wetland ecosystem when all they are made to do is remember the number and kinds of legs a crayfish has? Inevitably, they come to regard biology and other areas of science as irrelevant to their lives or too complicated to understand, even if they suspect that it Is relevant. How has the state of biology education progressed to the point where textbooks are so thick that students can hardly carry them home? Why have laboratory exercises degenerated to where they are little more than cookbookery for which the end result is obvious to students, even before they wale into the laboratory? How can students learn the processes of scientific investigation when they are served whole meals of scientific facts, rather than being invited into the kitchen, where genuine discoveries are made? ~ gain a view into this, let us take a brief look at the history of biology education in the United States. WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE PAST? Until the 1850s, biology, then termed "natural philosophy" or "natural theology," was studied in this country and in Europe mainly by scholars and theologians who sought to understand better the marvels of God's perfect world. Biology was not taught as a separate course in high schools in the United States until the turn of the century. Then, zoology, botany, and physiology were combined to provide the single, more comprehensive course we now call '`biology.'' Biology soon became the science course of choice of most high-school students. Early biology courses included, among more conventional topics, discussion of human welfare, health, and

OCR for page 111
142 HIGH-SCHOOL BIOLOGY sanitation. During the Great Depression, biology courses responded to the times by offering consumer education, social welfare, and agricultural science. Until the late 1950s, high-school biology could best be defined as descriptive, rather than experimental. The role of the teacher was primarily that of transmitter of knowledge. Students approached the study of living things systematically by noting, observing, and describing the external and internal characteristics of a "typical" representative of the phylogenetic group under consideration. The high point of the year came in spring, when students were given a frog to dissect. Laboratory experiments were designed to verify existing knowledge. In short, students learned about the products of scientific research, but very little about the scientific process. I have a strange sense of dej) vu as I write this, because these statements about pre-Sputnik science are almost identical with what is being said about biology education today. Did we learn anything from our experiences of the first half-century? Or have we come full circle? In the decade after World War II, science educators began to recognize that science education must be freed from the intellectual strait jacket in which it had been so long confined. Sputnik was the ultimate catalyst: the federal government began giving top priority to the development of programs in science education that would "put us ahead of the Russians." The Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) was merely one facet of a vast effort to upgrade the status of science education in the United States. New laboratory materials and procedures were developed. Workshops funded by the National Science Foundation prepared teachers for using the new materials. Educators began using new learning theories and techniques of investigation. By 1970, most of the nation's schools were using BSCS materials. Underlying this massive effort was the conviction that science must be taught as a process of investigation and inquiry, rather than as accretion of rigid facts and rules. Public support for science education began to diminish in the early 1970s. Reasons for this are complex, but include, among other factors, the rejection of science and technology because of their close association with the war in Vietnam. Also, BSCS programs had opened Pandora's box by placing so much emphasis on evolution. Christian fundamentalist groups rebelled by bringing pressure on school boards that used the new materials. Sales of BSCS materials dropped precipitously (Hurd, 1980~. As public interest in science waned, financial support lessened, until, in the early 1980s, alarms again were sounded. Once again science education had reached a crisis stage. And again we hear criticism that science courses are too rigid, too content-oriented, too inclined toward passive inculcation of students.

OCR for page 111
BIOLOGY EDUCATION 143 WHAT KIND OF BIOLOGY SHOULD BE TAUGHT? This year, I share my classroom with a biology teacher new to the system. Recently graduated from college, she is attractive and enthusiastic, and I am convinced that the future bodes well for her. The other day, she asked me whether I knew where the scalpels, forceps, scissors, and other dissecting equipment were kept. I professed to not being certain where these items were, because, as I explained, I seldom ask my student to dissect. She could barely contain her astonishment. I responded, to her surprise, by commenting that I have found many ways to teach biology without using preserved specimens. Some educators refer to the excessive use of preserved specimens as "morgue science." I wouldn't go that far, but it is with a measure of satisfaction that I note that science teachers' journals are encouraging teachers to abandon tradition when a live animal is available for use, don't dissect (Berman, 1984~! If we grant that teachers cannot effectively teach all the material in a standard biology textbook, how can we decide what should be taught? If we agree to de-emphasize, say, anatomical details, chemical formulas, reproductive cycles, and the like, what should be taught? There is no simple answer to this. All teachers have pet topics to teach, and most have some that they would prefer to avoid. There is, however, a backbone of biological thought based on the three great theories of biology: cell theory, gene theory, and evolutionary theory. These theories must be the foundation of all biology education. As I describe these theories to my students, I like to compare them with the three legs of a great tripod supporting all of biology. These three struts are necessary for understanding life on earth; remove any one of them and the whole structure of biology crumbles. They are-all three-essential for the teaching of biology. It is, of course, essential that students understand what is meant by the term "theory." Textbooks don't always help in this matter. "Theory" is a sophisticated concept, and too often textbooks convey the impression that a theory is little more than a casual conjecture. "It's just a theory," one might hear in a soap opera, that Elaine has fed strychnine to Jennifer because she suspected that Jennifer was seeing Robert, her own flame, on the sly. Also, it doesn't help that in 1980, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan stated before a sympathetic audience in Texas that "evolution is just a theory, only one of several theories about the origin of life." One of the more commonly used high-school biology textbooks asserts that "there are many theories, or ideas, as to how life began on earth, including . . . the Greek myths and some American Indian legends." This book also labels as a "theory" the hypothesis (and it is a hypothesis) that life came to earth from elsewhere in the universe. Finally, the book invites students to conduct a poll of 10 people to determine their theories about

OCR for page 111
144 HIGH-SCHOOL BIOLOGY how life originated on earth. Here we have a book, from a reputable publisher, expecting us to ask our students to determine by consensus what is and is not science! Good texts and good teachers will provide students with a framework for developing an understanding of the nature of scientific theory. As we know, the three traits of all scientific theories are that they are predic- tive, testable, and tentative. Students are capable of understanding these concepts, and it is satisfying to help them to do so. In addition to the three main theories of biology, a particularly useful theory for high-school biology teaching is the cell symbiosis theory, pro- moted most notably by Lynn Margulis of Boston University. In the early 1970s, a former professor of mine at the University of Chicago, who had also taught Lynn, handed me a book" in fact the first book she had written. In it, she first advanced the evidence that she had gathered for the theory of the origin of eukaryotic cells from the symbiotic combining of various types of prokaryotes. ~day, this theory is included in many high-school biology texts and is widely accepted by the scientific community. When she first began publicizing her work in the mid-1960s, her ideas were regarded with benign amusement, if not with scorn. You know what Thomas Huxley said: "It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and end as superstitions" (cited in Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 1980~. I doubt that the cell symbiosis theory will end as superstition, but early on it certainly was regarded as somewhat heretical. We now know the theory for the excellent science it represents; our students should be familiar with it as well. I must also mention the latest theory with which Lynn Margulis has been associated: the theory of Gaia. Gaia, which only recently has emerged from the tenuous realm of scientific hypothesis, holds that the evolution of the earth and all life on it has been regulated by the action of life itself. This theory has been the subject of two books by the British atmospheric chemist James Lovelock (1979, 1988), who first developed Gaia. It is important for teachers and students to recognize that Gaia is very controversial, but the controversy merely establishes its scientific credibility. I must conclude this mention of Gaia by saying that students love it. They love being able to relate their understanding of water, oxygen, and carbon cycling, of extinction, of environmental imbalance to the existence of life on the planet. Recently, I happened across a quote from Alan Mix, a climatologist at Oregon State University. Commenting about the uncertainties in his field, he said that "we've got lots of ideas and we're out there chasing them. We really don't know which way it's leading but that's good. It's called science" (Monastersky, 1988~. This to me is the essence of scientific thought. Having ideas, investigating them, and not knowing where investigations will lead

OCR for page 111
BIOLOGY EDUCATION 145 are what science is all about This is true, whether it is in a sophisticated laboratory or in a high-school science classroom. Let students do laboratory research in which the answer is unknown. Let them use microorganisms, including bacteria, slime molds, and algae. Many biological principles including those related to population growth, natural selection, genetics, immunology, and physiology~an be investi- gated with these organisms in stimulating, open-ended activities. These kinds of experiments lend themselves to manipulation of variables, collec- tion and organization of data, and data analysis with the computers now found in many science classrooms. Also, these organisms are easy, safe, and relatively inexpensive to use. Let the entire class design projects using vinegar eels. The results could surprise everyone! Green plants and algae are superb organisms for classroom use. They can be exposed to a multitude of variables, including toxic substances and other environmental factors of great concern to human life today. All this is not to say that dissection should not be a part of high-school biology. Except for the dissection of simple creatures, such as earthworms, my own preference is for dissections to be used mainly in advanced- placement biology courses by students who have already had 1 year of biology. Use living animals to investigate processes of life. Borrowing freely from Alexander Pope, "the proper study of biology the science of life-is life." WHAT IS THE SOCIAL IMPORTANCE OF BIOLOGY EDUCATION? Jacob Bronowski once wrote that "men have asked for freedom, jus- tice, and respect precisely as the scientific spirit has spread among them" (Bronowski, 1956~. The spirit of science will not spread, unless the pub- lic perceives it as part of its world, as having genuine meaning for its life. Teachers can lecture as long as they want about how our bodies are made of billions and billions of cells, how our genes are made of DNA, and so forth and so on. We, as biologists, are fascinated by gene theory, genetics, ecol- ogy, and other biological phenomena, or we would not be teaching about them. It is critical, however, that we recognize that a discipline~entered curriculum may serve the needs of preprofessional science students, but not the needs of the average citizen. College curricula taken by education students studying to be biology teachers are structured to meet the needs of college teachers, research biologists, or future physicians. They are not designed to educate the average citizen. In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about scientific literacy, or the lack thereof, in the general populace. Today more Americans read the astrology column than news of scientific discoveries. More people have confidence in the pronouncements of Velikovsky and van Daniken

OCR for page 111
146 HIGH-SClIOOL BIOLOGY than in the work of Jonas Salk or James Watson. Naive, even reckless thinking of this sort distresses science educators, but should further inspire us to find ways of making biology the science course taken by more high- school students than any other- an experience with a lifelong, positive impact. Morris Shamos, a former president of National Science Teachers As- sociation, wrote that the goal of scientific literacy for all citizens would be difficult to achieve, and efforts to attain it would be counterproductive, turning off many students as they are required to learn vast arrays of facts, scientific history, and other data that have little meaning for them in any part of their lives. Instead, he said, teachers should try to foster within them an appreciation of the scientific process. Educators should allow them time for open-ended experimentation, then develop within them the necessary skills to relate science to their lives (Shamos, 1988~. A story in the October 1988 issue of the American Scientist brought home the need for a practical scientific literacy in this country. In San Diego last year, a stretch of Interstate 5, the major north-south route through California, was shut down for 8 hours when the report came through that a 50-pound bag of iron oxide had spilled from a truck. Finally, more than 2 hours after a crew from a hazardous-waste management company had worked for several hours to clean up the spill, someone recognized that what had spilled on the highway was no more than rust. No one had the sense to order workers to "get that rust off the road!" Is this a case of stupidity? Ineptitude? Scientific illiteracy? It is important for all students to spend part of their class time several times a week discussing current science topics. Aside from AIDS, the topic of major scientific discussion in America in recent months has been the greenhouse effect. There is no question that there have been an extraordinary number of weather-related events the last few months. In September, Hurricane Gilbert, the "storm of the century," pounded Mexico and the coast of Texas. Bangladesh has experienced the worst flooding in its history, and fires have destroyed nearly half the forest in Yellowstone National Park. And I need not mention this summer's devastating heat and drought. Chicago broke all records for days with temperatures above 90 F-47. Of all these events, we can be reasonably certain that only Hurricane Gilbert was not in some way influenced by human activity. Bangladesh is flooded because the mountains to the north have been stripped bare of vegetation by people seeking firewood. The slopes are no longer able to absorb and retain rainwater as they did in the past, and the people in the floodplains downstream pay the price. Yellowstone's fires are due in large part to decades of mismanagement by short-sighted people who failed to recognize that fire is an essential part of the ecology of forests. The situation in Yellowstone is fascinating and has caught the fancy and

OCR for page 111
BIOLOGY EDUCATION 147 genuine interest of the entire nation. What a wonderful way for students to learn about ecology! The greenhouse effect is particularly appropriate for classroom discus- sion. Science and controversy are common bedfellows, and it is easy for scientists to find evidence bothfor and against the existence of a greenhouse phenomenon. The jury is still out on whether increasing carbon dioxide levels caused the hot dry summer, whether ozone was a factor, and whether temperature increases will continue. A broader spectrum of topics appropriate for use in a biology classroom includes land use (have students survey their own neighborhoods for the presence of green space), water resources (what happens to Lake Michigan affects the entire Midwest), and extinction and endangered species (students are interested in efforts to preserve the California condor, the black- footed ferret, and the great whales). Students are responsive to issues of human health and disease, energy resource management, and ethical issues involving reproduction, caring for the terminally ill, and aging. These topics are particularly useful for teaching in inner-city schools, where so many students are touched by these aspects of life and death. These ideas all have the advantage of relevance toddy. They are biological and directly related to human existence. As I tell my students at the beginning of the year, science Is fun. It is discovery, it is investigating, it Is asking questions. The more questions asked, the better. Yes, it is work, but it Is probably the most adventurous, exciting work they will do in their high-school careers. REFERENCES Allman, W. E. 1988. Drowning in a sea of knowledge. U.S. News World Rep. 105~10~:59. American Scientist. 1988. Science observer A special report on scientific literacy. Amer. Sci. 76:439-449. Berman, W. 1984. Dissection dissected. Sci. Teach. 51~6~:4249. Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. 1980. Biological Science: A Molecular Approach. 4th ed. Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath. Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. 1987. Biological Science: An Ecological Approach. 6th ed. Dubuque, Iowa: KendalVHunt. Bronowski, J. 1956. Science and Human Values. New York: Harper and Row. Hurd, P. D., et al. 1980. Biology education in secondary schools of the United States. Amer. Biol. Teach. 42:394. Lovelock, J. E. 1979. Gala: A New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. Lovelock, J. E. 1988. The Ages of Gala. New York: W. W. Norton. Mayer, W. V., Ed. 1970. Biology Teachers' Handbook. New York: John Wiley. Monastersky, R. 1988. Ice age insights. Sci. News 134~12~:184-1~. Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. 19&0. P. 269. 3rd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. Shamos, M. 1988. The lesson every child need not learn. The Sciences July/August 14-20. Weisskopf, ~ 1984. Keynote Address. Annual Symposium for Science and Mathematics Teachers, May 14, 1984, University of (Chicago.

OCR for page 111