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In Kuhnian terms, science education has been a process of inducting students into the reigning paradigms of science. While it may never have been explicit, the goals of science education clearly have been to persuade students that science provides a fairly constant, highly justified, and sufficient understanding of physical phenomena. In 1984, Duschl noted that science education had not kept pace with developments in the history and philosophy of science. Positivism was dethroned years ago and it turns out that factors surrounding discovery are at least as important as the justification of knowledge. Indeed, the entire concept of justification has been drastically changed.

Capitalizing on these new developments, Duschl, Hamilton, & Grandy (1990) wrote a compelling argument for the need to have a joint research effort in science education involving the philosophy and history of science along with cognitive psychology. However, the issue of discovery compels the research community go one step further. If the science education community has been guilty of neglecting historical and philosophical issues in science, let it not now be guilty of ignoring sociological issues in science. A collaborative view ought also to include the sociological study of cultural milieu in which scientific ideas arise. In other words, an external sociological perspective on science.

A sociological perspective provides a different view of students. Many students do not deem induction into a scientific paradigm as a thing desirable. Thus, the presentation of a major scientific concept such as evolution is rather less like two evolutionary biologists debating the fine points of evolutionary theory, and rather more like Darwin presenting the Origin of Species to a public who historically had a very different view of origins. Studies in the sociology of knowledge have provided insight into the origins of Darwin's ideas and how those ideas came to be accepted in the scientific community of his day. Shouldn't that same perspective help science educators understand how science is received and understood by their students? The logic of discovery from a sociological point of view implies that conceptual change can also be viewed from a sociological perspective.


SLCSP Paper # 108

Published Citation

Cobern, William W. "Science Education and the External Perspective on Science." Queen's University. Kingston, Ontario, Canada.