How should schools and universities teach their students? Pedagogy occupies the minds of all educators, although there are many different applications of this aspect of educational theory. For example, some answer the question above by advocating learning-by-doing. Students are given projects which involve a structured activity such as experimentation. This is enquiry-based learning. Others favour a process of information gathering to reach answers. This is resource-based learning. Although not recommended by educationalists, some students learn by rote or memorise the way to solve problems but this typically means the student has little understanding of what they are doing. Earlier this year, in an editorial in the journal Science, Bruce Alberts wrote about the trivialisation of science education. He commented:
"Tragically, we have managed to simultaneously trivialize and complicate science education. As a result, for far too many, science seems a game of recalling boring, incomprehensible facts - so much so that it may make little difference whether the factoids about science come from the periodic table or from a movie script."
We like to promote evidence based science, but we need our peer review safeguards (source here)
Despite extensive research into these issues, there is still a widespread perception that additional approaches are needed to engage students in every curriculum area. The contribution of two educationalists brings some fresh issues for consideration:
"In this article we will argue for wide-ranging change in the school curriculum, more particularly for the inclusion of philosophical inquiry within every learning area. We will begin with this claim: If students are to develop an understanding of the world and what there is in it, then as teachers we must engage them in philosophical inquiry. This is our first premise. The second is that both social and individual good depend upon the development of such understandings." (p.305)
Although addressing issues arising in primary school education, the research paper communicates principles that are just as relevant to secondary and tertiary education. The issue is not the content of the curriculum, but understanding the underlying assumptions of a discipline. The challenge is to help students develop a coherent worldview that allows them to make sense of the subject matter and enables them to see it in context. Some have approached this by having "philosophical inquiry" as a discipline in itself, but Knight and Collins advocate another approach:
"We want to argue that it is worth considering another model: philosophy embedded in the existing curriculum areas. We do not wish to deny the value, the remarkable depth, complexity and comprehensiveness of the narrative-based curriculum material. [. . .] But we think there are reasons for trying a different approach, for developing materials which fit into the current curriculum areas. Elsewhere, we have examined the arguments in support of separateness and the use of narrative. We have claimed that these arguments fail to establish any marked advantage for the standard approach. Here, we will simply go on to put the case for the alternate model which embeds philosophy in the existing curriculum areas." (p.310)
Examples are given for primary school students studying "Society and Environment", mathematics, science and the arts. Taking mathematics as an example, questions of a philosophical nature include: Why do we count? Where do numbers come from? Are numbers part of the world around us (like shapes)? Are numbers human inventions or are they discovered?
"To sum up: Mathematics houses a rich store of genuine inquiry questions, appropriate for students of any age level. By raising such questions in the classroom, we are likely to foster one of the intellectual dispositions necessary for engagement in the pursuit of mathematical understanding." (p.315)
Why is this topic relevant to science and origins? In my experience, making reference to the philosophical presuppositions of science is often derided as an irrelevance. Many people who participate actively in forums that deal with these issues appear often to be woefully ignorant of worldviews affecting the subjects they are debating. Many senior figures in the world of science contribute to the problem. For example, the case of Stephen Hawking is considered here, and Richard Dawkins also appears to have thrown philosophy into the same trash can as theology, as is pointed out here. There are many leaders who have endorsed definitions of science that are underpinned by philosophical materialism. Yet they rarely acknowledge publicly the worldview they are espousing. Furthermore, they rarely admit that their way of doing science is not the only way - as is evidenced by the fact that all the pioneers of science in the 17th Century developed their thoughts on the philosophical foundations of theism.
We often hear people saying things like: 'science is based on evidence, whereas Christianity is based on tradition/feelings/values' (select whatever word is appropriate). This is effectively a mantra that stifles meaningful debate. When Christians use evidence-based arguments, these are dismissed as rhetoric, because only 'science is based on evidence'. This is why Hawking and Dawkins are actually advancing scientism, and it explains why they have such a low view of philosophy.
Not only should teachers help students understand the philosophical underpinnings of the curriculum under consideration, but also educationalists and policy-makers should expect schools and universities to provide worldview statements regarding their mission in society. For example, a prominent atheist and his atheist team are setting up a college but worldview issues have not been probed as they should (but see here).
Parents and students have a right to know whether their school or university has adopted the mindset of secularism and materialism, or whether it seeks to operate within a theistic framework. Recognising the importance of philosophy in understanding how disciplines of knowledge develop would also help greatly change the polarised nature of the origins and design debates. The modest proposals of Knight and Collins deserve to be seriously considered, as the far-reaching change they envisage is much needed.
Enlivening the curriculum: The power of philosophical inquiry
Sue Knight and Carol Collins
Theory and Research in Education, November 2010, 8: 305-318 | doi:10.1177/1477878510381630
Abstract: In this article we argue for the necessity of far-reaching change in school curricula and pedagogy. More particularly, we argue that developing students' understanding and engagement in the disciplines which make up the school curriculum requires an unearthing of the philosophical issues underlying science, mathematics, the arts, geography, history, and so on. This means that philosophical inquiry must be embedded in every curriculum area. While at first sight this task might appear unattainable, we go on to illustrate by means of detailed examples how the goal might be realized and point to theoretical and empirical evidence to support this contention.
Alberts, B., Trivializing Science Education, Science, 20 January 2012: Vol. 335 no. 6066 p. 263 | DOI: 10.1126/science.1218912
Tyler, D. Creationism and Intelligent Design in science lessons, ARN Literature Blog (9 September 2011)
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