CEPA eprint 3122

Re-examining lived experiences: Radical constructivism and gender

Barton A. C. & Osborne M. D. (1999) Re-examining lived experiences: Radical constructivism and gender. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 6(1): 47–59. Available at http://cepa.info/3122
Table of Contents
Introduction
Deconstructing assumptions through “doing science” with girls
Braids in Summer Science Camp
Radically constructing science with Jennifer
Practice, policy and research implications
Conclusions
References
Radical constructivism grows out of the belief that knowledge is constructed and legitimated by individuals as they make sense of their experiences in particular contexts and drawing on their own histories. Extending this understanding of learning and ways of knowing to girls as they work in the terrain of science, we argue that honoring student experience as the starting place for science instruction fundamentally alters the nature of science, the purpose of teaching and learning science, and the focus of relationships in science class. The implications for this position are extensive: they suggest the dynamic relationships between language and cultural background of students and teachers alter the ways in which science education historically has enacted discipline, curriculum and pedagogy. We argue that this is particularly important to understand, for science and science education have historically operated within the masculine domain and working with girls in science in ways that respects their (gendered and cultural) construction of knowledge and their experiences, fundamentally alters the enterprise of science – an idea contradictory to most visions of the purposes of education and current reform efforts in science education, even the most liberal.
Introduction
Current reform efforts in science education in the United States suggest that all students should attain some foundational knowledge of the substance and processes of science: they should become scientifically literate. Labeled “science for all,” these are described in the report “Project 2061” (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1989, 1993) and subsequent documents (Goals 2000, 1994; National Research Council, 1996). Recently, this ideal has been challenged to consider the question of “all” across issues of language (Lee & Fradd, 1998), social class (Barton, 1998a), race and gender (Osborne & Barton, 1998; Rodriguez, 1998). These challenges are best summarized by Lee and Fradd (1998):
Science education reform emphasizes both excellence and equity for all students. Definitions of what constitutes scientific literacy remain ill-defined and illusive. Although educators seek to define and provide quality science instruction, limited attention has been given to equity. Achieving the goal of “science for all” requires the reconceptualization of fundamental issues of diversity and equity. (p. 19)
Issues of diversity and equity in relation to “science for all” have raised questions about how the “all” in “science for all” is conceptualized, and how it is, as science educators, we value students’ lives and experiences (Ball & Osborne, 1998).
Students’ lives and experiences have become more integral to classroom practice since the constructivist paradigm in science education started to gain supporters in the 1980’s. During the last fifteen years constructivism in general and radical constructivism in particular has been advocated as an epistemological and pedagogical framework useful for thinking through and using the experiences of students as means for instruction in science. Advocates of this framework take the position that knowledge is constructed and legitimated whenever it makes sense to an individual in a particular experiential context (Eisenhart, Finkel, & Marion, 1996). Here, the emphasis in learning is not on the correspondence with an external authority but on the construction by the learner of schemes which are coherent and useful to him or her (Driver, Squires, Rushworth, & Wood-Robinson, 1994).
In this manuscript we use the framework provided by radical constructivism to problematize the relationship between equity, diversity, and “science for all” as well as to illustrate how these in turn reshape the relationships between the discipline, curriculum and pedagogy to move beyond its masculine and cultural constraints. In doing so, the nature of our response takes three turns. First, we examine briefly radical constructivism and draw from this framework a set of working ideas regarding science, gender and education. We refer to this position as “feminist radical constructivism.” Second, we present a story from our own research doing science with girls, and use feminist radical constructivism to make sense of this story. Finally, we apply our findings to argue for policy, practice, and research that move beyond a science education defined as passing on the canonical knowledge of science. Policy, practice, and research must be centrally and passionately about the repercussions of doing science with children in the complex social sites created when children’s cultures and experiences are honored.
Gender, experience, and radical constructivism in science education
Theories of constructivism have been the dominant influence on science education research since the 1980s. Central to constructivism is a view about the nature of human knowledge, and more particularly, a view about the origins, transmission mechanisms and validation procedures of scientific knowledge. Ernst von Glasersfeld has had a great influence on the application of constructivism to math and science education through his articulation of radical constructivism in those areas. In science education, radical constructivism describes the epistemological position that knowledge is not the objective representation of an observer independent world (von Glasersfeld, 1987). Rather, knowledge refers to conceptual structures that epistemic agents, given the range of present experience within their tradition of thought and language, consider viable. von Glasersfeld writes:
Our knowledge is useful, relevant, viable, or however we want to call the positive end of the scale of evaluation, if it stands up to experience and enables us to make predictions and to bring about or avoid, as the case may be, certain phenomenon (i.e., appearances, events, experiences)….Logically, that gives us no clue as to how the “objective” world might be; it merely means that we know one viable way to a goal that we have chosen under specific circumstances in our experiential world. It tells us nothing….about how many other ways there might be. (p. 199)
As von Glasersfeld indicates in his writing, radical constructivism shifts the emphasis from the discipline to the learner. We become concerned not with students’ correct replication of particular knowledge but instead with their construction of explanations which make sense to them. Some have argued that this epistemological position in the classroom is dangerous because it suggests “anything goes” (Duschl, 1990; Matthews, 1994). This is incorrect. The ultimate goal in a radical constructivist classroom is for students to create sensible explanations for phenomena. The focus of radical constructivism is on learning and how students come to know rather than on the presentation of canonically correct answers. Learning and knowing take place in a context, and what becomes important in radical constructivism is the sense making that happens within that context. In this sense situational knowledge and knowing take precedent.
At the most fundamental level, this epistemological framework raises serious questions about the nature of knowing in science, and what kinds of knowledge and understandings comprise its canon. We believe perhaps the most powerful contribution of radical constructivism is its orientation to power and knowledge. In fact, it forces us to ask the primary, political, curriculum questions, “Whose knowledge?” or “Knowledge for what purpose?” (Harding, 1991). These questions – critically important to challenging our understandings and practices with regards to equality and diversity – have been brought out most recently through discussions of the political possibilities existent within radical constructivism (Désautels, Garrison, & Fleury, 1998).
With regards to gender and science education, the primary and political curricular questions about whose knowledge and for what purpose raised by radical constructivism are critical: as feminists remind us, science has been historically a male-dominated activity, and the culture and practice of science embraces masculine values and ways of knowing the world. In addition and for us even more problematic, the positivist stance of science hides its sociocultural origins. Herein we refer to this radical constructivist perspective regarding knowledge, power and gender as feminist radical constructivism.
A feminist radical constructivism offers a way for science educators to envision science for all differently. Visions of science for all and derivative articulations of science education are inherently conflicted unless they ask hard questions about the gendered sources and functioning of scientific and personal knowledge. Does the vision of a “science for all” act to perpetuate existing masculinist structures or enable their change?
Feminist radical constructivism applied to science education asks fundamental questions about what this means in our thinking about the discipline of science given its masculine history. And, it takes this into the political terrain in terms of how science and the teaching and learning of science is much more than simply describing – or even understanding – how the natural and designed worlds work. It is also about how people’s social identities are constructed within relations of power and the implications this has for what and how science gets done and by whom it gets done in the classroom or in the lab (Osborne, 1997).
For example, feminist radical constructivism allows alternative constructions of reality to have voice in the public realm, and to be valued/received with equal authority: it allows “multiple feminine realities.” This is important because it moves us away from understanding the world in simple dualities (male v. female), and it prevents one unified (master narrative) feminine perspective. Black feminist writers, in particular, have illustrated the singular feminine position most often reflects white and middle class values and experiences (hooks, 1994). The reliance on experiential context is significant because it squarely situates understanding and authority within “reachable” domains of individual experience. Finally, feminist radical constructivism adds the political dimension to science education for it recognizes the “labels” attached to knowledge and their sources, and allows us to place different ways of knowing in juxtaposition to one another. For example, one child’s understandings are validated by her articulation of her experiences and these in turn might be different from the child next to her. In a classroom where these are both expressed and respected, the situationally constructed qualities of knowledge must be acknowledged and this is in turn highly political for these qualities reflect inequalities and power differentials. Feminist radical constructivism in science education is about constructing places in which the enterprise of science can be rethought and “science” can be placed in its proper position as a tool for enacting societal change for the better.
Deconstructing assumptions through “doing science” with girls
Braids in Summer Science Camp
My (Margery’s) research has looked closely at how understandings and beliefs about the discipline, children and learning, and the contexts and purposes of education, shape what a teacher does. I don’t view this relationship as one in which any of the particular constructs I have just listed are held constant and unchanging. I believe that as a teacher juggles these often competing images, their substance alters in response to one another. In particular, images and understandings of the discipline of science change as the needs and goals of children are negotiated. I argue that in effect, science is remade, redefined in provocative and important ways by teachers as they work with children. Such a line of inquiry is important for I believe the enterprise of education is fundamentally conflicted – driven by both disciplinary “standards” and slogans such as “science for all” advocating inclusivity. My work explores these concerns in a number of different settings but primarily revolves around my teaching children (and sometimes adults) science in ways that evolve as the learners needs become apparent to me.
In particular, I have been participating in summer science camps located in either local schools or a Boys and Girls Club. I usually work with early elementary age students because I also teach early elementary science methods classes to pre- and practicing teachers during the academic school year. I like to “keep my hand in” so to speak so I can bring the immediacy of experience doing science with the appropriate age children to my methods classes. The summer science camps themselves serve multiple purposes; they are situated within an on-going science education workshop program initiated more than ten years ago by a local school science educator, Marilyn Sinclair. Marilyn served as science coordinator in the Champaign district schools, acting as resource person and academic consultant. She wrote numerous successful grants, funded at the state level, to conduct curriculum writing workshops (the local elementary and middle schools teach all science from teacher authored science guides), maintain an extensive science resource library and conduct summer workshops helping local teachers become comfortable with constructivist science pedagogy.
Usually 100 to 120 children attend the science camps and special attention is paid to recruiting low income and minority children. As I said I teach a class of early elementary age children and I have upon occasion taken the opportunity to work, in this setting, on particular research questions of my own. The following story is from one of those instances in which I chose to compose the second grade class I was working with of only girls. I did this to see how the science taught with such a group would evolve and whether or not I could say that this evolution was in any way different from what I had observed in the past. The particular topic of this teaching – kite flying – was one I had taught many times, in many settings but never with a single sex group. Previously all children seemed to find it very engaging and the units seemed to go on way past the time I was ready to turn to other things.
In the summer of 1995 I taught a group of second grade girls in a local science camp. I had planned two weeks of kite flying and construction thinking it would be an exciting topic: I had recently renewed my enthusiasm with this myself after discovering two local, elderly ladies with a beautiful kite collection that they actually flew in their farm fields. The girls in the camp, however, represented a large number of different backgrounds – Korean daughters of graduate students; White middle class children with parents who were musicians and who went river rafting on the Colorado for vacations; White working class girls of fundamentalist religious background; some from blended marriages; two low socioeconomic status African American children on scholarships. One of the girls, Jennifer, a child with strong fundamentalist religious views, chose not to participate in the questioning I was leading the girls through as they compared their experiences with kite flying. She did not want to do the “science” side of anything I proposed. She led the class in turning our “science” into arts and crafts; turning the empirical testing of kite tail design into a workshop on braiding.
Now I believe that at the core of much science is an exploration of materials – thinking about their properties and the things that can be done with them. This becomes a question of design – fundamental to science are questions of design or purposeful creation using the materials at hand. The act of design, in turn, is an interaction among materials, the person and metaphorical images of purpose. When asking children to “do” science I also ask them to explore the nature of science, thinking on a meta-level about acts of design and personal agency in science. So I responded to Jennifer by changing the curriculum to accommodate – I provided many different materials for braiding and then crafts; I asked questions about the qualities of materials in light of what the children wanted to do with them. I asked the children repeatedly to think and articulate ways they thought what we were doing was science. The science became hidden beneath the “crafts” but it was still there as we examined the properties of materials, testing and assessing them. We designed things and tried to construct them. When we examine the things the children have made – the girl’s braids, for example – they were able to articulate the qualities of the ribbon, yarn and other things I provided as well as the qualities of their own acts. The activities were shaped by the children’s desires, aesthetic and their past histories, which were in turn altered by their experiences in this class. Jennifer, in particular, spends a lot of time taking care of younger siblings, bathing, dressing and brushing their hair. I believe you can see this background in her choice of activity. Doing this in a way that is free and playful would not be part of her experience, however. Neither would thinking about the nature of the act of braiding (the mathematics and patterns here are very interesting). While the idea of making something is certainly purposeful, and it becomes playful and also thoughtful as I transform the curriculum to accommodate.
Finally the girls started to make bird’s nests with the materials, first imagining what birds did when weaving their nests then trying it out with the materials at hand. I brought various sorts of nests in for the girls to look at. We ended our science camp going out and finding birds nests in the bushes and trees around the school. Then we collected the same materials and tried making the nests ourselves. Our conversations now concerned talking about designing the nests and explicitly about the nature of the verb “design.” At one point Emily, another child in the class says, “A design is, well, if someone said, “well, let’s build a nest,” they’d have to design it … how they were going to build the nest, they’d say, “well how are we going to build the nest?” and they’d probably go like this [indicates a nest] … they’d get the right stuff so they could twist it up, otherwise it would be… [indicates a pile of grasses] … it doesn’t really look like a nest.” I ask the girls if that’s all it takes to make a nest, a plan and the right materials.
Margery: OK could anyone think of any other things? Andrea?
Andrea: Why do birds, I mean, why do we all need homes even birds?
Margery: Why’s that?
Jennifer: Feeding the babies…and taking care of them.
Margery: How?
Caitlin: Like bringing them food?
Sabrina: They sat on the eggs to keep them warm and when the eggs hatch they went and um … birds steal things to eat but … and then when they hatch one comes racing home to feed them.
Andrea: Because birds do that because they shouldn’t let their babies stay alone.
Margery: Uh huh, all birds do that?
Jennifer: Well I don’t think they all take care of their babies because like they didn’t show up they didn’t show the um…
Margery: The parents?
I don’t know here that the girls were always talking about birds. Such an evolution in the science we were doing happened by responding to the children’s wishes rather than forcing them to choose science or their own desires. As the girls in this story co-opt the science discussions to begin their own explorations of braiding and materials and finally, families, they enlarge our definitions of science to include the aesthetic and emotional/social. I tried to address this by my role in providing multiple opportunities and pathways of engagement. As the girls play in the terrain of science they destabilize all definitions and relations, particularly those traditionally thought of as constituting “science.”
Radically constructing science with Jennifer
Experience is important in the case of Jennifer and her braids because of the highly political nature of education (Dewey, 1938/1963; Freire, 1971/1990). Dewey wrote that experience in itself is not enough:
We have to understand the significance of what we see, hear and touch … we cannot tell just what the consequences of observed conditions will be unless we go over past experiences in our mind, unless we reflect upon them and by seeing what is similar in them to those now present, go on to form a judgment of what may be expected in the present situation.” (p. 68)
The connection of experience to education is not unproblematic, especially when considering the political dimension of education. The girls in our story were not interested in testing materials or thinking about their properties except in the context of braiding. They were interested in birds’ nests because of the domestic connections created as they wove and thought about the things they created. The connections between experience and doing science were not superficial, they fundamentally redefined science because they were connected to the girls life-purposes and the things they cared about. Science is driven by purposes as are experiences and the girls purposes were aesthetic or domestic not abstracted understandings of phenomena. Such a redefinition is radical when compared to articulations of science typically invoked by slogans such as “science for all.”
In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire writes about the need for education to be about conscientização. In his words, this means, learning to perceive social, political, and economic contradictions in one’s experiences and in the world, and to take actions against the oppressive elements of those experiences. Poststructural feminism has a similar call for educators. Much of the poststructural feminist position about experience and education can be summarized in Chris Weedon’s (1987) words: “The meaning of experiences is perhaps the most crucial site of political struggle over meaning since it involves personal, psychic and emotional investment on the part of the individual” (p. 79). Thus, like Freire, poststructural feminists call for a deconstruction of the taken-for-granted so that, in the context of teaching academic subjects, teachers and students can collectively understand how and why certain knowledge bases have formed the way they have, and the implications this has for the teaching and learning of that subject, and for the student who must connect her world to that subject (Barton, 1998a; Osborne, 1998).
Bringing the idea of conscientização and deconstruction of the taken-for-granted into Dewey’s description of the importance of experience in education suggests that understanding the significance of our experiences involves critically and problematically locating and understanding the self in the world – a disruption of both the clean separation of self and knowledge construction seen in traditional education or the efficient, tidy links between the known and the to-be-known as in many versions of constructivist education. Education through experience involves a questioning of each, and of the consequences of each for the community in which the learning transpires (Barton, 1998c; Osborne, 1998). In the case of science education, experience becomes a terrain where science, self, others, and the socioculture interact, and where each of these “domains” provide a particular lens for understanding and challenging the other. We believe this is partly what Freire, Dewey, and Weedon meant when each described education through experiences as a political struggle over meaning and consequences.
For example, it seems to us that experience had other meanings in Jennifer’s science education then in enabling her to do science or to connect with science. Jennifer’s reconstruction of the science to include braiding allowed her to participate in ways that didn’t dismiss her beliefs and relationships to knowledge and her construction of herself as a “knower.” Jennifer’s experiences taking care of her siblings represent gendered realities as well as her socioculture. In other words, allowing Jennifer the space to shift from kite tails to braids valued Jennifer’s needs and questions of the moment. Her experiences shifted the focus from the curriculum or the science (flying kites) to herself and her expertise and interest in braiding. This shift is subtle but important: Jennifer used her experience not just to connect her home life to the science-to-be-learned, or to bridge the known with the not-known. She used her experience to fundamentally shift why she was in the science camp, what it was she could offer to the collective science experience at summer camp, and how other children engaged with her in the doing of science. Braiding became the basis for an extended study of materials and their qualities and led to a study of home building, design and families. This was not Margery’s original intent as the teacher. It was also most likely not Jennifer’s original intent as a girl interested in personal care and braids. However, when Margery’s push to help the children understand and question the world responded to Jennifer’s resistance to science and interest in braids, an unpredicted, personally connected, and highly symbolic science resulted.
This story of Jennifer provides a context to reflect on science and gendered and cultured experience, and in particular experience as a political struggle over meaning. This framework for understanding experience and science cannot be separated from its dynamic and political histories. Jennifer centralized her existing social conditions, locations, ideas, and self. Jennifer intentionally and purposefully enacted a process that had meaning in her material life. Her social context gave her actions meaning. Her doing of science was a physical artifact of her enacted relationship between context and action in science.
Practice, policy and research implications
The implications for the feminist radical constructivist stance are enormous for how we teach and construct science – and self – in schools. In the United States, current science reform efforts are built on the belief that without teaching the canon of science students will be excluded from the community of scientists. This is critical to constructivist arguments for meaningful science education: Use students’ experiences as bridges to the canon of science so that students will feel their experiences valued, have a concrete starting point for learning science and language, and ultimately learn the canon that will open doors to the scientific community.
This is where, we believe, radical feminist constructivism, pushes our thinking about “science for all” forward. As radical feminist constructivists, we recognize the crucial gate-keeping role of knowing the canon of science, yet, we argue that the process is much more political and high-stakes than what is presented thus far in this article. As we seriously integrate the needs of all learners into a “science for all,” we also need to consider the repercussions this has for the goals and purposes of science and schooling. We are not so naive to think that we can change the community of science by what we accomplish in our classrooms overnight. However, we believe it is important to acknowledge that using students’ experiences to teach science remolds students’ experiences into the ones that those in the science community has imagined for them. Given the white and masculine history of western science, this would mean silencing the vast majority of experiences and values students’ bring to the classroom, including the need to connect exploration of the world with social relationships and aesthetics. We argue that the process of connecting students experience with the doing of science should be envisioned as highly interactive. For example, we see part of the goal of using student experience as helping students develop a understanding of formal science from the standpoint of their own experiences, and that the very process of coming to understand this canon through experience would deny the possibility of an objective reality. This is important because it would allow children to understand science as a subjective practice – one that embodies the complex and contradictory locations of the lives of those who construct that knowledge. The creation of these kinds of spaces in science class pushes on the boundaries of science, and potentially critically repositions science. Doing science becomes a contested practice, and this contested practice is a liberating dimension in coming-to-know science.
Returning to the case of Jennifer helps make this point. Jennifer had resisted engaging in the science until her interests re-shaped the science she and her camp-mates were doing rather than merely enabling her to connect to the science presented to her. This point is crucial. As the teacher, Margery had many choices to make in doing science with the children, and in particular, for helping Jennifer to engage in science. She could have continued to centralize the question of how kites work. She could even have done this with feminine examples, such as the ones which seemed important to Jennifer, like braiding. However, Margery chose to follow Jennifer’s experience in ways which radically altered what and how science was done in her class. This had powerful consequences for teacher, students, and science. Jennifer’s experiences and Margery’s response to those experiences opened a space for Margery and Jennifer to question both the known and the to-be-known in science class, and of the consequences of each for each. They help us to see just how much gendered and cultural experience shapes how one constructs science and self in relation to that science.
As Dewey and Freire have reminded us, experience in education moves students and teachers into the highly political process of struggling for and challenging meaning in context. For example, we argue that it is important for science teachers to see as central to their role supporting a child’s intentional decision to link thinking with action and socioculture necessitates a coming-to-know through an interaction between an individual, objects, community, and culture (Dewey, 1938). This coming-to-know in science (and science class) is both dynamic (changing with each new articulation) and political (influential of/on self and others). It is also both individual and communal.
Conclusions
Beginning science instruction with student experience fundamentally alters the nature of science, the purpose of teaching and learning science, and the focus of relationships in science class in ways that undo the original intent of the reforms if that was for “all” children to learn the “same” science. Education through experience is a political struggle over meaning and consequences.
The implications for this position are extensive: they suggest the dynamic relationships between experience and cultural background of students and teachers alter the ways in which science education historically has enacted discipline, curriculum and pedagogy. Science for all is built through a politics of difference. The phrase, a politics of difference can be dangerous if not continuously interrogated: it can be used to legitimize and maintain the borders and oppositions that we set ourselves because of race, gender, class, sexuality, level of education, and other forms of identity labeling that situate us within a particular community (hooks, 1994). However, as Young (1990) argues, using a politics of difference can be liberating and community-building because it asserts “unassimilated otherness” or giving representation, or “voice” to different smaller-groupings (p. 319). By deconstructing the ideal of homogeneity within community it allows for a transformation of all members through the recognition of difference (Osborne, 1998).
We feel a need, at this point of closure, to re-emphasize that experience in science is not simply about staying within the boundaries of what happened within a particular child’s life. This is why the ideas of a public and dynamic coming-to-know, or experience as the struggle for meaning, and community through difference are so important. Transposing the story of Jennifer onto the purposes and goals of schooling, suggests that school science could be reframed to encourage embodied agency and to promote a vision of science education as being constituted through personal, situated experience. Yet, this perspective raises many questions that must be resolved. If science education were to be built on experience rather than science, how would classrooms and teacher-student relationships be constructed? How would we know when “science happened” or what would we do as science educators if we thought that “science was not happening.” What would an experientially based science education do to the neat boundaries set up between the scientific disciplines, Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Earth Science? It seems to us that the production of science as emergent from experience would – and should – blur these boundaries. Finally, if the gate-keeping institution of schooling continues to operate on objectivist assumptions about knowledge and learning, where science teaching is reduced only to the acquisition or mastery of skills or techniques, then how might focusing on embodied agency and socially recursive science influence access to the culture of power, especially by girls and all children of color already marginalized by schooling?
Feminist radical constructivism enables us to move beyond an assimilationist model for science education. Although the argument is strong for enculturating all students into the culture of science so that career paths in science will be open for all students, we believe that this promotes elitism at the expense of equality. It also promotes a static image of science rather than the shifting and contextual image emergent in our story about Jennifer. The essence of an inclusive science lies in the feminist radical constructivist argument for the desire and ability to value and act upon a multiplicity of cultural experiences, values and expectations. By valuing the life experiences of all children, teachers and students, in the struggle to create an inclusive science, can begin to reframe the masculinist and white institutions of science and education by creating spaces from which to make explicit and problematic gender and cultural biases in the teaching and learning of science (Barton, 1998b). We believe that this critical exploration must move beyond instrumental glances at “cultural difference” in science learning or add-on “cultural” activities; they must involve theoretical and practical explorations of the meaning and production of culture in science class as well as knowledge–power relationships maintained by the institution of science. This involves teachers working with children to unearth the assumptions they bring to a study of the natural world not as a way to eliminate bias in science, but rather as a way to emphasize a more inclusive science. This transforms both science teaching and science in the space of the classroom.
Feminist radical constructivism suggests that honoring student experience as the starting place for science instruction fundamentally alters the nature of science, the purpose of teaching and learning science, and the focus of relationships in science class. The dynamic relationships between the cultural backgrounds of students and teachers alter the ways in which science education historically has enacted discipline, curriculum and pedagogy. As was the case with Jennifer all of the children in our classrooms engage in science in gendered and cultured ways. All bring their histories, values, beliefs and emotional, social selves to our science. As teachers we cannot deny this or ignore it. Our acts can effectively re-write science so that it openly expresses its situated development, and thus its gendered and cultured histories. Science and science education have historically operated within the masculine domain and working with girls and minorities in science in ways that respect their (gendered and cultural) construction of knowledge and their experiences, fundamentally alters the enterprise of science – an idea contradictory to most visions of the purposes of education and current reform efforts in science education, even the most liberal.
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