Looking for multi-sciences : A reader response on multiple perspectives in curriculum by Cassandra Waldon for EDU 6460 Curriculum, Culture, Language

Looking for multi-sciences : A reader response on multiple perspectives in curriculum by Cassandra Waldon for EDU 6460 Curriculum, Culture, Language

My Grandfather never went to school past Grade 8. He grew up in a small town, in rural Caledon, Ontario. He drove tractors, grew vegetables and tended cows: he was a farmer. Despite not participating in any secondary schooling, his education did not stop once he ceased to enter the grand wooden doors of the one-room schoolhouse. As he continued to work amongst the fields, the land became his teacher; the land taught him his survival. This survival was not a result of abstract scientific theories handed down to him in the classroom. Rather, it derived from his respectful relationship with his lived experience of “here” (Chambers, 1999, p.142).

I like to think of the knowledge that my Grandfather shared with me as a “gentle” knowledge due to its quiet and non-intrusive nature. I remember looking at the shapes of the clouds, the wispy tails telling me to enjoy that summer day, because the next day would be rain. I have memories of quietly examining the brown wooly caterpillar on the pavement in the fall, trying to recall if he was woollier than last year, and if I needed to buy a warmer jacket for winter. I envision myself examining the way the leaves turned in the wind, and feeling that initial excitement for the storm that was soon to come. This was all knowledge passed down to me by observing and listening to family conversations. A quiet child by nature, my Grandfather’s advice resonated in my ears: “You can learn a lot by just listening.” I feel that this wisdom was key to my Grandfather’s science: letting nature do its teachings without trying to assert our own authority.

Gaskell (2003) argues that modern science and traditional science are no more or less correct than the other. He defines modern science as our standard, textbook science, peer-reviewed and based on concrete evidence. Traditional science is referred to as knowledge informed by nature and/or culture. The “length and strength” of the information drawn upon within these two ways of scientific knowledge decides credibility (p. 243). Although he feels that there is a parallel between nature and society, he argues that neither nature nor social power determine truth. “As we decide truths about how nature works,” he tells us, “we also decide what we are interested in as a society and what forms of authority we believe” (p. 243). Based on my educational experiences, I cannot seem to accept that society as a collective whole decides on one type of science to believe in. As I contrast my academic and personal experiences of science, I note that the voices prescribing the science curriculum in our textbooks do not reflect everyone in Canadian society. Where were my Grandfather’s teachings? My private experience of learning from the land was counter to the systemic “civilizing mission” of transmission of “modern science” as public knowledge. Thus, although teachings from my grandfather were credible to me, they didn’t have the length or strength of our school textbooks—nor were they conformable to government ideology (Gaztambide-Fernandez, 2008). Length and strength are more relative to the authority our governmentally influenced curriculum withholds, which rather undemocratically decides what type of science we “choose” to believe.

I contrast memories with my Grandfather with heavier memories of post-secondary Science education. Words that come to mind are sterile and cold. I couldn’t seem to make the human connection in my classes.  I was assessed on my ability to answer multiple-choice questions on cells and how accurately I could draw tables in a notebook. This puzzled me. Is not the interest of “modern” science to foster a more complex understanding of our relationships with the world? How could this be underscored by my ability to circle a letter on a test? The first year science program required that everyone take a number of general science courses: Biology, Chemistry, Math, and Physics. I don’t recall being offered any other ‘alternative’ science courses. Instead, I was spoon-fed a semester of “modern” science: this was how some humans in “my” society had chosen to understand the world, and these were the skills that were going to get me into the workforce (Gaskell, 2003).

What I don’t understand is, if this “modern” science is what the majority had agreed upon as most salient and most credible, why is it that all I can remember from that year are white lab coats, test tubes and a few dead tarantulas staring back at me from a jar? I still employed the skills I had learned of observing, but in the constructs of the academic environment, I never truly felt that I was engaging in quiet, contemplative listening—there was no room for my science.

Questions of authority arise in Gaskell’s (2003) paper as he attempts to negotiate his understandings of the modern technology now present in a Dayak village. “Modern science” superiority is veiled behind his argument for teaching multi-sciences. His deficit stance on indigenous knowledge is evident as he reflects that we can incorporate other sciences without affecting the “integrity” of modern science (Donald, Glanfield & Sterenberg, 2011). Gaskell positions himself as the scientific expert as he contemplates what a “successful” science curriculum would look like in the community, ignoring that the village had already established a scientific way of knowing that worked for their context. A more interesting account would perhaps include a conversation with people of the village about their ways of knowing. Instead, Gaskell wonders how his science curriculum would look in this village, whether it would be accepted, and who would decide what was accepted. Gaskell could have benefitted from observing and listening in order to gain a greater understanding— perhaps someone would have answered his questions.

Gaskell (2003) concludes his paper by looking to border crossing as a solution to negotiating different science teachings in the classroom. I find the idea of border crossing difficult. It implicates sharp differences separated by a line, a line I had difficulties overcoming in my post-secondary education. I would like to argue instead that interconnecting multiple methods of science would eliminate borders. Connecting ideologies within the curriculum would show where different methods of science intertwine instead of essentializing different cultures. This would also eliminate emphasis on what one’s culture should be and instead underscore philosophies relevant to different communities in a relational stance (Donald, Glanville, Sterenberg, 2011). Furthermore, interconnectivity would override any idea of one dominant and prescribed science curriculum within our schools. Although my Grandfather didn’t adhere to the scientific discoveries in journals and textbooks, he still utilized the technology to help work what he already knew about the land. For example, he drove a big, green John Deere tractor to plow his fields. He complimented this modern science with his knowledge of climate to know when to plow the fields. The two sciences were interconnected: harvesting of the crops would not have happened without consideration of either form. Thus, interconnecting knowledge embodies the fluidity that needs to be promoted within our curriculum. Scientific knowledge can be lengthened and strengthened by interconnectivity rather than by being broken down and compartmentalized.

References

Chambers, C. (1999). A Topography for Canadian Curriculum Theory. Canadian Journal of  Education, 24 (2), pp. 137-150.

Donald, D. Glanfield, F. and Sterenberg, G. (2011). Culturally Relational Education in and With an Indigenous Community. In Education, 17 (3), n.p.

Gaskell, J. (2003), Engaging science education within diverse cultures. Curriculum Inquiry, (33) 3, 235–249.

Gaztambide-Fernández, R. A. (2008), The artist in society: Understandings, expectations, and   curriculum implications. Curriculum Inquiry, (38) 3, 233– 265.