“I try to present the information as neutral”, said a friend and colleague of mine as they engaged their History 10 students in a discussion about various forms of government as part of the political decision-making outcomes, to which you could see and hear students respond to the different political ideologies with fervor as it aligned or contrasted with their developing beliefs. It would be ignorant for me to assume that all teachers try to “present the information as neutral” on a consistent basis, but I would propose that many do. The very thought of trying to collect data and transcripts detailing every conversation in every classroom in Saskatchewan is overwhelming. Nonetheless, my colleague’s intent to be neutral is noble, and is a shared, daunting task for many educators worldwide… even though to be completely neutral is impossible for any individual.
Educators regularly tow the line of delivering content in a means that is “as neutral as possible”, and this is lined with fears about accidentally saying the “wrong thing” or “too much” (sometimes this dialogue has the potential to tarnish public perception of education). While it is unfortunate that they have this fear (educators aren’t alone in this), tact and consideration before speaking is a valuable skill, specifically in today’s social climate, as well as considering the implications of your words (but more on this topic another time). However, this means that educators don’t feel the freedom to speak candidly on topics that may be relevant to curriculum or based on the learning interests of the students. That being said, parents and other community members are right to care about their student’s education and advocating for multiple perspectives in education in the classroom. While hopes are that parents and teachers can continue to build trust between one another and develop an open discourse, this is sometimes countered through the proclaimed pursuit of neutral or “politic-free” education which, as I mentioned above, is impossible.
Why is Neutral or Politic-Free Education Impossible?
The sum total of your lived experiences (culture, biology, trauma, etc.) influences your identity and, by extension, your opinions and daily interactions with everyone. One can hold the belief that they can shelter or hide their identity or political beliefs from others, but the reality is that your conservative, liberal, nationalist, or globalist views are an important part of who you are that are reflected in your actions, words and life. This bias is reflected in any communication that occurs with others which includes educator-student, parent-student, or parent-educator. Bias is often used negatively, and while it is a confounding factor in society, it is a reality (even in artificial intelligence design), and taking steps to avoid it promotes self-awareness. When considering this in addressing educational curriculum-writing and the potential political implications of curricular content, it becomes clear the futility in attempting to achieve the neutral or politic-free ideal.
“We’ll get politics out of the classroom” is a phrase that is shared and held by individuals in Saskatchewan and Alberta. While the potential intent is to have teachers be less politically-biased in the instruction of students, acknowledging the potentially manipulative nature of education; education does influence the worldview of students. Completely removing bias is an impossible task academically, professionally and personally, especially when curricula is composed of outcomes related to relevant topics and issues that are inherently political, for example:
Analyze the production, reliability and uses of geoscience data to investigate the effects of a changing climate on society and the environment.
This is a climate change outcome, a contentious topic in media. Data can be presented to students regarding the investigation “of the effects of a changing climate”, however, the selection of data provided to students, including the source and amount of evidence provided, is inescapably biased regardless of the educator’s stance. This is exacerbated when students likely are approaching the content biased, having already been exposed via their social networks to topic-relevant information. This climate change outcome also highlights how navigating it as educators is increasingly complicated when you live in a resource-based economy heavily influenced by the fossil fuel industry.
It’s important to acknowledge that the fossil fuel industry contributes to the livelihood of many families in Canada and its disruption has the potential to negatively impact these people. However, it’s also important to note that climate science education isn’t meant to belittle the work of fossil fuel-sector employees or undervalue the importance of these resources to energy-production, manufacturing and associated products.
When investigating geoscience data, which can be done through textbooks or a multitude of online sources informed from peer-reviewed articles, most evidence (scientific consensus) points towards anthropogenic climate change and that the Earth’s overall climate is warming. Extending further, when challenging students to analyze sources for reliability, many of the sources fulfill the best practices for evaluating sources for credibility and reliability. As students synthesize this information, it may appear that the educator is pushing their kids to be pro-climate change, even if they attempt to deliver content from opposing viewpoints. However, when applying outcomes and intents of the curriculum including scientific literacy and “engaged citizens”, neutrality on this political topic becomes impossible, but is not presented this way in media and therefore not interpreted this way by members of the community.
Media presentation of topics like climate change may widen generational divides between youth and previous generations or foster distrust between educators and community members concerned about their student’s education. Most media is created and worded to generate a reaction (“likes, shares, and clicks”) and unfortunately, at times, this incites division, in this case between the public and the education system. Division may then be taken advantage of by parties who seek to gain from this, of which guilt can be assigned regardless of an individual’s affiliation. Oddly enough, both sides normally have the same goal, which is “what’s best for the student”, but each side, at times, fail to recognize that reality in the “opposing” party, and may forfeit critical thinking due to their personal, inescapable biases. All of this highlights the complications of promoting “neutral” education as a political tactic, rather than the promotion of critical thinking to create informed citizens.
Not Being Neutral is Important
Critical thinking is an imperative in today’s connected world and many resources are available to help promote this, even though many conventions of society sway us to drift away from it, such as advertisements. As curriculum becomes renewed, critical thinking increasingly is a focal point in curricular writing. However, this may result in coming to a definitive conclusion on a topic that may influence political decision-making, a consequence of critical thinking, which is not neutral. To paraphrase Paulo Friere (pictured to the right) from Pedagogy of the Oppressed, educators can’t be neutral, and this is exacerbated when promoting critical thinking. Further to this point, to attempt to be neutral is to be complicit in issues, be they about politics, social justice, environment, or others.
This presents the importance of the educator’s role in improving their personal critical thinking skills, addressing curricular topics through this lens in their classroom, and the inherent modelling to students of an informed opinion and generating an open, respectful dialogue on these topics.
To extend this further, it’s what the students want from their teachers. In my experience living and working in education in Saskatchewan (which I acknowledge is an isolated subjective, personal experience), students want to know what their teacher’s opinions are on topics and current issues in society. It builds student-educator relationships, but it puts a lot of pressure on the tact used by the teacher in these scenarios. The teacher is in a unique position, as how they deliver that opinion will undoubtedly influence the student (this is sometimes referred to as hidden curriculum). It becomes important that the teacher still respects opposing viewpoints or individuals (for example, even if you oppose a particular political leader, your rhetoric needs to be respectful and critical). I understand that administrators and some experts may feel that this is best avoided due to the influential role of the teacher, but I, once again, posit that this influence is unavoidable. As educators, this presentation of a (hopefully) respectful and informed opinion is fundamental component of creating engaged citizens. The variations in which this occurs from classroom to classroom helps learners refine their own views, ideally in this critical, intersectional approach. However, this falls short in the absence of additional education from family and community members. “It takes a village” to create more critically literate learners. Through the promotion of an open, respectful dialogue, and a lack of neutrality without forfeiting self-awareness and open-mindedness, society may become more critically literate.
This post was written on Treaty 4 territory, the original lands of the Cree, Ojibwe, Saulteaux, Dakota, Nakota, Lakota, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation. This acknowledgement is made to recognize harm and mistakes of the past, their impact on the present, and an ongoing commitment to the pursuit of reconciliation and partnerships with Indigenous Nations.
The author’s social context is that of a caucasian (predominantly Eastern European ancestry), cisgendered, straight male (pronouns He/Him), born and raised in an English-speaking, middle-class family in Saskatchewan, Canada. These details are included to present potential influences and privileges associated with the author.
Links to sources of content are embedded into document.
It ended up being more of a companion to the science curriculum and the digital citizenship education guide. As I went through making this document and previously considered – digital literacy seemed the be the root theme of what I was supporting in the creation of the document. However, as I began creating my lesson plans – I learned that many of the other aspects of Ribble’s Nine Elements would be at work when actually trying to pursue the specific lessons in my classrooms (the only one I had a hard time working in was Digital Commerce).
A new visual I made incorporating responsible use with scientific use.
As I was working on it and considered my growth in science education that I experienced this year in part due to my work in ECI 842, I realized the importance I find in multiple perspectives in science as having significant value. This not only made me consider including the connections of implementing digital citizenship in science education to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action, but it also helped me dig deeper into the science curriculum itself.
In my last post I mentioned how in-depth the curriculum was, and how this helped me check my ambition of completely dissecting the curriculum and assigning connections in it to digital citizenship.
I didn’t realize how well they had described what I think science is and should be in the aims and goals of the curriculum. This really made me question what all I missed as a biology minor rather than being a secondary science major in my undergraduate degree, because I originally planned these assignments around the thinking that some of my perspectives weren’t found in great depth in other science classrooms in Saskatchewan (they still might not be, but it is not because of the curriculum).
I tried to consider why I felt this way, and in talking with my fiance, we considered the idea that I don’t get to talk to very many other science educators except for the four(ish) in my high school – none of which specialize in Biology like I do, my cooperating teacher and predecessor retired, but without teaching the same courses at the same time, the dialogue regarding practices in the class may not have been as easily possible. It sounds like a convenient and cliche revelation to have at the end of the semester, but it really emphasized the need for me to begin following more biology, science-educating individuals in my personal learning network, and continue to take on interns in the future for the value in different perspectives available out there (shout out to Jesse Bazzul as well for suggesting I consider pursuing opportunities for exposure to new perspectives).
Ironically, the document I created has had the greatest impact on my own understandings and applications of science education to digital citizenship.
As I worked on my resource for digital literacy in science classrooms, I soon learned that it would be very difficult to address the entire science curriculum. So I decided to focus on the foundations of scientific literacy and how they applied to digital citizenship.
I just completed the Health Science documentary last week and felt there was a lot of success and positive discussion among the students during and following the video – we’re extending the learning afterwords to look into other types of diets and the validity associated with them. I strongly recomme
There was some significant ideas that stood out throughout this semester:
It is beneficial to be digital residents, but you have to be educated on how to use it responsibly and proactively.
Our class is composed of a great diversity of educators that provide refreshing perspectives on many topics.
Being critical and skeptical are integral parts of life online and offline.
While we can educate students who belong to a particular generation, we have to be aware of the role of parents and everyone else in society who possess different worldviews and perspectives than what the students are educated on. Everyone needs education.
Literacy is what all teachers are trying to accomplish regardless of whether or not it is digital, media, or scientific literacy.
Thanks for a great semester everyone!
– Logan Petlak My summary of learning video:
Live critical lives,
In Digital reality.
Connected not alone
Online’s another part of me.
We’re learning bout literacy
Old Facebook Logan, he was embarrassing
Because he didn’t ask, didn’t know.
Should I share? Should I post?
For science teachers though, maybe I will make policy
Students, deconstruct this “fact”
Dig-Citizenship is what I want
It’s culturally significant.
Social, media and us are one.
But what about parents not in class todayyyy?
All of us, ooo
Can we all be digitally-wise?
To be digital residents for all tomorrows
Literallyyy everything, we consume matters.Oh hey, Ribble’s nine elements (“munts”)
Digital literacy emphasized?
Sharing anything seems like a crime.
Why didn’t anybody, fact-check this post?
Check your personal bias to find the truth.
Students, in my classroom (critically assess all news posts)
To truly live online
I’d be skeptical of everything I saw!
I made a comment on a post made by a man
He told me, he told me, I’m a liberal psycho!
He really just could not see, I’m helping soc-i-e-ty!
ALEC COUROS, ALEC COUROS
ALEC COUROS, ALEC COUROS
ALEC COUROS told me so – WORK WITH ME BRO
But fake news is all over the TV
It’s freaking everywhere, corrupting ideologies
Overcome this challenge fight cognitive ease!
Easy to, blindly follow, every single post
ARE CLAIMS VALID – What about this post?
(BOUT THIS POST)
WHY SAY THAT – What about this post? (BOUT THIS THOUGH)
NO I CAN’T – I will scroll past this post.
(ABOUT THIS THOUGH)
WON’T SCROLL PAST THIS POST (PAST THIS POST)
WILL SCROLL PAST THIS POST (PAST THIS POST)
HELP ME COUROS
PLEASE HELP ME AL-EC COUR-OS
OH MEDI-AH AH MEDI-AH AH MEDIA ACROSS THE GLOBE
MINING DATA IS A TERRIFYING THOUGHT TO ME
Teach responsible use in your teaching time!
Be proactive rather than reactive online
Oh Amy, thanks for computer commandments Amy!
Educate about, educate for all of these things.
Nice post – Nice post
Fellow EdTech classers Glad you could teach me
All we’re really after, all we’re ever after is literacy. (Thank you Alec Couros).
What does all of this mean for science education (see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3)? Is this a depth and understanding all educators should have – all students should have? How does it look to teach this in a classroom? What about the barriers and divides that exist between the practice of education in classrooms and the achievement of these learnings for all members of society? What of the shortfalls of the Western education system? Why do we sit in desks? Is it the best way we learn? Do we all learn different?
Despite it being paradoxical, if everyone was capable of embracing and recognizing these issues through lenses of kinship with nature, pluralism, multiple perspectives, and subjectivity this may allow us all to proceed towards a collective “good” as a mosaic of individuals belonging to different cultures and places. We could critically analyze oppressive structures that are a fundamental part of our society today and see how they influence our perspectives and worldviews.
If you’ve been reading these posts or watching the videos up until now, you should see the passion I have for science education – how it looks for me – what I value – my perspectives and worldviews. It’d be short-sighted of me to think this is theway, but as I’ve hopefully conveyed, it is one of infinite potential ways of approaching science education and nature. One interpretation of an “infinite” universe based on a finite, limited experience, and who knows I may watch this video years from now and not agree with things I’ve said in it – and I asked questions in the videos and throughout their production. In creating these videos, I considered not having my face in it – simply doing a voice-over, yet then, instead, felt it would humanize me more, allow us to connect more by making me appear more real or “mortal”. Yet the fact that this video now is found on a system and network of electrical wires and code perhaps makes me immortal, despite my finite existence as a remixed compilation of atoms, cells, and experiences. The human you observe here may be long gone, yet continues to be a part of our new, natural world that includes the digital realm.
These thoughts in these blog posts and all of these videos – the nature of science, perspectives, kinship… they’re all parts of what I think science education should be and make you feel inside or outside of a classroom (wherever you learn, which should be everywhere). It’s why science shouldn’t be something you feel you aren’t good at, it’s why science should make you feel that kinship with nature and the universe, it’s why you shouldn’t just like science and nature, you should love science and nature. I believe as science educators and students, this is how it happens, you model what loving the universe feels like and what questioning everything looks like. What you do with that feeling, whether it is support environmental policies or simply find your place in this universe, is up to you.
Perspectives are subject to change from individual to individual. Discussing my life is a relativistic idea that is entirely dependent on the angle you approach it – do I discuss the changes over time through generations of my family? Do I discuss the influences of my childhood experiences? Or do I discuss the forms of life that existed long before humanity emerged in Earth’s history? If that’s not enough, our definitions of life are constantly being redefined and we are always learning about how complex life on Earth is. That being said, we can still explore our understandings and definitions of life and how it can serve to connect multiple perspectives.
Alas, even in our perception of the complexities of life, we still find ourselves relating it to how it connects with being human. We may fail to appreciate the perspectives of all aspects and parts of our universe. Spiritually, or creatively for some, we may consider the worldview of our air, the grass, an ocean; what is their story or narrative? Some of us may not be interested in that as it sounds too abstract, but the activity of challenging and considering multiple perspectives is paramount when approaching science. This approach lends itself to the idea of kinship with nature, and extending the idea of multiple ways of knowing and perceptions of nature to beyond the human experience. Some of us already do it for the non-human organisms we care for in our homes (examples being pets, like cats and dogs), but this idea seeks to extend this empathy to everything in nature: abiotic and biotic. It’s an ecocentric approach that places a value on everything in the natural environment – and even-so-far-as to use the phrase “natural environment” to be inclusive of the artificial creations of humanity.
Is this way of thinking right? We could argue, that competition and individualism is reflective of the idea of natural selection, and how survival of the fittest governs the changes of life over time; the strongest-suited to particular environment, in our case the strongest-suited to success in the Western world the environment is a class-based democratic, capitalist world (and success may be assessed in the form of wealth accumulation). This way of thinking could seek to keep us divided, or nepotistic. Yet I could instead argue the value cooperation and living harmoniously with nature has had on humans and our ancestors as a species over millennia. Having an attachment to, responsibility for, or sense of place and belonging in nature is a desire felt widely throughout many Canadian First Nations communities, and this kinship with nature was/is beneficial to success and happiness in certain contexts and environments. Even perspectives as a part of science were arrogant in nature and we can observe greater perspective and complexity as illustrated by Leroy Little Bear’s description of Blackfoot Metaphysics.
This isn’t meant to discredit the value of competition for promoting characteristics we’ve deemed valuable in society that may be realized through the sports we compete and choose to engage in. It’s a huge part of many of our experiences in the world today. These values are part of individuals within this broad idea of kinship and cooperation. Kinship and cooperation within our species places value on every thought and part of it.
It’s easy to think with this expansive definition of kinship that we are insignificant and, in a cosmic sense, we are, but your capacity to feel that emotion, and think that thought, is significant. What I do may hold little influence and value to the majority of humans, other organisms, and particles in nature. But my place in nature holds value for me, as it should for you – and through that lens of kinship holds value to the universe.
A cornerstone of science, specifically the scientific method, is objective thinking. Objective thinking has become a hallmark of popular individuals in the media aligned within the scientific community, and the rationale for this is not without merit. Objectivity possesses positive applications, free of subjective and confirmation bias not only to aiding in the widening scientific understandings on contemporary issues like vaccinations and climate change which can bring about positive social change and ecojustice, but encourage productive interactions amongst peers: Being able to remove bias and emotions can be productive tools to resolve disputes when considering relationships within our species. But to disregard bias and emotion as detrimental parts of being isn’t prudent. It isn’t an inclusive approach to the full human experience and individual perspectives found within each of us and, as Derek Hodson points out, that inclusive aspect to approaching science may be critical part of learning for all individuals.
Before, I spoke of the importance of what the nature of science is and I made reference to the point that I merely hold one perspective or approach to it among many out there. The reality is that there is an incredible amount of cultural diversity on Earth, so acknowledging that my perspective is merely one from over 7.4 billion humans, is a critical part of acknowledging and being inclusive to that diversity through the idea of cultural pluralism. This, by extension, may even apply to functions of government in countries that in order to be truly inclusive, perhaps they should practice secularism which connects back to that idea of applying objectivity in a mass of differing perspectives; different subjectivities, narratives, and explanation for the complexities of the universe.
The idea of pluralism seeks to account for all these differing perspectives. In Canada, we have many individuals from different cultures and backgrounds existing in a diverse array of communities. This includes rural areas like Ituna, Saskatchewan, to urban centers like downtown Toronto, Ontario. The environment in which individuals interact shapes their perspectives and while we may find a shared identity for connectivity in Canada, what of the varying perspectives in other places around the world?
What of the perspectives we are exposed to in media? Different forms of media provoke the curiosities of science and questioning about the world we inhabit.
News posts, sometimes not completely accurately, convey information about new studies about the effects of coffee. Coffee drinkers may be inclined to shift their behaviour (sometimes negatively) based on their interpretation of this information.
Science fiction provides us with creative and imaginative perspectives beyond what we know in this world, yet even those forms of media are influenced by the perspectives and experiences of the author – yet they may connect us through mutual interests.
Listening to and observing comedians that we find funny due to their perspectives on life may connect us as well, or serve to divide us. George Carlin has a rant about national pride, and being proud of where you’re born not being plausible because you have no control over it – you didn’t earn it.
Yet a shared perspective and experience can bring members of a country together positively through a shared identity.
Or negatively, depending on your perspective.
We can look at the contexts in which perspectives propagate by observing our local communities and observe the importance of place on identity. These communities possess boundaries consistent with systems theory that outputs ideas and regularly gets new inputs of ideas. With social media contributing to greater amounts of globalization and the spread of ideas, however, the boundaries of perspectives are less static and even perspectives become positive feedback loops – spreading exponentially through communities.
Where do the boundaries of perspectives stop, though? Are there perspectives that hold more value to society or are there perspectives that are universally wrong? In certain parts of the world, gender and sexual diversity beyond heterosexual norms is a crime, which would be considered constitutionally wrong in Canada. In passing this kind of judgment, how does that impact the interpretation of our perspective by others? Does that make us less inclusive if we condemn certain policies and perspectives held by certain peoples in the world? Some would argue that’s the benefit of objective thinking – in transcends the potential flaws of subjectivity and diverse perspectives – but it may fail to fully encapsulate human thought, innovation and experience. Should we only account for perspectives held by certain, “worthy” peoples on the planet? Or, as we can see the immense diversity of perspectives in humanity, should we be extending our considerations beyond humanity?
Throughout my life I’ve heard these phrases uttered by my peers and students, and the implication of these comments has always baffled me. I’d like to say it’s not solely because I love science and I would assume others would share my thoughts and experience (despite my best attempts to think beyond said experience), but I’d be wrong to think my experience isn’t always a factor. These negative phrases baffled me because of the wondrous, imaginative nature of science and our existence that seemed obvious to see upon making simple observations about our world. Yet, in analyzing these statements, it would only make sense to consider what factors influenced the individual to feel that way, at that given point in their life, when I interacted with them concerning science. Questions I’d have to consider include:
What environmental factors contributed then and now to their thoughts and feelings on the subject of science? (And how am I defining “environmental factors”?)Do I speak literally of the chemicals and interactions the entire individual (including their cells) has been exposed to in the world around them from their days existing as separate gametes of ovum and sperm to the present? OR
Do I critically look at the societal constructs that dictate how we (and they) live, behave and change culturally as a member of our species over time?
These are all considerations about the influences that affect the growth and development of an individual, and all of us as individuals. The contexts in which each of us learn vary significantly from one individual to the next, and the limitless depth in how we analyze these contexts is evident in the overwhelmingly numerous questions. None of these questions are easy to answer – much like any scientific questions.
Questions can baffle us, not knowing can make us feel lost, fear of failure can discourage us, but there’s so much we don’t know, questions we’ve yet to answer, and endless amounts of failure that are all at the heart of science.
What of the big, philosophical questions of science?
What does it mean to exist? What is being? Is our whole experience just a series of neuronal pathways learning and responding to our environment as a direct result of eons of mutation and subtle change?
Given what the evidence I’ve been exposed to indicates, I am inclined to think that all we are is a series of chemical reactions. Holding this worldview might seem like it is in direct contradiction to other worldviews – and for some it may appear as condescending or injurious. I don’t mean to diminish the value of others based on my perceptions of truth and place in the universe, or that because I hold this particular worldview that I will stop questioning and doubting my particular explanation – maybe I’m wrong, and that’s okay. I just hold that perspective about life.
But, then, how do we define life? In the Western world, are our Eurocentricdefinitions of life inclusive enough to consider the universe, as a whole, living? Is it wrong if it doesn’t? Is there “life” that exists out there that doesn’t subscribe to the way that carbon-based life exists on our planet?
These important philosophical, scientific questions – are never completely answerable – I’d almost go so far as to say that nothing ever is. Even the idea of “scientific proof” is loaded and misrepresented at times, as many scientists will say we are “more certain” of some things. Some of these questions we, collectively as a scientific community, may have a “pretty good idea of”. Some we have no clue, but, like anything, just because a question isn’t answerable doesn’t necessarily give every possibility validity.
Or does it?
When all of us are seeking our own source of truth and validation, how do we separate our subjectivities with being objective? Are we objective and critically competent enough to pursue and acknowledge what is likely truth or fact when it is presented to us?
All of these considerations lie in the nature of science – or my perception of it. Science is relishing the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing – yet feeling that desire to know more than you did before. Wanting to know everything about anything, always striving to become better, while knowing you’ll never achieve perfection or an absolute truth. Science shouldn’t be a negative force to justify division in our world, yet it can be used thusly. Science should attempt to constantly ask questions to educate us, rather than be used to belittle opinions and worldviews as it, too, is unfortunately used. Science occurs through individuals with different philosophies, it includes an evolving history transcending Homo sapiens and has subjectivities inextricably linked to its growth. Science is having curiosity and humility when analyzing and observing our specific place, at a specific point in time, in a specific, tiny corner of an ever-expanding universe.
As an educator, I want my students to love science.