This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email email@example.com
S.T.G. Goes to School
by the Ann Arbor SftP Science Teaching Group
For years the Ann Arbor Science for the People Science Teaching Group primarily held intellectual discussions of how science teaching has perpetuated the elitist and oppressive role of science. Science teaching, we felt, has been instrumental in reinforcing the popular notion that science is politically neutral and value-free. Lost in the intellectual abyss, we neglected to find out what is actually going on in the classroom. Mostly, we were afraid of finding out either that our concerns were unfounded or that our idealism was nothing more than just that. Knowing we could no longer remain blissfully ignorant of the real classroom situation we valiantly decided to organize a workshop to meet science teachers and discuss our concerns with them.
In November 1977, we contacted the science coordinator for the Ann Arbor public schools and distributed invitations to all Ann Arbor area science teachers. The workshop, on Dec. 3 was titled, “Science: Its Social Consequences.” We wanted to 1) discuss the resources we had available to teachers, 2) find out from them what was going on, and 3) find out how social issues could be interjected into their classes. To our great surprise, and despite several positive responses, only two participants attended. Fortunately for us they were the science and social-sciences coordinators for the Ann Arbor public schools. In the ensuing discussion, we expressed several of our concerns, which were well received. The result was that they became our conduits to transmit information to the science-teaching community. Our mistakes, though, were obvious: scheduling the workshop for a Saturday, and not giving them more information about ourselves.
We regrouped, and not despairing, we vowed to make contact once again; we planned another workshop. This time we prepared a letter of introduction, a list of our available literature and, in conjunction with other SftP subgroups, several lesson plans on sociobiology, food additives, alternative technology and nuclear power. The science coordinator helped us schedule the next workshop for March 3, the Ann Arbor public schools in-service day. Due to our initial contacts, a second flyer-invitation and our presence at the Michigan Science Teachers Association meeting in February, we expected a much better turnout. And we got it.
Sixteen science teachers came to our second workshop. After a brief introduction, there was a rousing discussion on science and social issues: the ideology of Pure Science, public input into science, the global nature of science problems and how science arises out of a social context, e.g., military and industrial research. Generally, the teachers’ reaction was favorable but not overly enthusiastic. A couple of people were hostile, while several were genuinely interested, and the rest remained an enigma. The interactions after the meeting were helpful in suggesting future directions for our group.
It was clear the SftP subgroups could be a valuable resource in providing speakers for high school classrooms. In fact, we arranged for our Energy group and a local Nestle boycott group (INFACT) to speak at the alternative public high school in Ann Arbor. The students expressed great interest and as a result other subgroups will appear there soon. We are currently developing a speakers list to distribute to the other teachers. Other suggestions from the teachers were: writing a lesson plan on the misuse of statistics, reviewing current textbooks for political content or lack thereof, and continuing our discussions and contacts in future workshops.
In retrospect, the workshop could have been more effective if we had been better prepared with a more refined and practiced presentation. In addition, breaking into smaller discussion groups would have been more conducive to the teachers’ expressing their feelings and experiences on science teaching. Lack of clarity about our goals created unnecessary difficulties. We have to better assess our purposes in establishing these contacts before we plan our future activities. Despite these misgivings, we discovered the teachers shared many of our concerns and at least some of our idealism.