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
Towards a Renewed and Expanded SftP Role Among Science Teachers
SftP at the National Science Teachers Association Conference (Washington, DC; April 7-9, 1978)
by Dan Atkins, Jack Dougherty Walda Katz Fishman, & Frank Rosenthal
What We Did
After an absence of several years, SftP made a return appearance at the National Science Teachers Association (NST A) Convention held at the Sheraton-Park in Washington, D.C., April 7-9, 1978. Witht the help of locals Walda Katz Fishman and Dan Atkins and of science teachers Jack Dougherty and Frank Rosenthal we staffed a literature table and conducted a sociobiology workshop.
It is our collective perception that the SftP presence at the NST A Convention was both well received and greatly needed. Some teachers who had known us from previous conventions were heartened that we had resurfaced. Many more for whom this was a first encounter with SftP were extremely positive in their feedback.
The literature table was clearly a success. We sold out of “Resources for Science Teachers” and the sociobiology articles on sexism. (In all, we sold just over $200.00 in literature.) In addition, we freely gave out the SftP address and collected 27 names of those who wanted to be contacted. Given the general vacuousness and political void of the NST A, there appears to be an important opportunity for SftP to renew and expand its NST A-related activities, specifically, and its involvement with science teachers, more generally.
We also held one sociobiology workshop featuring “Doing What Comes Naturally” and discussion of the scientific and political issues surrounding sociobiology. We had requested space for such a workshop over a month ago, but were told by the NST A Convention office that this could not be arranged. When the convention got underway, it was apparent that there were, in fact, many available rooms. We again requested a room and were again denied our request. Frustrated and aggravated, but still determined, we decided, after checking the program schedule, to simply occupy one of the empty rooms. We conducted the workshop at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday without a hitch. Despite the last-minute arrangements, over 30 people participated and quite a few who had to leave early to return home and were unable to attend expressed interest. Following the movie, lively dialogue ensued for about an hour. We feel that we got the SftP message about sociobiology across.
Our impressions are that many science teachers are unaware of sociobiology and its attendant controversy. Many more seem to have only a vague notion of what sociobiology is. A very few had knowledge of sociobiology and viewed it negatively. Still fewer, a vocal minority, were familiar with sociobiology and were positively disposed toward it. The most popular article in the sociobiology package was on sex roles. We suspect that this may stem from the fact that so many science teachers are females, and they are most interested in the sexist aspects of sociobiology. We found, however, that few teachers, male or female, had an overall conceptualization of sociobiology and its political implications.
Those who participated in the convention learned a great deal about the concerns and needs of science teachers and developed an awareness of the potential that exists for SftP activity among science teachers. The following proposals are indicative of the kinds of things we felt need to be done.
What Needs to be Done
We feel that a serious effort should be made by SftP to attend and participate in the annual NST A Convention. We managed to do much at this convention with just four people and a minimum of prior planning. A little more planning and a few more people could make a great deal of difference. Perhaps most important is the fact that science teachers are an important audience to reach and they are receptive to what SftP is about. They are looking for alternative perspectives of science that make sense.
Specifically, one or two topics should be targeted and workshops on them be prepared for next year’s NST A Convention. This will have to be done fairly quickly so that the workshop proposal(s) can be submitted for inclusion in the official program. Those who attended sessions found them, for the most part, to be biased and boring. Officially scheduled workshops providing “radical” perspectives on science and encouraging audience participation were sorely lacking.
A series of activities related to the “mailing list” from this convention and other lists of science teachers designed to broaden the base of science teacher participation in SftP also seems appropriate.
1) The convention mailing list should be made available to the Science Teaching Group so these new teachers will receive communications and information of special interest to teachers.
2) A “Science Teachers Newsletter” should be developed addressing itself to the needs and concerns of science teachers.
3) A questionnaire should be sent to all science teachers, new and old potential SftP members, to identify the issues ‘of concern to science teachers. This would obviously provide input for the newsletter and other activities of SftP in relation to science teachers.
In addition to educational activities focusing on the politics of science and the preparation of resource and curriculum materials, we should also explore what is happening to the working conditions of teachers as economic conditions worsen. For example, what do we do about the definition of science as a “frill” and the attempts of some school systems to cut back the science curriculum? A related issue is the politics of the “back to basics” movement. We need to differentiate between the genuine issue of concern that students be taught “basic skills” and the political dimension of why, at this time, this concern is surfacing as a policy issue. (Our thanks to Jim Gashell for his discussions with us on these issues .. For further explication, see the first two issues of Working Teacher.)
We identified some fairly specific needs as well as the more general ones outlined above.
There is a real need for a sociobiology pamphlet or package aimed at high school teachers, high school students, andjor the lay adult audience.
A section on cancer and carcinogens to be included in the “Resources for Science Teachers” was frequently requested.
Also requested were resource and curriculum materials for primary and middle school science teachers.
Quite possibly as many as 100 people asked, “What is SftP?” It appears to be time to update the brochure describing what SftP is and does.
We also received many requests for a catalogue of publications. Whenever SftP has a literature table, catalogues should be available.
As we move closer to our material base, we find the need for a receipt book. (Several teachers needed receipts for cash payment of books.)
Those who worked the NSTA Convention were genuinely encouraged by the high level of interest about SftP among science teachers and the positive . feedback we received. It seems clear that we have much to offer science teachers and they are looking for it. We hope this opportunity will become a reality.
What we are proposing is not insignificant, and will entail a lot of work. It is, however, important. All four of us, and especially the two of us who are science teachers, offer our help to get things going.