ArticlePDF Available
Introduction: Shifting
Perspectives from Universalism
to Cross-Culturalism
Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA,
Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan, Canada
July 1998; revised 10 November 1999; accepted
January 2000
Debates in science education over multiculturalism and universalism have disputed
whether or not non-Western cultures have systems
knowledge about nature that could
be considered science (Stanley & Brickhouse, 1994; Siegel, 1997). The following three
articles have moved beyond that debate by accepting that all systems
knowledge about
nature are embedded in the context
a cultural group; that all systems are, therefore,
culture-laden; and that science (Western science) is the system
knowledge about nature
that is predominant in Western culture. For example, some cultures give high priority to
authoritative storytelling and demonstration
expertise, while others may value author-
itative script and trial and error as methods
transmitting its knowledge
nature. What
contested in these articles is how to position Western science so that it can inform and
informed by the nature-knowledge systems
other cultures. Also in question
the role
that non-Western nature-knowledge systems should play in the school science curriculum.
The arguments presented in the articles might best be understood against the backdrop
Eurocentrism, not because they advocate a Eurocentric perspective but, because, in
some instances, they struggle against a Eurocentric notion
science. Eurocentrism refers
to the idea that the people, places, and events
Western European cultures are superior
and a standard against which other cultures should be judged. Conversely, non-Western
cultures are inferior, and relevant only when they have a relationship to Western culture.
Cobern and Loving (2001) underscore Eurocentrism in science when addressing the role
Western science in the history
European colonization: "The point is, the West judged
the rest
the world by its own measure
choice, Western science and Western tech-
nology, and used education to enforce change on those societies found deficient" (p. 53),
Correspondence to: William
Cobern; e-mail:
© 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Stanley and Brickhouse (200
also consider Eurocentric notions
science advanced by
others, "exposing students from non-Western cultural backgrounds to the superiority
Western scientific methods and knowledge while exposing the epistemological deficiencies
their own culture's scientific ideas is essential to good science education" (p. 38)
The effect
Eurocentrism is pervasive in science education, as illustrated in recent
standards documents. In Science for all Americans, for example, Rutherford and Ahlgren
(1990) acknowledge that, "All human cultures have included study
nature" yet they
chose to focus on "the development
science, mathematics, and technology in Western
culture," without addressing how Western science "drew on ideas from earlier Egyptian,
Chinese, Greek, and Arabic cultures." Similarly, the National Science Education Standards
fails to even mention science in non-Western cultures and offers no explanation for the
omission (Council, 1996). These omissions suggest to some that the non-Western contri-
butions are not seen as important enough to merit a place in the school science curriculum
(Rodriguez, 1997).
The following articles shift away from the Eurocentric hierarchical view
knowledge systems. Their authors acknowledge that systems developed in non-Western
cultures have contributed significantly to Western science and will continue to do so. How
then should the nature-knowledge systems
non-Western cultures be viewed in relation
to Western science?
they are not inferior, should they be accepted in science classrooms?
Should they be considered non-scientific external sources
critique for the work
ern science? Or should non-Westerners be left to determine for themselves how these
nature-knowledge systems will be used? These are questions raised in the following arti-
cles. Their answers have great potential to determine the voice that non-Western nature-
knowledge systems will have in science education discourse.
Snively and Corsiglia (2001) advance a cross-cultural perspective that centers around
non-Western nature-knowledge systems, referred to as traditional ecological knowledge
(TEK). TEK refers to the descriptive and explanatory knowledge
nature that Aboriginal
communities around the world have developed to enhance their lives. Historically, some
TEK has been appropriated by Westerners for developments in numerous fields, including:
medicine, architecture, engineering, and plant breeding (Snively & Corsiglia, 2001). Re-
cently, TEK has garnered the interest
scientists and international aid agencies. Snively
and Corsiglia identify Eurocentric ideologies, such as colonial materialism and domination
over nature, as cultural traits inherent in Western science. Given increased interest in
indigenous knowledge, cultural traits
Western science, and the growing need for envi-
ronmental sensitivity, Snively and Corsiglia argue that Western science alone is too narrow
for today's classrooms, and they challenge
to include TEK in the canon
Cobern and Loving (2001) begin by acknowledging the exclusivity
a universalist
approach to Western science and by recognizing the myth
scientism associated with
this exclusivity. In their exploration
TEK and Western science, Cobern and Loving
reveal a number
new topics for further discussion.
instance, their distinction between
descriptive and explanatory knowledge
nature creates the need for science educators to
learn the explanatory abstractions
TEK (e.g., the conceptual model called "keepers")
which in TEK can play the same role as theory/model plays in Western science. However,
Cobern and Loving stand opposed to Snively and Corsiglia's idea
including TEK in
the canon
Western science. To do so would be a Pyrrhic victory in that TEK would
lose its distinctiveness and become absorbed by the dominant discourse
science, and
seen more as a token
cultural inclusiveness rather than a serious
participant in scientific discourse. They advocate instead "epistemological pluralism"
where TEK is brought into the classroom, not as Western science, but as a domain
knowledge with value equal to Western science that can be used to gain insights into the
power and limitations
Western science.
Stanley and Brickhouse (2001) approach the debate by deconstructing many universalist
Western science and highlighting areas
disunity within Western science.
They conclude that there is no single set
concepts that can conclusively explain the
Western science and argue that school science should critically examine these
"grey areas." Instead
embracing Snively and Corsiglia's balance
Western science
with TEK, they propose a cross-cultural, metacognitive approach for school science. TEK
then becomes a powerful tool for helping students to learn precise ways in which any
nature-knowledge system, including Western science, is culture-laden.
There are many more dilemmas and tensions to be discovered in the three articles. We
offer a word
caution, however. The authors use the word "science" by itself, which
understandably but implicitly changes meaning from context to context. To avoid potential
confusion, the reader may wish to substitute "science" with one
the following phrases,
as appropriate: "nature-knowledge system," "indigenous science" (e.g., TEK), "Western
science," or "school science."
Shifting paradigms in school science is a stimulating journey. For educators embarking
on shifting from a universalist to a cross-culturalist perspective (whatever "universalist"
and "cross-culturalist" mean), history may help ease the journey. In the history
science, the shift from an Aristotelian to a Newtonian perspective required both intellectual
reconceptualizations and social forces. Galileo lived during a time
transition. Although
he contributed to the paradigm shift, he stubbornly held on to some Aristotelian concep-
tions. Likewise, science educators may have similar problems shedding concepts culturally
ingrained by the ideologies and conceptualizations
their Western science. We might
learn from Galileo and be patient with ourselves and not expect people's perspectives to
shift rapidly. Galileo alone could not cause a paradigm shift to a Newtonian perspective,
but he significantly nurtured Newton's grand synthesis. In this sense, the three articles
represent history in the making in science education. They engage us in the intellectual
challenges brought about by a school science curriculum dedicated to a global village in
crisis. The crisis may very well be the social force required for a significant paradigm shift
in our field.
& Loving, C. C. (2001) Defining "science" in a multicultural world: Implications
for science education. Science Education, 85,
National Research Council (1996). National science education standards. Washington, DC: National
Academy Press.
Rodriguez, A.
( 1997). The dangerous discourse
invisibility: A critique
the National Research
Council's National Science Education Standards. Journal
Research in Science Teaching, 34,
Rutherford, F. J., & Ahlgren, A. (1990). Science for all Americans. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Siegel, H. (1997). Science education: Multicultural and universal. Interchange, 28,
Snively, G., & Corsiglia,
(2001). Discovering indigenous science: Implications for science edu-
cation. Science Education, 85,
Stanley, W. B., & Brickhouse,
W. (1994). Multiculturalism, universalism, and science education.
Science Education, 78,
Stanley, W. B., & Brickhouse,
W. (2001). Teaching sciences: The multicultural question revisited.
Science Education, 85,
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... While she is not denouncing the traditional ways-of-knowing linked to place, she speaks of the "universality" that the GPS device can offer. As Eurocentrism often shape discourses of "universality" and "instrumentality" (e.g., what works "best"), what is usually seen as "best" science is Western science (Lewis & Aikenhead, 2001;Snively & Corsiglia, 2001;Stanley & Brickhouse, 2001). This is how the "nature of science" acts as a gate-keeping device, preventing the two bodies of knowledge from fully interacting in a dialogical manner. ...
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In this critical review essay, I argue that the National Research Council's (NRC) 1996 National science education standards uses a discourse of invisibility to lay out its massive reform for science education in the United States. This invisibility discourse dangerously compromises the well-intended goals of the NRC by not directly addressing the ethnic, socioeconomic, gender, and theoretical issues which influence the teaching and learning of science in today's schools. Herein I propose that the Standards ought to provide strong arguments and evidence in support of the reasons why equity should be a guiding principle in science education reform. In the same manner, the Standards must articulate the theoretical frameworks and empirical evidence on which the numerous recommendations for change are based. Only then would the Standards provide the conceptual guidance necessary to encourage teachers, administrators, parents, and politicians to spring into action and take the necessary risks associated with radically transforming schools. © 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 34: 19–37, 1997.
We contend that science education should be multicultural. We do not believe a universalist view of science is either compatible with a multicultural approach or fully coherent as a foundation for the science curriculum. We begin by summarizing the case for a universalist approach to science education. We then show weaknesses of universalism in accounting for the following: 1. the limits of human cognitive capabilities in constraining what we can understand about nature; 2. a description of reality as a flux; 3. the disunity of science and the role of culturally different forms and social organization of research in shaping the cognitive content of the sciences. We argue that it would be valuable for students to understand the nature of the debates regarding multicultural and universalist perspectives on science. For example, what questions is contemporary molecular biology good at answering? What kinds of problems do other sciences solve? What historical conditions may explain why western sciences arose primarily out of Western European culture rather than elsewhere in the world? How do other belief systems (e.g., religion) interact with indigenous sciences, Chinese science, and Western science? (C) 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Indigenous science relates to both the science knowledge of long-resident, usually oral culture peoples, as well as the science knowledge of all peoples who as participants in culture are affected by the worldview and relativist interests of their home communities. This article explores aspects of multicultural science and pedagogy and describes a rich and well-documented branch of indigenous science known to biologists and ecologists as traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). Although TEK has been generally inaccessible, educators can now use a burgeoning science-based TEK literature that documents numerous examples of time-proven, ecologically relevant, and cost effective indigenous science. Disputes regarding the universality of the standard scientific account are of critical importance for science educators because the definition of science is a de facto "gatekeeping" device for determining what can be included in a school science curriculum and what cannot. When Western modern science (WMS) is defined as universal it does displace revelation-based knowledge (i.e., creation science); however, it also displaces pragmatic local indigenous knowledge that does not conform with formal aspects of the "standard account." Thus, in most science classrooms around the globe, Western modern science has been taught at the expense of indigenous knowledge. However, because WMS has been implicated in many of the world's ecological disasters, and because the traditional wisdom component of TEK is particularly rich in time-tested approaches that foster sustainability and environmental integrity, it is possible that the universalist "gatekeeper" can be seen as increasingly problematic and even counter productive. This paper describes many examples from Canada and around the world of indigenous people's contributions to science, environmental understanding, and sustainability. The authors argue the view that Western or modern science is just one of many sciences that need to be addressed in the science classroom. We conclude by presenting instructional strategies that can help all science learners negotiate border crossings between Western modern science and indigenous science.
We contend that science education should be multicultural. We do not believe a universalist view of science is either compatible with a multicultural approach or fully coherent as a foundation for the science curriculum. We begin by summarizing the case for a universalist approach to science education. We then show weaknesses of universalism in accounting for the following: 1. the limits of human cognitive capabilities in constraining what we can understand about nature; 2. a description of reality as a flux; 3. the disunity of science and the role of culturally different forms and social organization of research in shaping the cognitive content of the sciences. We argue that it would be valuable for students to understand the nature of the debates regarding multicultural and universalist perspectives on science. For example, what questions is contemporary molecular biology good at answering? What kinds of problems do other sciences solve? What historical conditions may explain why western sciences arose primarily out of Western European culture rather than elsewhere in the world? How do other belief systems (e.g., religion) interact with indigenous sciences, Chinese science, and Western science?
In order to compete in the modern world, any society today must rank education in science, mathematics, and technology as one of its highest priorities. It's a sad but true fact, however, that most Americans are not scientifically literate. International studies of educational performance reveal that U.S. students consistently rank near the bottom in science and mathematics. The latest study of the National Assessment of Educational Progress has found that despite some small gains recently, the average performance of seventeen-year-olds in 1986 remained substantially lower than it had been in 1969. As the world approaches the twenty-first century, American schools--when it comes to the advancement of scientific knowledge--seem to be stuck in the Victorian age. In Science for All Americans , F. James Rutherford and Andrew Ahlgren brilliantly tackle this devastating problem. Based on Project 2061, a scientific literacy initiative sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, this wide-ranging, important volume explores what constitutes scientific literacy in a modern society; the knowledge, skills, and attitudes all students should acquire from their total school experience from kindergarten through high school; and what steps this country must take to begin reforming its system of education in science, mathematics, and technology. Science for All Americans describes the scientifically literate person as one who knows that science, mathematics, and technology are interdependent enterprises with strengths and limitations; who understands key concepts and principles of science; who recognizes both the diversity and unity of the natural world; and who uses scientific knowledge and scientific ways of thinking for personal and social purposes. Its recommendations for educational reform downplay traditional subject categories and instead highlight the connections between them. It also emphasizes ideas and thinking skills over the memorization of specialized vocabulary. For instance, basic scientific literacy means knowing that the chief function of living cells is assembling protein molecules according to the instructions coded in DNA molecules, but does not mean necessarily knowing the terms "ribosome" or "deoxyribonucleic acid." Science, mathematics, and technology will be at the center of the radical changes in the nature of human existence that will occur during the next life span; therefore, preparing today's children for tomorrow's world must entail a solid education in these areas. Science for All Americans will help pave the way for the necessary reforms in America's schools.
In today's schools there are often competing accounts of natural phenomena, especially when schools are located in multicultural communities. There are also competing claims about what counts as science. This article examines the definition of science put forward from multicultural perspectives in contrast to a universalist perspective on science; that is, the Standard Account. The article argues that good science explanations will always be universal even if indigenous knowledge is incorporated as scientific knowledge. What works best is still of interest to most, and although one may hate to use the word hegemony, Western science would co-opt and dominate indigenous knowledge if it were incorporated as science. Therefore, indigenous knowledge is better off as a different kind of knowledge that can be valued for its own merits, play a vital role in science education, and maintain a position of independence from which it can critique the practices of science and the Standard Account.
Multiculturalists have recently raised a number of important challenges to the school curriculum, including whose knowledge are we teaching? and who benefits and loses by existing approaches to the curriculum? In this article we examine a number of issues in this debate that are of primary importance to science educators. These issues include: (1) problems with the universalist account of the nature of science that has been the most powerful defense against multiculturalism; (2) an examination of some historical cases that illuminate the consequences of maintaining a universalist perspective on science; and (3) an argument for a multicultural perspective on scientific knowledge. These issues are examined in the context of a national science education reform in which there is considerable consensus that the science curriculum should include teaching about the nature of science. We argue that the nature of science taught in school should reflect a multicultural perspective on scientific knowledge. © 1994 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
In this paper, I first explore the reasons for embracing multiculturalism, arguing that multiculturalism is best conceived and defended in universalistic moral, rather than epistemic, terms. I then criticize the common view that multiculturalism is incompatible with a universalistic conception of science, and argue that multiculturalism is compatible with a suitably characterized epistemic universalism. Finally, I consider whether or not that sort of universalism is itself morally objectionable, and argue that it is not. The upshot is that science educators ought to embrace both a universalistic conception of multiculturalism (on moral grounds), and a universalistic conception of science (on epistemic grounds).
National science education standards
National Research Council (1996). National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.