ArticlePDF Available
Introduction: Shifting
Perspectives from Universalism
to Cross-Culturalism
BRADFORD F. LEWIS
University
of
Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA,
USA
GLENS.
AIKENHEAD
University
of
Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan, Canada
Received
27
July 1998; revised 10 November 1999; accepted
JO
January 2000
INTRODUCTION
Debates in science education over multiculturalism and universalism have disputed
whether or not non-Western cultures have systems
of
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
of
knowledge about
nature are embedded in the context
of
a cultural group; that all systems are, therefore,
culture-laden; and that science (Western science) is the system
of
knowledge about nature
that is predominant in Western culture. For example, some cultures give high priority to
authoritative storytelling and demonstration
of
expertise, while others may value author-
itative script and trial and error as methods
of
transmitting its knowledge
of
nature. What
is
contested in these articles is how to position Western science so that it can inform and
be
informed by the nature-knowledge systems
of
other cultures. Also in question
is
the role
that non-Western nature-knowledge systems should play in the school science curriculum.
THE EUROCENTRIC UNDERPINNINGS OF THIS DEBATE
The arguments presented in the articles might best be understood against the backdrop
of
Eurocentrism, not because they advocate a Eurocentric perspective but, because, in
some instances, they struggle against a Eurocentric notion
of
science. Eurocentrism refers
to the idea that the people, places, and events
of
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
of
Western science in the history
of
European colonization: "The point is, the West judged
the rest
of
the world by its own measure
of
choice, Western science and Western tech-
nology, and used education to enforce change on those societies found deficient" (p. 53),
Correspondence to: William
W.
Cobern; e-mail: bill.cobem@wmich.edu
© 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
4 LEWIS AND AIKENHEAD
Stanley and Brickhouse (200
l)
also consider Eurocentric notions
of
science advanced by
others, "exposing students from non-Western cultural backgrounds to the superiority
of
Western scientific methods and knowledge while exposing the epistemological deficiencies
of
their own culture's scientific ideas is essential to good science education" (p. 38)
The effect
of
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
of
nature" yet they
chose to focus on "the development
of
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).
LEVELING THE
HIERARCHIES-A
PARADIGM SHIFT
The following articles shift away from the Eurocentric hierarchical view
of
nature-
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
of
non-Western cultures be viewed in relation
to Western science?
If
they are not inferior, should they be accepted in science classrooms?
Should they be considered non-scientific external sources
of
critique for the work
of
West-
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
of
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
of
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
of
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
us
to include TEK in the canon
of
school
science.
Cobern and Loving (2001) begin by acknowledging the exclusivity
of
a universalist
approach to Western science and by recognizing the myth
of
scientism associated with
this exclusivity. In their exploration
of
TEK and Western science, Cobern and Loving
reveal a number
of
new topics for further discussion.
For
instance, their distinction between
descriptive and explanatory knowledge
of
nature creates the need for science educators to
learn the explanatory abstractions
of
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
of
including TEK in
the canon
of
Western science. To do so would be a Pyrrhic victory in that TEK would
1)
lose its distinctiveness and become absorbed by the dominant discourse
of
science, and
2)
lose
status-being
seen more as a token
of
cultural inclusiveness rather than a serious
INTRODUCTION: SHIFTING PERSPECTIVES 5
participant in scientific discourse. They advocate instead "epistemological pluralism"
where TEK is brought into the classroom, not as Western science, but as a domain
of
knowledge with value equal to Western science that can be used to gain insights into the
power and limitations
of
Western science.
Stanley and Brickhouse (2001) approach the debate by deconstructing many universalist
notions
of
Western science and highlighting areas
of
disunity within Western science.
They conclude that there is no single set
of
concepts that can conclusively explain the
nature
of
Western science and argue that school science should critically examine these
"grey areas." Instead
of
embracing Snively and Corsiglia's balance
of
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
of
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
of
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
of
Western
science, the shift from an Aristotelian to a Newtonian perspective required both intellectual
reconceptualizations and social forces. Galileo lived during a time
of
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
of
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.
REFERENCES
Cobern,
W.W.,
& Loving, C. C. (2001) Defining "science" in a multicultural world: Implications
for science education. Science Education, 85,
50-67.
National Research Council (1996). National science education standards. Washington, DC: National
Academy Press.
Rodriguez, A.
J.
( 1997). The dangerous discourse
of
invisibility: A critique
of
the National Research
Council's National Science Education Standards. Journal
of
Research in Science Teaching, 34,
19-37.
Rutherford, F. J., & Ahlgren, A. (1990). Science for all Americans. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Siegel, H. (1997). Science education: Multicultural and universal. Interchange, 28,
97-108.
Snively, G., & Corsiglia,
J.
(2001). Discovering indigenous science: Implications for science edu-
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Stanley, W. B., & Brickhouse,
N.
W. (1994). Multiculturalism, universalism, and science education.
Science Education, 78,
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Stanley, W. B., & Brickhouse,
N.
W. (2001). Teaching sciences: The multicultural question revisited.
Science Education, 85,
35-49.
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... At the same time, it is interesting to note how Eurocentrism creates barriers for non-Indigenous youth to engage in this cross-cultural dialogue (Lewis & Aikenhead, 2001;Mazzochi, 2006). For example, let us take a look at how Katherine (nI) speaks to the idea that knowledge is culturally based when comparing and contrasting IQ and WMS: Katherine (nI): "Yeah, probably… like … like, just people even just looking at the time, they look at the sun sometimes and stuff so whatever… that's the knowledge and it's not like … modern stuff … so everything just works together but it must be a lot harder to do it… the Inuit way because … like, GPS just says it in front of you, but you actually have to think for the other part." ...
... 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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National science education standards
National Research Council (1996). National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.