Article

Science & Education

, Volume 13, Issue 6, pp 553-582

First online:

Knowing, Believing, and Understanding: What Goals for Science Education?

  • Mike U. Smith
  • , Harvey Siegel

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Abstract

What is a teacher to do when confronted with a student who says “I understand that theory (e.g., evolution), but I don't believe it”? The purpose of this article is to provide a rationale for answering this question. First we describe the various ways in which the terms know/knowledge and believe/belief are used and summarize the distinctions commonly used to differentiate between these terms. Second, we propose that the primary goal of science education should be student knowledge and understanding, which we will argue typically (but not always) involves belief and typically (but not always) guides action. In those instances where a student evidences a meaningful understanding but still disbelieves, we further propose that the appropriate goal is for students to believe that the theory in question affords the best current scientific account of the relevant phenomena based on the available empirical evidence. Third, we evaluate instructional procedures for addressing the issues of knowledge, belief, and understanding recommended by recent authors before providing our own suggestions to teachers that we hope will be both more philosophically sound and more effective in the classroom.

Knowledge belief understanding goals evolution