Multicultural education, pragmatism, and the goals of science teaching
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In this paper, we offer an intermediate position in the multiculturalism/universalism debate, drawing upon Cobern and Loving’s epistemological pluralism, pragmatist philosophies, Southerland’s defense of instructional multicultural science education, and the conceptual profile model. An important element in this position is the proposal that understanding is the proper goal of science education. Our commitment to this proposal is explained in terms of a defense of an ethics of coexistence for dealing with cultural differences, according to which social argumentative processes—including those in science education—should be marked by dialogue and confrontation of arguments in the search of possible solutions, and an effort to (co-)live with differences if a negotiated solution is not reached. To understand the discourses at stake is, in our view, a key requirement for the coexistence of arguments and discourses, and the science classroom is the privileged space for promoting an understanding of the scientific discourse in particular. We argue for “inclusion” of students’ culturally grounded ideas in science education, but in a sense that avoids curricular multicultural science education, and, thus, any attempt to broaden the definition of “science” so that ideas from other ways of knowing might be simply treated as science contents. Science teachers should always take in due account the diversity of students’ worldviews, giving them room in argumentative processes in science classrooms, but should never lose from sight the necessity of stimulating students to understand scientific ideas. This view is grounded on a distinction between the goals of science education and the nature of science instruction, and demands a discussion about how learning is to take place in culturally sensitive science education, and about communicative approaches that might be more productive in science classrooms organized as we propose here. We employ the conceptual profile model to address both issues. We expect this paper can contribute to the elaboration of an instructional multicultural science education approach that eliminates the forced choice between the goals of promoting students’ understanding of scientific ideas and of empowering students through education.