Connecting Inquiry and Values in Science Education

An Approach Based on John Dewey’s Philosophy

Abstract

Conducting scientific inquiry is expected to help students make informed decisions; however, how exactly it can help is rarely explained in science education standards. According to classroom studies, inquiry that students conduct in science classes seems to have little effect on their decision-making. Predetermined values play a large role in students’ decision-making, but students do not explore these values or evaluate whether they are appropriate to the particular issue they are deciding, and they often ignore relevant scientific information. We explore how to connect inquiry and values, and how this connection can contribute to informed decision-making based on John Dewey’s philosophy. Dewey argues that scientific inquiry should include value judgments and that conducting inquiry can improve the ability to make good value judgments. Value judgment is essential to informed, rational decision-making, and Dewey’s ideas can explain how conducting inquiry can contribute to make an informed decision through value judgment. According to Dewey, each value judgment during inquiry is a practical judgment guiding action, and students can improve their value judgments by evaluating their actions during scientific inquiry. Thus, we suggest that students need an opportunity to explore values through scientific inquiry and that practicing value judgment will help informed decision-makings.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Some criticize the epistemic/non-epistemic values distinction itself as untenable (Machamer and Douglas 1999; Rooney 1992). Our points can be made either way, so we choose to take the less controversial path of accepting the distinction, for present purposes.

  2. 2.

    We focus in this way for several reasons: (1) narrowing the scope of consideration aids in brevity, keeping the argument more manageable; (2) science education and the role of science in contested public and political issues are particularly fraught in the US; and (3) it is the context we are most familiar with and most qualified to analyze. We include some non-US examples in Section 2, where doing so does not overly complicate the argument, but narrow our focus especially when considering science education standards.

  3. 3.

    Indeed, Dewey defined his version of pragmatism as the hypothesis that all judgments, including both judgments of value and judgments of fact, are at bottom practical judgments in this sense. On this view, “all categorical propositions,” whether propositions of fact or of value, “would be hypothetical, and their truth would coincide with their tested consequences effected by intelligent action” (Dewey 1916a/2004, p. 222). Some might conclude thus that Dewey’s understanding of value judgment invalidates our discussion of values as a factor in practical judgment and of the role of values in science. To the contrary, Dewey could still make functional distinctions between types of judgment; his point was that all these types of judgment share the same logical form and truth conditions, not that it is impossible to many any distinction between them, nor say anything interesting about the functional relations between them. Indeed, replacing absolute distinctions with functional ones is at the core of Dewey’s philosophical project. Thus, it remains sensible and necessary to distinction value judgments from more immediate decisions about what to do (see Dewey 1938, Chapter 4; Dewey 1948a).

  4. 4.

    Following Dewey, every time a student makes a value judgment, a question of what is to be done is involved. Value judgments are not given prior to inquiry, but are made as part of inquiry.

  5. 5.

    One can minimize both types of error as effect size increases, or by gathering larger quantities of data, but once these factors are fixed, the trade-off is pretty much direct.

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Acknowledgements

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant no. 1338735. Our thanks to Magda Grohman, Nick Gans, Marco Tacca, the members of the Values in Science Research Lab, and the audience at the Philosophy of Science Association.

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Correspondence to Matthew J. Brown.

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Lee, E.A., Brown, M.J. Connecting Inquiry and Values in Science Education. Sci & Educ 27, 63–79 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-017-9952-9

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