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Normal Science Education and its Dangers: The Case of School Chemistry

Abstract

We started the Conceptual Structure of School Chemistry research project, a part of which is reported on here, with an attempt to solve the problem of the hidden structure in school chemistry. In order to solve that problem, and informed by previous research, we performed a content analysis of school chemistry textbooks and syllabi. This led us to the hypothesis that school chemistry curricula are based on an underlying, coherent structure of chemical concepts that students are supposed to learn for the purpose of explaining and predicting chemical phenomena. The elicited comments and criticisms of an International Forum of twenty-eight researchers of chemical education, though, refuted the central claims of this hypothesis. This led to a descriptive theory of the currently dominant school chemistry curriculum in terms of a rigid combination of a specific substantive structure, based on corpuscular theory, a specific philosophical structure, educational positivism, and a specific pedagogical structure, involving initiatory and preparatory training of future chemists. Secondly, it led to an explanatory theory of the structure of school chemistry – based on Kuhn's theory of normal science and scientific training – in which dominant school chemistry is interpreted as a form of normal science education. Since the former has almost all characteristics in common with the latter, dominant school chemistry must be regarded as normal chemistry education. Forum members also formulated a number of normative criticisms on dominant school chemistry, which we interpret as specific dangers of normal chemistry education, complementing Popper's discussion of the general dangers of normal science and its teaching. On the basis of these criticisms, it is argued that normal chemistry education is isolated from common sense, everyday life and society, history and philosophy of science, technology, school physics, and from chemical research.

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Van Berkel, B., De Vos, W., Verdonk, A.H. et al. Normal Science Education and its Dangers: The Case of School Chemistry. Science & Education 9, 123–159 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1008765531336

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Keywords

  • Normal Science
  • Normative Criticism
  • Explanatory Theory
  • Chemical Concept
  • School Physic