"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Science and Culture: Miseducation of a DepEd Secretary

The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported last January an address made by Philippines' DepEd secretary Bro. Armin Luistro during a conference on indigenous education. The article, "A miseducation on indigenous peoples" starts with:
It’s not a confession one would expect from an education secretary. 
Addressing a conference on indigenous education in Benguet last week, Education Secretary Armin Luistro said he belonged to a generation that was taught to believe that some indigenous groups, like those in the Cordillera, are uneducated, courtesy of a Western-oriented, English-dominated curriculum.
Luistro was also quoted in the report as saying,
“We are an educational system that has been a product—sometimes unwittingly—of a Western understanding of what we should know…. I was taught that [Cordillerans] were uneducated. That was ingrained in my memory for some reason or another. I don’t think it was in the textbook, but maybe that was the stereotype passed on to me.”
To address this issue, one of the programs cited in the report is the incorporation of local myths and folklore in the study of climate science. Stanford Social Innovation Review published an article by University of Michigan professor Andrew J. Hoffman in Fall 2012. The article, "Climate Science as Culture War" had this as the opening statement:
The public debate around climate change is no longer about science—it’s about values, culture, and ideology.
I think it is important to see that this statement is made to highlight that science is apart from values, culture and ideology. Yet, people including Philippines' DepEd secretary Luistro still seem to mix these things up. Sadly, these confused people have more impact than scientists do. Their thinking shapes policy and affects so many lives. Hoffman cites in his article the challenges climate change discussions face from a joint study of Yale University and George Mason University, which categorizes US into six different cultures:

Both "the alarmed" and "the dismissive" are "well-educated", highlighting that the debate is more in line with ideology, group values, and culture. The debate has nothing to do with greenhouse gases and climate models. It has nothing to do with the science of climate change. Sadly, in the United States the science of climate change is being associated with liberals and progressives. In the Philippines, science is painted as "colonialism". These brands are totally misplaced. These misconceptions simply propagate a misunderstanding of science. Science never taught the DepEd secretary that indigenous people are uneducated. Science does not place one civilization above another, one culture against others. It is the people who do not know the nature of science that make such judgments. Prejudice is in fact inversely proportional to one's knowledge of science. Science is not owned by one culture. First, it is already a grave error to put western civilizations into one culture. Second, although science has been closely associated with the Renaissance period, its methodology and aspirations have long been known in the Far East, in Islam and Hindu cultures. Designing a hypothesis and testing this via experimentation have long been practiced even before the age of enlightenment in Europe. Science is simply a human endeavor to understand the natural world, emphasizing both measurements and observations to explain and predict events. It requires evidence not a lame assumption such as "indigenous peoples are uneducated, courtesy of a Western-oriented, English-dominated curriculum". This sentence starts with a prejudicial statement and worse, it is followed by another equally prejudicial assumption. It is worse than saying "the dog ate my homework". I went through Philippine basic education myself and I was never taught in any school that indigenous peoples are less than we are. In contrast, what I seem to notice is an oligarchy that is pretty much convinced that they are the cream of the crop in the Philippines. The aversion toward science and peer reviewed research springs in fact from a perceived challenge to authoritarianism and elitism. The arguments from science are backed by data. The arguments from elites come from their perceived higher status in society. These elites likewise refuse to provide evidence backing their policies. It is one reason why most policy makers in the Philippines have no track record of peer-reviewed publications. And worse, branding those who publish in scientific journals as elites is offered as a lame excuse. One can tailor education not to teach math and science. But one must not pretend to teach math and science.

The indigenous peoples do not need be taught that they are less educated. They know their culture. The children of the Cordilleras, for example, know the rice terraces. It is the prejudiced individual from Manila who needs to be taught. Someone who is educated in chemistry recognize the names Tanabe-Sugano or Raman. These names are not Western. And science is not a monopoly of Western culture. And we need not invent imagined stories of Philippine innovation to demonstrate that we, as a culture, are likewise capable of scientific endeavor because science, in the first place, is not about who gets credit. 


Cover page of the special issue of JRST appropriately showing that science encompasses contributions from all cultures.
In this issue, there is one article that may be particularly helpful in understanding how science interacts with culture. It is in an American setting. The US has its share of indigenous people, the native Americans and the article, "Teaching science from cultural points of intersection", relates a teacher professional development program in schools near or on American Indian reservations in Montana. These schools serve students from the Flathead Reservation, contemporary home of the Salish-Kootenai and Pend d' Oreille tribes; and the southeast region, on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Reservations. The following is the abstract:

Abstract
This study focuses on a professional development program for science teachers near or on American Indian reservations in Montana. This program was framed by culturally relevant pedagogy premises and was characterized by instructional strategies and content foci resulting from the intersection between three cultures: tribal, science teaching, and science. The study employs a quasi-experimental design and quantitative methods to examine the impact of the program on teachers' practice and beliefs, and to determine the relationship between student-centered equity-focused instruction and students' science test score gains. Results of the analyses indicate that after 2 years in the program teachers changed their teaching practices and beliefs about their ability to teach science and to implement equitable instruction in a way that positively impacted students' performance. Using a multiple regression analysis it was found that gains in teacher beliefs about their ability to implement equitable strategies and the increase of teaching strategies that prompt students to make connections between science and their real-life issues significantly explained the 36.7% of the variance of student science test scores gains in treatment classrooms. No significant changes in beliefs or teaching strategies were found for comparison teachers. The results obtained from this study contribute to the identification of characteristics of a professional development program that positively impacted the science teaching of American Indian students. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 50:12–32, 2013
An example of a science topic covered in this study is given below:
...The science concept of accelerated motion was identified in the cultural practice of arrow making and throwing. The shape of the bow, the elasticity of the materials of the arrow and bow, the tension in the string, the body position in the throw, and many more intricacies of this practice were matched to the concept of force and accelerated motion. In this example the empirical epistemology of the tribal practice was matched to the abstract, model-based epistemology of school science as both knowledge bases have the same purpose: the prediction of the motion of an object subject to an unbalanced force.... (J Res Sci Teach 50:12–32, 2013)
The work therefore begins with identifying tribal practices with specific science concepts to be taught. The nature of science, its methodology and concepts, is not cultural. What is drawn from culture are examples. The professional development program aims, first of all, to educate the teachers of the tribal cultures and practices. Attempts are made to make teaching methods and content applications compatible with tribal practices. With these efforts, obviously teachers are also encouraged to explore various ways of teaching science and with identification of tribal practices that match scientific concepts, a teacher's knowledge of science is equally enhanced. It should be not surprising then that the teachers are the main beneficiaries of the program. As the study demonstrates, with this program, the teachers receive the most:
...In summary, after 1 year in the program treatment teachers felt empowered in their ability to teach science content and to implement equitable instruction, and they increased the classroom time students spent making connections between science topics and issues related to their life and communities, and to hands-on experiences. These results were obtained for both cohorts. Similarly, during the first 2 years in the program, treatment teachers showed a significant improvement in teaching practices that prompt students to analyze data and to make connections. Also, they built on their confidence in their ability to teach science content and to implement equitable approaches in the classroom.... (J Res Sci Teach 50:12–32, 2013)
In contrast, there are no dramatic effects on the students:




The results for both science tests indicate that even though there is a difference in the classroom average scores between the beginning and end of year tests, unexpectedly, this difference is not associated to the treatment condition of the teachers.... (J Res Sci Teach 50:12–32, 2013)
In more than way, this study illustrates who really needs help. It is not the indigenous population. We are the ones in need. We are the ones who need to be taught what equity really means. Stop blaming science and our former colonial masters. We are the ones who seem to be miseducated in the first place.

Einstein correctly describes education (Western or Eastern) in his statement (a quotation placed at the top of this blog):

"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common."




No comments:

Post a Comment