What does social justice have to do with science education?

For this first blog, I wanted to spend some time explaining our Center’s focus on social justice through science education. What in the world does social justice have to do with science education? In our view, we can strive for social justice by helping all people to have the opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge they want to pursue – in the science context. Here at C(SE)^2 we do research that helps expand opportunities for students to learn about science content and practices in a deeper way. We work so that students who may not feel they are “science-minded” can understand the ways of knowing of science so that they feel included and feel free to take risks in order to explore deeper learning. Are all people currently getting the same opportunities to learn science? We don’t think so – yet. However, we are making some progress by looking at features of learning such as wonder as a tool for entry into science learning, self-awareness and self-regulation of learning processes while engaging in science investigations, and structures in STEM schools that can support students who are not yet engaged fully in their science education. In these ways, we can perhaps open some young minds toward the ways humans understand the harmonies in nature and understand our world a little better.

Not only is social justice through science education about opening opportunities for individuals. I also think it is about gaining better scientific knowledge. Think back historically. What if, say in the 1800’s, everyone was able to go to school and learn as they saw fit. What knowledge might we have now that we don’t currently have because of the social conditions then? I think Stephen J. Gould framed this issue well when he wrote “I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”  How much new or different information could we now have in the field of science had if all people had the same opportunity to learn science in the past?  We can’t solve the problems we have created with the same kind of thinking that started the problems. We need diversity in ways of seeing the world so that we have new ways of solving problems. Therefore, if our research can include more students or open opportunities for learning science, maybe we can nudge closer to that goal.

Thanks for taking the time to read the C(SE)^2 research blog!

Erin Peters-Burton