Recently, I am reading Angie Barton’s Teaching Science for Social Justice. Today, I am on chapter 6 Transformations: Science as a tool for change, which pushed me to think about why we wanted to invite students’ home community into the conversation of students’ science learning. In the past, at least for me, the purpose of incorporating students’ home community in teaching is to explore what can be used in instruction to provoke students’ prior knowledge and to make them feel valued in the classroom. However, Chapter 6 opens another window for me.
The chapter tells a story about a high-school kid Darkside using science as a tool to make a change both in his personal life and his community. Growing up and living in urban poverty, Darkside was facing “the harshworld” on the daily base. He felt he was dumbed down in school and was on lockdown. Like his peers, he faced the reality of being trapped and wanted to leave the neighborhood when he grew up. In his opinion, participation in science was limited to particular people who acted in a particular way. Yet, the engagement in a project that aimed at transforming an abandoned lot in his community into a garden recorded his transformation. Through the project, Darkside demonstrated a desire to use science to make his community a beautiful place he would be proud of and where outsiders would come. He wanted the project to be something that he would be remembered by. To Darkside, though everyone could transform the lot into a garden and claimed their efforts as doing science, only when it was done by the people inside the community could the action be called good science in that they were the ones who knew their needs and they were doing it for self and others. Good science is “something that you do in your community that you can be proud of. It is something that you do in your community to be remembered by. And science is something that will help to beautify and change your community to make it a better place for yourself, your family, and your community” (Calabrese Barton, 2003, pp. 134-135).
Darkside’s insight into what good science should look like makes me think about the role of students’ communities in doing science. It is true that kids’ community is a place where teachers can seek for resources, but what if we make it a goal for learning and doing science? What if we show students that science is a tool for them to change their community from a place they are trapped in into a place they can be proud of? What if we make community a place that science comes from, science is embedded in, and science will end at?
The other question for me that can be linked to the community question will go back to what science is. In Darkside’s story, science was something the kids could find and use in everyday life rather than an activity a particular group of people could practice in a particularly scientific way. In his argument with his peer, Darkside claimed that they were part of scientific community because they used science. So what should scientific community look like? Should it only include scientific people who have earned a high-level degree in scientific fields? Or should it include everyone since almost every individual is performing science every day? Should science be a privilege to smart people? Or should it be accessible to everybody? I’m asking because I heard kids saying they were not smart enough to do science and I’m struggling with what we should present science to kids.
Calabrese Barton, A. (2003). Teaching science for social justice. New York: Teachers College Press.