Narrate: Volume 6

Narrate: Share any reflections on Mason’s book selections and the quote from Volume 6.


It seems to me that Mason was aware that science education wasn’t quite meeting her ideals yet and the truth is that it never quite did. Why not? Let’s see how it develops throughout the 20th century to find out what happened. While Mason was advocating for good literature in science education from the United Kingdom, Wilbur Jackman, Anna Botsford Comstock, and Liberty Hyde Bailey were advocating for an intimate relationship with the Things from the United States. They were not concerned with the exact content being taught, but with the child’s relationship with the world around them and their ability to observe and analyze. These goals were important whether or not a student would become a scientist, they argued (Kohlstedt)(Champagne and Klopfer).

As we approach World War 2, however, there is a definite shift in societal values and a subsequent wave of new reform. Orra Underhill criticized teachers for being poorly educated in science and for being too emotional about the subject rather than demonstrating objectivity. He advocated a more formal, scholarly approach (Kohlstedt).  


By the end of World War 2, the solution to society’s problems was seen as the production of men and women who have the attitudes and habits of scientists. It was believed that these attitudes have little to do with facts or skills and are not acquired by reading books, attending lectures, or observing demonstrations. It was desired that the focus from the start should be on practicing the scientific method. The hope was that the scientific method would teach people to think rationally, would free them from “want and fear”, and would enable man to “gain such control over the forces of nature as to promote better living.” Reformers at this time also thought it important that high school students be brought “up to date” in relevant applied sciences, such as industrial chemistry, aerodynamics, and electronics (Baker, T)(Baker, A).


There were several interesting developments in 1955, demonstrating that already science education was discontent. At large there was much discussion regarding selection of standard curricula for both elementary and high schools focusing on the scientific principles of physical science and biology (Leonelli)(McKibben). There was an additional struggle in this decade due in part to a change in student population. Education through high school had become more common. Instead of being mostly for college-bound students, eighty percent of graduates would complete their schooling in high school and enter the world rather than go to college. Experts from this decade wanted science education to produce citizens who were prepared for life in a scientific culture (Caldwell). This decade marked the beginning of intentional talent identification for the expressed purpose of satisfying market demands (Vlassis). At first this was observed mainly in professional publications (Passow)(Business Week), but it led to widespread differentiation in the classroom. Yet, a model school was presented and praised for utilizing the child’s natural surroundings to encourage innate curiosity. This school did not rely on any textbooks or a standard course of study (Ashley). Advocacy for nature study in the form of summer camp became popular, but there was a marked change in tone from earlier efforts. Now nature had to be made understandable and “palatable” to students (Harms). So much had World War 2 distorted our perspective that just a short time after Comstock and Mason, science education had forgotten about relationship.  


By 1965, Science Education presented a paper advocating explicitly for identification of gifted science talent as early as junior high through the use of standardized testing. In order to achieve maximum success with special programs that nurture young scientists, “it is imperative [then] that only those students who have demonstrated an appreciation of and an aptitude for science be chosen.” The author further suggested that it is the responsibility of both industry and education to lead students toward careers in science prior to this talent identification (Vlassis). Another paper from the same decade acknowledged the crisis in meeting the demands of society: “Many people consider the importance of science to be in direct proportion to the degree of our publicized lag behind Russia in scientific achievements.” The author expressed concern that students were being “pushed” into the sciences and cautioned fellow educators to consider that science is more than a “means to military advancement.” The public view that science represents power and prestige, we are told, causes the true value of science to be lost, even by scientists. “The sciences and humanities are, or should be, interdependent” and viewed as “essential parts of our common culture.” The solution he advocated was a curriculum not only for training a scientist, but one that would “give the broker, the businessman, the housewife, the scientific literacy necessary” to remain informed as a citizen throughout life. The author reminded readers that scientific knowledge “is not various sets of facts, but an overall understanding of the whole concept of science.” (Lee)