Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dehumanizing Science

In a faculty development seminar on Science, Technology, and Society that I'm leading, a couple of the participants commented on a feature of new science textbooks that is being pitched as a selling point -- names are being stripped from laws, theories, and bodily organs. So, the islets of Langerhans are now being called pancreatic islets. This is billed as a pedagogical advance because the name is now reflective of the placement or function and thus the language is more useful to the practitioner and easier to remember.\

But, of course, what it also does is strip the last element of history from the teaching of the science. Thomas Kuhn pointed this out in the 50s when he first called our attention to the use of textbooks in science education. We already lose the narrative, the context, the elements that led some incredibly smart and clever person to ask a question in a new way or approach it in a fashion no one else had considered and as a result advanced human understanding of the natural world. Now we want to make it seem completely non-human, something that comes down complete without a biography, without a history, without a backstory.

Now, this whitewashing is being held as the cutting edge of science pedagogy. I'm hoping someday someone tells its story.