Provocative STEPWISE History and Rationale
This page provides critical reviews of broad sociopolitical contexts, fields of science & technology (and ‘STEM’) and their educational counterparts and a brief overview of and justification for STEPWISE-informed teaching & learning.
We need justice & environmental vitality!
STEPWISE is a response to apparent capitalist hegemony!
Humanity is, clearly, facing numerous potential & realized harms to wellbeing of individuals, societies & environments – like the petroleum-fueled climate crisis, illnesses from manufactured foods, privacy invasions from surveillance systems and species losses from habitat despoliation. Although many (or most) of these harms seem directly related to fields of science & technology (or ‘STEM‘), it seems appropriate to suggest that most are mainly due to hegemonic influences of pro-capitalist entities – like transnational corporations and others depicted at left/above. They appear to have orchestrated most living, nonliving & symbolic entities – including many governments, transnational groups, STEM fields, citizens’ assumptions of ‘normality’ and much more – into a Borg-like network (or dispositif) that, collectively, supports capitalist ideals like possessive individualism. Because such pro-capitalist dispositifs are so focused on maximizing private profit (over public benefits), largely through norms like cost externalizations, several analysts suggest that they are like cancer (e.g., Monbiot, McMurtry) – pathologically (e.g., The Corporation) exploiting anything & everything around them to achieve their goals.
STEM fields & STEM education appear under much capitalist control
As claimed in the videos at right/below (and via the links below those), although pro-capitalist dispositifs appear to have enlisted myriad actants into their networks, many of their harmful effects appear related to capitalist influences over STEM (and related) fields and their educational counterparts (also see here).
Societal Analyses of Science & Technology Education
Below are analyses of science & technology (& ‘STEM’) education, focusing on social justice & environmental vitality as they relate to matters of political economy in different sociopolitical and historical contexts. Depictions here are not meant to suggest that apparently-problematic practices in science/STEM education are universal. They are provided here as provocations, to perhaps urge educators and others to avoid such practices.
Science & technology (or ‘STEM‘) education are affected by numerous external factors; but, perhaps most-significantly, by political economy. Many governments include economic rationale in STEM education promotion, like that expressed here. Although varied, many political economies seem to feature input-output relationships as depicted at right/below. Such an elitist system may be understood in terms of concepts of neoliberalism; that is, socioeconomic systems in which networks of cooperating entities (dispositifs) – composed, for example, of governments, transnational groups (e.g., WTO), education systems, popular entertainment, myriad technologies, transportation & communication networks and many others – prioritize wealth accumulation by few ‘elite’ (e.g., financiers, royalty, corporations) often at expense of wellbeing of most other living & non-living things.
Under influences of neoliberal and/or more authoritarian ideologies implemented by governments, transnational groups, free-market think tanks, etc., science & technology education often sseem conditioned to generate – to varying extents – knowledge producers (e.g., engineers) and knowledge consumers (e.g., compliant labourers & rabid shoppers). Some elaborations of these claims are provided below, with more detailed summaries available here.
Science & Technology Education as a ‘Selection & Training Camp’
Science/STEM education systems often seem overly-focused on identifying & educating possible knowledge producers; e.g., STEM professionals. Selection often seems biased, based on certain narrow – explicit or implicit – pre-specifications.
It is apparent – as illustrated at right/below – that science & technology (& STEM) education often is (and has been) like a ‘selection & training camp,’ aiming to sort students into different work/life paths – with clear priorities for identifying & educating few potential knowledge producers – such as: university-educated biologists, chemists & physicists, many of whom may choose careers in engineering, business administration, computer-based design, accountancy, etc., often serving interests of financiers, corporations, etc. more so than general social & environmental wellbeing. Among mechanisms for such sorting, it seems that science/STEM education is like a perpetual motion machine – sorting students largely in terms of basic abilities (e.g., intelligence) and cultural & social (& other) capital (Bourdieu, 1986). In that sense, science/STEM education often is a ‘survival of the richest’ (e.g., in intelligence, socio-cultural capital, gender, race, sexuality, etc.) process. A key mechanism, as elaborated here, appears to be strong emphases on inquiry-based learning; i.e., expecting students to discover laws & theories and/or design solutions with minimal supports.
Science & Technology Education as an ‘Apprenticeship for Consumership’
For many students, science/STEM education often promotes consumerism like here (e.g., as compliant labourers & rabid purchasers) – through at least the mechanisms listed here and elaborated below:
A mantra of many pro-capitalist science/STEM curricula is that they claim to aim to guarantee that all students will receive the same educational opportunities, regardless of their situation. Although this may sound positive, it often appears as a set of ‘standards’ (or ‘Expectations’) for outcomes of educational experiences – as if education is to be like a manufacturing line to generate products – like colas – with certain pre-specified characteristics. This can be problematic for many students, especially those whose socio-cultural capital does not align – like that of many Indigenous Peoples – with that of mainstream science/STEM education. Students wanting – tacitly or otherwise – to maintain their identities seem likely to be assimilated into dominant ideologies; ‘resistance is futile.’ Conformity is, however, often good for business. With school graduates increasingly alike, the general population may be more homogeneous and, therefore, more susceptible to mass marketing (Galbraith, 1958).
Being a student in science/STEM courses often can be like visiting a museum; it is assumed that your task is to learn about many (often vast amounts of) products (e.g., laws & theories) and processes (e.g., experimentation & engineering design) that have been generated by experts. This can leave many students to assume that work of science, engineering, etc. is mostly completed – and that such work is best left to experts. Students can, in other words, become saturated with products & processes of science/STEM. Such saturation can lead to passivity, students’ feeling that their roles are to be consumers of knowledge (and commercial products & services), rather than producers of them. Even if students are engaged in inquiry-based learning, which is common, teacher guidance (or ‘scaffolding’) can create such passivity.
Being a student in school science/STEM often can be like trying to drink from a fire hose; large amounts of knowledge & skills are to be understood in short time periods – leaving many students confused. A science student in the UK, for example, described such experiences this way: “You just get to know what you’re talking about and [teachers] change [the topic] … you forget everything that you know … in the end you do not know what you are doing” (Claxton, 1991, p. 24). Millar (1996) claimed, for example, that most studies of students’ (by the age 16) understandings of fundamental laws and principles of science—including the particle theory of matter, the model of the solar system, and ideas about animal and plant gas exchange—are either simplistic or quite different from those of scientists. Similar results are obtained for lay adults. The confusion and rote learning that this sort of education engenders can seriously compromise students’ potential involvement in decision making on issues important to them and their abilities to create relevant knowledge.
School science/STEM often seems like a sophisticated ‘infomercial‘ — i.e., selling products and practices of professional science/STEM fields by casting them in the most positive light. Various myths about science products and practices frequently pervade school science, including that; i) observation provides direct and reliable access to secure knowledge, ii) science starts with observation, iii) science proceeds via induction, iv) experiments are decisive, v) science comprises discrete, generic processes, vi) scientific inquiry is a simple, algorithmic procedure, vii) science is a value-free activity, viii) science is an exclusively Western, post-Renaissance activity, ix) the so-called “scientific attitudes” are essential to the effective practice of science, and x) scientists possess these attitudes (Hodson, 1999). Related to such views, science/STEM fields often are portrayed as closely-adhering to Merton’s norms of ethical practice. Research suggests, however, that many fields of science/STEM are adversely influenced by funders’ profit motives (Ziman, 2000).
Often, even when students are said to be engaged in more student-directed, open-ended science inquiries or technology design projects, teachers may use various techniques to influence topic choices, research methods, data-processing approaches, conclusions and suggestions for uses of results. Their thoughts and actions can be, in other words, regulated to align with those useful to powerful people (e.g., financiers) and groups (e.g., corporations). Moreover, they may become intellectually dependent on such powerful people and groups for knowledge and technoscience products and services. Freire (2005 ) suggested that such manipulative relationships represent forms of violence, in which powerful people & groups (e.g., companies influencing education) limit thoughts, creativity & actions of most others.
Although collaboration is said to enhance problem solving in many contexts, such as in business decisions and in school projects, values of student achievement in school science/STEM often are judged individually – through, for example, tests and examinations. Such competitive individualism appears, however, to be normalized in many societies – especially, it seems, in those governed by neoliberalism – an ideology organizing most living and nonliving things to support private profit generation, often regardless of costs to wellbeing of surrounding entities.
STEM education needs to enlighten & empower students to take civic actions to help overcome STSE harms
Because many governments have committed to neoliberal capitalism, or, perhaps worse, authoritarianism (e.g., in China, Brazil, India & Russia), it seems clear that primary, secondary & tertiary STEM (and related) education systems must actively educate students about apparently-problematic pro-capitalist dispositifs and prepare them to engage in sociopolitical actions to overcome STSE harms of concern to them. As depicted in the video at left/above, such enlightening education may be like being able to ‘see’ often-hidden aspects of the world; that is, in terms of actor-network theory, to have aspects of the world de-punctualized. For example, rather than simply seeing a commodity like genetically-engineered salmon as a single entity (e.g., that may provide abundant food), it can be seen as enmeshed in a larger – apparently-problematic – network involving powerful actants like the FDA and private companies. In ‘seeing’ the world in new – perhaps more critical – ways, students may become motivated to help improve ecojustice through sociopolitical actions.
Alternatives to Pro-capitalist Science & Technology (STEM) Education
Socioeconomic systems like those influenced by neoliberalism and authoritarianism are very resistant to change, as with capitalist recoveries from the 2007-08 Global Financial Crisis. Their resilience appears due to abilities of elite to orchestrate most living & nonliving things into complex and vast cooperative networks (‘dispositifs‘). Those wanting societies oriented, instead, to ideologies like ecojustice (attacking ideologies like these) must, therefore, promote development of new, widely-accepted, dispositifs. That will not likely be easy. However, given that technoscience developments appear to co-affect societal zeitgeists (Jasanoff), technoscience education must be considered a main route to dramatic socioeconomic change.
STEPWISE Theoretical Schema
Partly driven by frustrations promoting student-directed & open-ended science inquiry &/or technology design projects (likely due to neoliberal influences on education), I developed the STEPWISE schema below (2006). Forming a tetrahedron, it co-relates five domains – adapted from Ontario curricula – while prioritizing STSE Actions as forms of altruism. Text in the graphic link to suggestions about each domain.
STEPWISE Pedagogical Schema
Teachers found the tetrahedral STEPWISE framework (at left/above) too complex (e.g., because it implies simultaneous education about all five learning domains in the tetrahedron) and, so, I developed – working with a teacher – an earlier version (e.g., here) of the pedagogical schema shown below in 2007. It is meant to oppose capitalist influences and, instead, promote societal shifts towards more ecojustice (e.g., vs. these values). As shown below, it aims to provide students with one or more sets of 3-phase, constructivism-informed, lessons & student activities to help prepare them to independently (SD/OE) develop & implement research-informed & socially-negotiated sociopolitical actions (RiNAs) to overcome harms they perceive in STSE relationships. Linked to the graphic below are values inherent to STEPWISE.
STEPWISE Balancing of Direct Instruction vs. Student Choice
STEPWISE frameworks are informed by numerous theoretical perspectives. A major influence is constructivist learning theory. As elaborated here, it assumes that humans (and other sentient beings) ‘construct’ (or develop interpretations) unique attitudes, skills & knowledge (ASK) from most experiences with phenomena. For example, different people ‘see’ different images (e.g., side of a cow or map formations) when viewing the black-and-white image at right (below). This suggests that our responses to sense experiences tells us more about ASK already in our brains (and bodies) than information in the experiences. Among implications for teaching & learning, we suggest it implies that educators encourage students to express ASK already in their brains/bodies, directly teach them ASK that may not be well-formed in their minds/bodies and allow them, to a great extent, to construct new ASK to further self-determine their thoughts and actions.
Apparently, learners can only ‘construct’ new ASK if they have access to new ‘resources’ – such as new knowledge (e.g., about natural selection) that has been directly taught to them, which they might struggle to construct on their own. Because of such limits on constructions, the STEPWISE pedagogical schema features different choices in terms of Lock’s (1990) control-of-learning framework at right/below. Choices made in this regard prioritize democratic principles, like: direct teaching about a plurality of perspectives and practices and opportunities for personal choices (or ‘self-determination’) – both of which seem compromised in many societies. Under influences of neoliberalism, for example, governments have cooperated with many supportive entities, including transnational ones like the WTO, to prioritize values like competitive possessive individualism. In this paradigm, competitions appear unfair. For example, emphases on student self-discovery in inquiry-based learning approaches seem discriminatory and STEM education omissions or sanitization of harms that appear largely due to neoliberalism can compromise many students’ democratic rights.
By directly teaching students – using teacher-directed, closed-ended approaches in synchrony with more student-directed & open-ended application activities – about apparently problematic neoliberal influences on STEM (and related) fields and much more and sample RiNA projects, it is my hope that students may develop and implement sociopolitical actions that may disrupt and perhaps dramatically transform societies in ways promoting greater ecojustice. Drawing on Deleuze & Guattari’s (1987) book, A Thousand Plateaus, we may imagine students acting to promote – as depicted at right/below – replacement of hierarchical societies with those more like rhizomes; e.g., in eclectic ways. To help with this, as recommended (for instance) by Peter McLaren in Che Guevara, Paulo Freire, and the Pedagogy of Revolution, democratic educators must combine critical instruction with students’ independent opportunities for reflective practice (praxis) – which is reflected in STEPWISE emphases on Student-led RiNA Projects.