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Science literacy and science education at the high school and college levels ("Science and School Reform,'' March 2, 1994) will not be much improved until those concerned learn, with many examples, two facts:

  • 1. The formulation and development of theories is the central and most important activity in the growth of scientific knowledge.
  • 2. Fully developed and widely accepted theories (embedded theories) give logical structure to established knowledge.

If science teachers knew these two facts well, they would probably understand the following quotations of Albert Einstein, Linus Pauling, and Jerome Bruner and would visualize the consequences for the improvement of science education:

"[Ancient Greece] for the first time created the intellectual miracle of a logical system ... Euclid's geometry. This marvelous accomplishment of reason gave the human spirit the confidence it needed for its future achievements.'' "The structure of the [theoretical] system is the work of reason.'' Albert Einstein.

"The progress made ... in the development of theoretical concepts has been so great ... that the presentation of general chemistry ... can be made in a more simple, straightforward, and logical way than formerly.'' Linus Pauling.

"Perhaps the most basic thing that can be said about human memory, after a century of intensive research, is that unless detail is placed into a structured pattern, it is rapidly forgotten.'' "A good theory is the vehicle not only for understanding a phenomenon now but also for remembering it tomorrow.'' Jerome Bruner.

If you think high school and college science teachers and others know their subjects well, ask them the following questions:

  • 1. What are the embedded and developing theories included in this course? Identify all theories even though they are not commonly called theories, even though they lie hidden in the dogmatic language of textbooks.
  • 2. What are the basic premises, the postulates, of each theory?
  • 3. What are some examples of lines of reasoning used for support, for explanation, and for prediction in each theory?
  • 4. What are the range of applicability and the limitations, the boundaries, of each theory?

Since the word "theory'' is in a horribly confused state in textbooks and classrooms, here is a simple description that is adequate most of the time: A theory is a nearly geometric pattern of reasoning. Central to each theory are a few ideas stated in the postulates (basic premises, fundamental assumptions). Lines of reasoning build patterns in three ways. (1) They use facts to support a postulate. (2) They use facts and postulates to explain known facts. (3) And they use facts and postulates to predict possible new facts.

Those who would improve science education should restudy their subjects, the history of the development of their subjects, and the lines of reasoning that were actually used to establish the textbook knowledge.

Ralph W. Lewis
Professor Emeritus
Center for Integrative Studies
College of Natural Science
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Mich.

To the Editor:

For the great majority of his essay, "Urban Segregation: Who's To Blame?'' (Commentary, March 2, 1994), Michael Casserly is right on the mark. If only his ideas could get as much exposure as Gary Orfield's do. (It would be interesting to see how Mr. Orfield's research on segregation/resegregation would have played if his association with Harvard University had been omitted when his ideas were presented.)

But even Mr. Casserly appears not to want to face one apparently "unthinkable'' aspect of the education of African-American children. The black historian Carter G. Woodson posed the issue more than 60 years ago, when he said that black children were "miseducated'' and that black college graduates were "worthless to the uplift of [black] people. ...''

The question is whether the Harvards of America (and of course most of the "lesser'' schools, from entry, throughout), do "miseducate'' blacks?

No matter how many resources are put into urban schools, if those schools just serve to perpetuate African-Americans' abettance of our own suppression and subordination through striving to imitate the very characteristics of the suppressors and subordinators, it will contribute to the further fragmentation of the black community. Collectivity and collegiality among African-heritaged people are absolutely necessary to our "uplift.''

It is a big question whether Caucasians can be the "we'' in Mr. Casserly's proposition: "The issue is one of how we educate the African-American ... children. ...''

William Simpson
Park Forest, Ill.

To the Editor:

The more I read this mistaken "Urban Segregation: Who's To Blame?'' the more I feel compelled to respond. Michael Casserly has it all wrong. He sees the problem and falsely blames white America for abandoning the urban schools.

Did "white America'' (and millions of Hispanics, Asians, and African-Americans in this so-called white flight) intentionally abandon urban America, or did they act intelligently in trying to provide their children with the best education possible? I would venture to say the latter.

I am a Hispanic, born and raised in this country, and I have been in the profession for the last 13 years. I have met countless other educators and working-class parents from all nationalities and races who have indicated they would never send their children to urban schools if they could afford to send them elsewhere.

It would help us all if Michael Casserly would go into the schools and see for himself why millions of Hispanic, African-American, Anglo, and Asian students who value education prefer to be educated in an environment free from all the problems of urban schools.

Daniel Menchaca
McAllen, Tex.

Vol. 13, Issue 26

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