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CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS' TRUST SCIENCE CURRICULUM WORKING GROUP
TEXTBOOK CRITIQUES No 2
ACCELERATED CHRISTIAN EDUCATION 1102 Biology & 135 Basic Science: Physics
© Steve Bishop 1994; 2012
Preamble Textbooks play an important role in shaping science education. Textbooks are not neutral; they reflect the worldview(s) of the author(s)/ editor(s). Not only by what is included and excluded but also in the way science is portrayed. In general we can identify several ways in which science is portrayed in textbooks and schemes: Science as knowledge/ content Science as a process Science as an invention of the scientist Science as a cultural activity Science as an aspect of technical application Science as a discovery of the knowable We can illustrate these different facets diagrammatically:
Figure 1. A schematic representation of a wholistic model of scientific investigation. (Diagram updated Jan 2012)
It is important when utilising textbooks to be aware of the particular emphases, so that its weaknesses can be overcome and its strengths utilised. This and similar short papers is an attempt to identify the worldview(s) and the nature of science as portrayed in contemporary textbooks and schemes.
Introduction The following is a critique of two workbooks produced by Accelerated Christian Education Inc. The booklets are known as PACEs. The two in question are: 135 Basic Science: Physics: Momentum and Energy (Reform Publications, 1987) 1102 Biology: Plants (Accelerated Christian Education, 1989; revision 1992) The booklets are part of a programmed learning scheme developed for Christian schools in the States and also used in many Christian schools in the UK. The appeal of such a scheme is that it presents a new Christian school with the ready made resources for starting. It alleviates the need to have teachers with expertise and experience in all aspects of the curriculum. Format The format of the two books are identical. The inside front covers have brief instructions and a list of contents. Page 1 has a list of objectives and "Words to know"; pages 2-30 are text interspersed with line diagrams and black and white photographs. The immediate impression of the design reflects that of textbooks produced in the sixties. The only exception being some of the line drawings, in the case of the Biology book, are in colour. With each booklet is an "Activity Pac" and a "Test". They are obviously North American products. This is evidenced by the patriotic Eagle on the Biology cover and the American-style spellings. It is understood that UK versions are being produced. Basic Science: Physics The strength of their approach is that momentum is introduced in the context of Sir Isaac Newton. The physics unit starts with a brief bibliography of him. This said however, it is a highly selective reading of Newton. One would get the impression from reading this material alone that he was a conservative evangelical Christian. This is hardly so. No mention is made of his highly dubious views of the Trinity as a platonic corruption of biblical Christianity. Christianity becomes part of the curriculum through analogy. The physics unit, in particular, is replete with examples: Momentum is conserved; therefore it cannot be ignored because it will not "disappear." Likewise, God cannot ignore sin, because sin cannot "vanish." (p9) The principle of the pendulum illustrates the principle of salvation. The principle of the pendulum states that the period of a pendulum is directly related to its length, but independent of the mass and amplitude. Likewise our spiritual condition is directly related to our relationship with God, but independent of our position or possessions. In truth God shows no partiality. (p14) God is like a kinetic energy force in His universe. He is always moving to accomplish his will. (p 20) God is also a potential energy force in His universe. (p 22) The law of conservation of energy has some spiritual applications. (p 24) Ideal material, perhaps, for a Sunday school lesson, but hardly a basis for Christian education! Biology The biology unit, in my opinion (that of a physicist!), is better than the physics unit. The tendency of Biology in the UK National Curriculum is to blur the distinction between humans and animals and other living organisms; presumably because of evolutionary presuppositions. Human biology and Botany as separate and distinct elements have gone; we now have "Living processes". It is thus refreshing to see a unit
SCWG/TEX/ACE/ED1 specifically devoted to plants.
It does make some attempt in the initial pages to relate the role of plants in God's creation. Though the continued use of the phrase "God created/ designed..." (e.g. pp 2, 7, 11, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20, 23, 25, 26, 28, 29) does not on its own constitute a Christian approach. Any textbook can be "Christianised" in this way! It also attempts to inject a "Christian" dimension through analogy; for example: Although our bodies do not carry on the process of photosynthesis, they need light to live. We need the light of God's word to show us how to live. (p17)
General comments In these days [British] education has become dominated by the National Curriculum. These two units do not even acknowledge its existence. They are not totally incompatible with it, though, and could be adapted as background readers to supplement another style of course. If these units and presumably the whole course of which they are a part were adopted wholesale then an alternative to the British GCSE system would have to be used. (Not such a bad thing!) The problem then is convincing parents, future employers and colleges of the validity of alternative accreditation.
What is the view of science portrayed? Science is a body of knowledge. The impression it gives is that science is a series of facts to be learnt and equations to be manipulated. It is a view that the old style positivists would have endorsed! Implicit within this approach is the neutrality of science. Hence, this explains the approach of attempting to Christianise a secular approach by adding Christian lessons but leaving the science untouched. What is the view of learning it embodies? It sanctions a transfer view of learning. The pupil is an empty bucket that is slowly filled with information as they read the pages and do the exercises. Here the empiricist view of John Locke is tacitly endorsed. In its approach to learning it endorses the neutrality of learning and of science. The "objective, value-free facts" of science have to be transferred from the pages of the PACE into the pupil's mind and learning is deemed to have taken place. No account is taken of the role of the person in the way knowledge is interpreted or the misconceptions the pupil will inevitably bring to the text. This is hardly compatible with a Christian approach to knowledge. Both in its view of science and its view of learning the advances made by philosophers and psychologists seem to have left the publishers unmoved. Whether or not this is a conscious decision is not evident. Perhaps this is the meaning of the "Back to Basics" logo on one of the front covers. It endorses a very traditional view of science and learning; we should recall that what is now traditional was once progressive! Hence, there is no merit in an uncritical acceptance of the "traditional" view. Older in this instance is not necessarily wiser.
Conclusions Stripped of their so-called Christian object lessons these units would make interesting readers to back up a science course. As an exemplar for what science might look like from a distinctively Christian perspective they fail very badly. To my mind there is very little that is distinctively Christian about them. The problem with this trivialisation of a Christian approach is that it makes it all the harder for Christian educators to allay the misgivings of the majority as to what Christian education really is. Particularly when, for some, ACE has become synonymous with Christian education. It should be noted that these criticisms apply only to these two units, as these are the only ones reviewed.
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