Exploring Ideologies: STS and HPS

Glen S. Aikenhead

College of Education

University of Saskatchewan

Saskatoon, Canada, S7N 0X1



A paper presented to the symposium "HPS, STS, and the Goals of School Science" at the History & Philosophy of Science and Science Teaching conference, Calgary, Canada, June 21-24, 1997.

Curriculum development is a highly political process in which societal groups, such as university science, philosophy, history, and education professors, government agencies, industry, business, parents, students, and especially teachers, all compete to influence the curriculum (Fensham, 1992). In this environment of social competition, advantage is gained by "attracting new adherents and providing reasurance and strength to veterans" (Scheffler, 1965, quoted in Roberts, 1983, p. 16). In this quotation, Scheffler is describing slogans in education. Slogans function as rallying symbols for educational movements or ideologies. When Roberts (1983) analyzed scientific literacy as a slogan, he historically traced its social function back to Hurd's 1958 article, "Science Literacy: Its Meaning for American Schools." Its meaning has expanded greatly over the years.

In a similar vain, we need to think of STS (science-technology-society) as a slogan, one that made an equally public appearance in a 1971 article by Gallagher, in which he wrote: "For future citizens in a democratic society, understanding the interrelations of science, technology and society may be as important as understanding the concepts and process of science" (p. 337). Gallagher had inadvertently moved the tired content-versus-process debate over scientific literacy on to the present content/process/context debate over STS. HPS (history and philosophy of science) education has its own life as a slogan going back much further in time than STS (Matthews, 1991). It has tended to focus on the content and processes of science along with the nature of science, rather than on science's social context (Monk and Osborne, 1997). Because STS and HPS are slogans, we need to treat them realistically as political symbols for educational movements and ideologies.

Another feature of slogans concerns their linguistic form. Slogans are always generalizations and therefore open to a wide array of reasonable interpretations (Roberts, 1983). Layton (1994) and Ziman (1984) reached the same conclusion about STS: "an intriguing mixture of motives" (Layton, 1994, p. 32). Similarly, HPS


embraces diverse spectrums of viewpoints, from strict adherence to traditional philosophical or historical analysis (Alters, 1997; Cohen, 1960), to tradition shattering revolutions (Kuhn, 1970), to social contexts for historical interpretations (Holton, 1978). Understandably then, both STS and HPS will continue to elude attempts at reaching a consensus on what they mean. One further consequence of slogans is that educators feel as if they belong to one large movement or innovation although those educators may hold diverse and even contradictory viewpoints (Roberts, 1983). This notion of belonging is another important social function that STS and HPS share.

STS education in science seeks to increase a general interest in, and understanding of, science and technology, (1) for those bright creative students who are discouraged by a boring and irrelevant school curriculum, and (2) for those who are currently under-represented in science and technology.

STS science is also expected to fill a critical void in the traditional curriculum -- the social responsibility in collective decision making on issues related to science and technology. Such issues require a harmonious mix of a scientific-technical elite with an informed attentive citizenry. ... The pervasive goal of social responsibilty in collective decision making leads to numberous related goals: individual empowerment; intellectual capabilities such as critical thinking, logical reasoning, creative problem solving, and decision making; national and global citizenship, usually "democracy" or "stewardship;" socially responsible action by individuals; and an adroit work force for business and industry. These goals emphasize an induction into a world increasely shaped by science and technology. ... Most STS science courses harbor similar goals but give different priorities to different goals. (Aikenhead, 1994b, pp. 49-50)

STS goals target students who plan a future career in science and engineering as well as students who do not. STS educators argue that future scientists and engineers must be prepared to take on the social responsibilities of key decision makers in government, industry, the military, and business; responsibilities they will certainly shoulder. Personal and social relevance to students and society is valued highly in STS science education (Gaskell, 1982).

One defining characteristic of STS education is its student-oriented nature (Aikenhead, 1994b). STS educators ask: How can knowledge, values, and skills from science and technology inform a student's quest to make sense out of his or her natural world (science), artificially constructed world (technology), and social world (society)? The function of an STS curriculum is to support a student's efforts to make sense out of those three worlds. Therefore, STS curriculum developers determine what scientific or technological content, processes, and values one needs in order to formulate an informed critical view on an issue or event in any one of the natural, artificial, or social worlds (Aikenhead, 1994a; Eijkelhof, 1994; Thier and Nagle, 1994). Scientific ideas and capabilities only have meaning for students in a context, one oriented around the student (Eijkelhof and Lijnse, 1988; Layton et al., 1993; Solomon, 1987).

Based on many STS curricula around the world, each with its own interpretation of STS content, Aikenhead (1994b) suggested the following encompassing definition:

STS content in a science education curriculum is comprised of an interaction between science and technology, or between science and society, and any one or combination of the following:

* A technological artifact, process, or expertise

* The interactions between technology and society

* A societal issue related to science or technology

* Social science content that sheds light on a societal issue related to science and technology

* A philosophical, historical, or social issue within the scientific or technological community. (pp. 52-53)

This STS content is a combination of social issues and the sociology of science (Aikenhead, 1980; Bingle and Gaskell, 1994), and is integrated with traditional science content (the knowledge, values, and skills of canonical science) in various ways and to varying degrees, described by Aikenhead (1994b). STS defines "relevant" in terms of student-centred perspectives and brings science and technology into the student's world, for all students. In short, STS teaches students how to appropriate knowledge, skills, and values from science. In contrast, mainstream HPS invites students into academic disciplines (history and philosophy) that illuminate science in new ways.

HPS can find a place within STS, as shown by the last point in the definition of STS content (just above). Monk and Osborne (1997, p. 421) argue that "the study of the history of science has intrinsic value in its own right [because] scientific knowledge is one of the great cultural achievements of humanity -- a third culture of equal value to that of literacy and numeracy." To attain this third literacy, the authors proposed "the notion of culture studies of science, technology, and society" (p. 421) and described a conceptual framework for such a curriculum. Their outline holds promise for a worthwhile STS curriculum.

In summary, STS and HPS share common ground in two important ways: (1) they are both slogans and therefore have similar political/social functions, and (2) the variation of meanings within each group can be far greater than any variation between the two groups, and therefore, on the surface there might appear to be little difference between STS and HPS. Some HPS science teaching could find a home in STS education depending on the degree of its student-centredness, student/social relevance, and equity of opportunity for all students. On the other hand, differences between STS and HPS can be found when we examine their mainstream ideologies.


Ideological Analysis

STS projects invariably target all students. The science-for-all movement (Fensham, 1992) concurs with STS educators that all future citizens (scientists and engineers included) will benefit from studying topics found in the definition of STS content. In contrast, the topics traditionally attempted in HPS (Matthews, 1991) tend to hold interest for academically minded students who enjoy examining science from historical and philosophical perspectives. (Notable exceptions include Leo Klopfer's History of Science Cases, 1969; and ) Hence, STS and HPS may differ in terms of their target audience, with STS encompassing a broader group of students than HPS. A science-for-all approach tends to be supported by an egalitarian ideology while an academic-oriented approach tends to be supported by an elitist ideology.

There are also differences in the commitments or loyalties of those who embrace STS and those who reject it. Their ideologies will differ. Perhaps the existance of these two groups (those for and against STS) illustrate fundamental differences within HPS itself, more than potential differences between STS and HPS. Alternatively, perhaps educators committed to a traditional preprofessional training in science reminiscent of the 1960s have infiltrated HPS projects and have made those HPS projects appear discrepant with the STS movement. Whatever the reason, ideological differences between STS and HPS can be found in the literature. These are explored here.

Not unlike Smolicz and Nunan's (1975) ideological analysis of science, Fourez (1989) analyzed ideological features of four science education reports or projects (three USA, one UK) all dedicated to scientific literacy. Fourez's "ideology" connotes a vision of the world or society, a vision that has implications for social practices. For instance, he argued that Project 2061's Science for All Americans (AAAS, 1989) expressed the ideological trait of an "American individualistic and technocratic culture" (Fourez, 1989, pp. 102-103).

Fourez's ideological analysis identified visions about the nature of science, of technology, and of society, all of which tended to portray in a subtle way a type of "scientism" which had been detected earlier in conventional science teaching by Duschl (1988), Nadeau and Desautels (1984), Smolicz and Nunan (1975), and Ziman (1984). Essentially, scientism is a venerated commitment or an idolized loyalty to science. Nadeau and Desautels offer a five-category description of scientism:

1. Naive realism: Scientific knowledge is the reflection of things as they actually are.

2. Blissful empiricism: All scientific knowledge derives directly and exclusively from observation of phenomena.

3. Credulous experimentalism: Experimentation makes possible conclusive verification of hypotheses.

4. Blind idealism: The scientist is a completely disinterested, objective being.

5. Excessive rationalism: The logic of science alone brings us gradually nearer the truth.

A view contrary to scientism would be a critically and realistically reasoned respect for science, a view articulated by the sociology of science -- the "social studies of science" field of inquiry -- succinctly summarized for us by Kelly, Carlsen and Cunningham (1993). (For a detailed introduction to the field, see Ziman, 1984.)

Although many STS and HPS educators share common ideologies related to science, some do not. Critics of STS education can help delineate some potential ideological differences between STS and HPS. One disagreement between the two camps involves STS's acceptance of the sociology of science. Some advocates of HPS find it almost distasteful.

Matthews (1994), for example, views an STS approach to science teaching as projecting "subjectivist and relativist epistemologies" (p. 171). He goes on to discuss science-related social issues and concludes that students need to spend time finding out the scientific truth about, for instance, ozone depletion, and not waste time formulating their own views. He rejects a sociological view of science when he states "the idea that truth is in principle unattainable ... undermines hard work and research effort" (p. 171). This instance of naive realism and excessive rationalism contrasts with conventional STS ideology concerning the social construction of scientific knowledge (Bingle and Gaskell, 1994; Kelly et al., 1993). In addition, mainstream STS ideology conceives the lay person as sharing social power with the science expert over what values should guide public debate on social issues related to science and technology (including the funding of science), rather than simply accepting the expert's "superior" technological or scientific thinking (Solomon, 1994). It is important to note, however, that Bingle and Gaskell (1994) and Solomon (1994) also reveal in some STS projects a commitment to a privileged scientific rationality and objectivity. Thus, one cannot talk about categorical differences between STS and HPS, but rather potential differences between the two.

Casting STS as mere student opinion tends to mask an ideology embracing a loyalty to an elitist view of science, and an ideology unwilling to share social power with an attentive public. Tolerance for non-Cartesian humanistic rationality also seems to be all but absent in HPS (Haste, 1994). Physicist Gerald Holton (1978) argued that we should move away from a fundamentalist position on rationality that he called "Apollonian," to a more critically informed position that incorporates the sociology and history of science, to which he himself has contributed through his analysis of the scientific imagination. Solomon (1994) traces the conflict between critics of STS and supportors of STS back to 17th century England. Ideological differences run deeply in issues of social power and moral responsibility. One's approach to teaching will vary dramatically depending upon the degree to which the social construction and social validation of scientific knowledge informs one's scientific ideology. Those who reject a social constructivist ideology (Matthews, 1994) will likely reject most STS programs.

Fourez (1989) discussed ideological biases in the history of science as presented in AAAS's Science for All Americans. Fourez stated:

The storytellers of science emphasize on the one hand the contribution of indiviuals and, on the other, the resonance of certain scientific developments with the surrounding culture. The economic, political, and miliatary factors of scientific development are essentially neglected. ... The kind of history that has been chosen is centered on results and neglects the sociohistorical analysis of the development of the great paradigms that are at the basis of the scientific processes. One could imagine a history of science that would have tackled questions like: How did people -- more precisely, the bourgeoisie -- begin to look at things as inanimate and at the world as a disenchanted world? Under what cultural, economic, and sociological conditions was the cultural notion of objective observation invented? (p. 104, italics in the original)

Fourez continually posed questions such as: Who is served by the historical accounts presented? Whose story is told? Who is left out? Many accounts in the HPS literature privilege the white Western male (Pomeroy, 1994). An ideological analysis of this privilege could be content for STS education.




Instances of conflict between supportors of STS and HPS suggest that ideological differences can, but not necssarily, exist between the two groups. The scientism evident in some examples cited above does not characterize HPS itself, nor does it suggest that STS is free of educators who embrace some form of scientism. But rather, the examples of scientism support the view that when scrutinizing STS and HPS for differences, some can be found in the mainstream ideologies of each group. Based on a more extensive literature than was reviewed above (for instance, Fensham, 1992; Gaskell, 1982, 1992; Gauld, 1982; Layton et al., 1993; Pomeroy, 1992; Roberts, 1972; Solomon and Aikenhead, 1994), I would suggest that the following potential differences between STS and HPS can be detected, though these differences are criptically exagerated here:

1. a privileged position or status for scientific knowledge and scientists (that is, "accept science the way we say it is"); versus respect science as one of several evolving cultural ways of knowing but with no universally privileged status.

2. rejection of the social studies of science; versus incorporation of this academic field into one's worldview.

3. scientific knowledge as objective, non-relativistic truth; versus the social construction of scientific knowledge within canonical communities of practitioners.

4. a cartesian rationalism with mechanistic mastery over nature; versus a more holistic and humanistic rationalism less exploitive of nature.

5. literacy as "the acquisition of a set of universal thinking skills coupled with appropriate chunks of scientific knowledge" with which to reach rational decisions; versus literacy "as a way of reading the claims and counter claims with a view to understanding their contextual, social and interested [embued with self-interest] construction" (Gaskell, 1994, p. 317).

These differences must always be considered in the context of the common ground shared between STS and HPS.

STS educators tend to view scientific knowledge itself as problematic because it is culturally laden and because the knowledge is generated and validated by people who live in a world of paradigms, competition, incentives, military prowess, and diminishing technical and human resources. To claim "scientific knowledge itself is problematic" does not mean one is anti-science, as critics of STS often contend (Shamos, 1993). Problematic means open to scrutiny in the tradition of critical thinking. The forbidden territory occupied by STS educators is the territory of social scrutiny of scientific knowledge and the scientific enterprise. There is a reason why "sociology" does not appear in the "history and philosophy of science." The HPS group tends to eschew social scrutiny of science. Critics of STS, some of whom find a home in HPS, believe that science has little or no social fabric to scrutinize, especially in the context of science education.

The ideological analysis found in this paper does not suggest that all HPS educators hold ideologies in conflict with mainstream STS ideologies -- only that some leading spokespersons for HPS do. The ethos of HPS teaching can differ from the ethos of STS teaching. On the one hand, HPS seeks to bring students into the disciplines of the history and philosophy of science (an academic oriented ideology) to gain a deeper understanding and a greater loyalty toward the scientific enterprise. On the other hand, STS seeks to appropriate from science, and from the history, philosophy, and sociology of science, knowledge that empowers students (a "critical citizen" ideology) to gain a more insightful and socially powerful outlook on the world in which they live.