Cobern, W. W. (1994). Cultural Constructivist Approach to the Teaching of Evolution. SLCSP Working Paper #112.

(This manuscript served as the basis for Cobern, W. W. Point: Belief, understanding, and the teaching of evolution. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 31(5): 583-590.)


Educators typically think that one teaches evolution to develop students' conceptual understanding of evolution. It is assumed that if students understand evolution they will believe it. From a constructivist perspective it can be argued that understanding and belief, though related, are distinct concepts each of which is a potential goal for instruction. Though there are good reasons why belief should not be an instructional goal, achieving conceptual understanding requires that issues of belief be addressed. The point is that students are not likely to gain much understanding of something that they dismiss outright as unbelievable. What counts as believable for an individual rests on that person's world view. This article argues that instruction on evolution can profitably begin with a dialogue on what counts as believable. Such a dialogue would be based on a study of the cultural history of Darwinism which would allow students to see how people in Darwin's day wrestled with the same fundamental questions at issue today. The purpose of this strategy is to create a shared meaning in the classroom that certain fundamental questions are worth discussing and that the biological principles of evolution can contribute to that discussion. Thus, rather than trying to present evolution as a purely scientific issue, this article suggests the rather unorthodox strategy of explicitly addressing the social and cultural issues related to the topic of origins.
Evolution is a truly interesting subject. It holds a central position in modern biology. Theodosius Dobzhansky (1973, p. 125) went so far as to say, "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." Evolution is also interesting because of its high public profile. No other topic in science has generated as much public comment and debate as has evolution. From the Huxley/Wilburforce debates of Darwin's time, to the Scopes "Monkey Trial" of 1925, to the balanced treatment legislative initiatives of the 1970s and 1980s, evolution has been the science community's lightening rod for public interest. In broad terms, the science community is committed to evolution as both an appropriate and essential aspect of the school science curriculum as one sees in the quote from Dobzhansky. They face, however, a largely unresponsive public as one sees in various surveys of public attitudes and knowledge concerning science and evolution. Clearly a problem exists. The solution for some in the science community is to overcome obdurate religious resistance. For others the solution is to increase the evolutionary content in curricula and to improve instructional approaches. Many science educators see it as a matter of both with the second solution being key to the first. One can find these approaches in many of the recent policy statements on science education (e.g., AAAS, 1989; California, 1990; NAS, 1984). In my view, these approaches simply will not suffice for the task at hand. There is a question at the heart of the troubles one faces when teaching about evolution, what is the goal of this instruction? Many science educators will likely consider the answer to this question patently obvious. The goal is for students to acquire a knowledge about evolution. However, this answer is obvious only within a positivist view of science; and, in my opinion, the answer is both simplistic and unrealistic. In contrast, I offer a cultural constructivist approach to evolution education centered on six points. 1) A constructivist perspective implies that all teaching and learning takes place in context. 2) Metaphysics and world view are key cognitive aspects of any context - thus, the modifier "cultural". 3) Evolution as a topic of curriculum and instruction is placed in a context defined by teachers and curriculum writers. 4) To the consternation of all, the context of evolution education is frequently in conflict with the metaphysical and world view contexts brought to the classroom by students. 5) The theory of evolution and the role of evolution in science today does not necessitate this contextual conflict. 6) Lastly, there are instructional approaches that promote the sound teaching of evolution, but from within a different and culturally sensitive context.

A Criticism Worth Heeding

At the onset of this discussion it is crucial for one to recognize that nowhere in science is the overlap between scientific ideas and other ideas in society more clear than with the theory of evolution and origins. Given this situation the science educator's focus is easily drawn to well advertised controversies only to miss the crux of this science and culture interaction. The nature of the science/culture interaction that often takes place in education has been criticized by Ogawa (1989) and Young (1974) among others. That criticism comes from both the political left and the political right is a measure of the significance of this criticism. The Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse (1966) decried the dehumanization of society brought about by the reductionism of the physical sciences that he viewed as endemic in American schools. On the opposite end of the political spectrum, Phillip Johnson (1991) decried the anti-religious bias of a science education unnecessarily wedded to philosophical materialism. From both sides comes the same criticism: there is more in science teaching than that to which teachers of science and the professors of science admit. This "more" that critics speak of is a particular metaphysical framework that is seldomly stated outright, but is implicit in most of science teaching. If there is a criticism of science education that is shared by the left and right wings of our society, then, it seems to me, this is a criticism to which science educators ought to pay attention. It is true that some object to this criticism claiming that the problem is not that something more than science is being taught along with evolution, but that evolution is not being taught at all (e.g., Stone, 1992). Even if this claim were granted at the high school level, and this is by no means a given, the objection could hardly be sustained at the college level. Yet, even at the college level one sees the rejection of Darwinism.

Not One, but Two Goals

In 1959 three thousand scholars gathered at the University of Chicago for a week to celebrate the centennial of the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species. The celebration mantra was "one hundred years without Darwin [is] enough" (Tax, 1983, p. 37). One might have thought that the Scopes trial of 1925 marked the end of anti-Darwinism, and in the eyes of the media and of many scholars it did. In fact, the topic of evolution remained in the shadows of science teaching until the centennial celebration 34 years later (Grabiner & Miller, 1974). The momentum gained at the conference for bringing evolution into the mainstream of secondary school science led to significant changes in curriculum and textbooks. BSCS was at the forefront (Hurd, 1961; Mayer, 1986). Unfortunately, the science education community misread American culture and was taken by surprise when anti-evolutionists fiercely counterattacked BSCS- led curricula innovations with a spate of successful legislative initiatives. Moreover, ruled by a philosophy of "when in doubt, throw it out," textbook companies quietly dumped Darwin effectively neutralizing the post-centennial gains. Evolutionists and anti-evolutionist had been struggling for years but the new wrinkle in the 1970s was the legislative action to bring about a balanced treatment of evolution and what was touted as scientific creationism (Numbers, 1982). In the seesaw of attacks and counterattacks, the balanced treatment acts succumbed to court challenges and by the late 1980s evolution education was on the rise again (see Skoog, 1979; Pauly, 1991). Riding the crest of renewed support for the teaching of evolution, science educators turned their attention to the question of how best to teach evolution. In the years after the centennial, constructivist oriented research such as misconception, alternative conception, and conceptual change research flourished providing for educators new insights on learning. Research results showed that students have a variety of notions about various aspects of evolution, for example adaptation or natural selection (see Helm & Novak, 1983; Novak, 1987; Wandersee & Mintzes, 1987). Learning is thus more accurately viewed as the change and development of concepts rather than a simple acquisition of concepts. Much research is now focused on how best to bring about conceptual change and development rather than on finding better ways to tell about evolution (Good, Wandersee, Anderson, Fisher, & Lawson, 1993). The research is welcome but it would be a mistake to once again misread American culture. According to a recent Gallup Poll, only nine percent of all Americans believe the orthodox scientific view of evolution (reported by Sheler & Schrof, 1991). Educators are tempted to say that people reject evolution because they do not understand it or are simply uniformed. However, it stretches credulity to argue that only nine percent of Americans understand evolutionary theory. Moreover, similar findings are reported about college biology majors and teachers (e.g., Johnson & Peeples, 1987; Van Koevering & Stiehl, 1989). Is it possible that all of the curriculum innovations of the past 30 years have had so little effect? I believe it is more reasonable to conclude that even among those who have a basic understanding of evolutionary theory there are many who reject textbook Darwinism. Therefore, if the science education community expects that better techniques alone will substantially change this nine percent statistic, I fear we are in for a major disappointment - once again. I applaud and support efforts to improve the teaching of evolution, but a more fundamental question must be addressed, what is the goal in regard to the teaching of evolution? To be specific, are we expecting instruction to improve understanding or to change belief? In the past this question would have held little meaning for many educators. Imbued by the spirit of positivism, educators observed a strict separation between knowledge and belief. In constructivist thought this separation largely evaporates and in the process a significant change of goal occurs. There are two possible goals, not one.

Positivism and Constructivism

Logical positivism represents a distinguished formal school of philosophical thought which spawned a widely held colloquial view of science. Colloquial positivism roughly represents a classical view of realism, philosophical materialism, strict objectivity, and hypothetico-deductive method. Though recognizing the tentative nature of all scientific knowledge, colloquial positivism imbues scientific knowledge with a Laplacian certainty denied all other disciplines, thus giving science an a priori status in the intellectual world. Colloquial positivism is what Smolicz & Nunan (1975) called the myth of school science. In a sense, the certainty of colloquial positivism can make life easy for the science teacher. Colloquial positivism allows the teacher to say to students that this is the way things are, for science provides the one reliable source of objective knowledge. No matter how tentative the current understanding of a phenomenon might be, one always knows that science is at least taking us in the right direction. Colloquial positivism's elevated view of science nicely serves what Eger (1989, p. 81) called the interests of science. The science community as it exists today is concerned with establishing a Kuhnian pipeline beginning at grade school, concluding at the university, and thus delivering future scientists. The secondary interest of the science community is the insurance of public appreciation for science adequate for acquiescence to continued funding for scientific research. The perspective is that of the scientist holding center stage and looking out at the world about. Within a framework determined by the interests of science and a positivist view of knowledge, it is nonsensical for the teacher to ask about believing evolutionary theory. Only a fool would refuse to believe what is known to be true. In a positivist framework, belief is never objective and can have no measure of meaningful certainty. Thus, belief is irrelevant to the issue of knowledge. Rather, the significant question is whether one understands evolutionary theory. It follows then that the fact that large numbers of people reject standard accounts of evolution can only have two interpretations. The most widely reported interpretation is that educators have simply failed to both teach enough evolution and to teach it effectively (Rosen, 1989). The only other interpretation is that those who reject evolution have not attained the level of hypothetico-deductive reasoning necessary for understanding evolution (Lawson & Weser, 1990). To put it bluntly, they are too irrational to understand evolution. Positivists can point the finger of guilt but they appear impotent in the face of what Hawkins (1978, pp. 5-7) called critical barriers to learning:
reasonably patient explanation is no cure... we are up against something rather deep in the relation between science and common sense; we are up against a barrier to teaching in the didactic mode which has hardly been recognized, or if recognized has been seen mainly as a challenge to ingenuity in teaching rather than as a challenge to a deeper understanding of human learning...
Moreover, poll results indicate that the problem in evolution education is not solely one of understanding but also one of belief. Many students do not believe evolutionary accounts of origins. Because positivist educators consider unbelief to be a nonsensical conclusion, they are not inclined to address the issues of belief. The consequence is twofold. The beliefs of many students remain unchanged, but more significantly, students also resist conceptual change and hence their understanding of evolution remains inadequate.

Understanding versus Knowing

Constructivist epistemology, whether in its radical or moderate forms (e.g., Glasersfeld, 1989; Good & Schlagel, 1992; respectively), hinges on three assertions quite alien to colloquial positivism. 1) Knowledge is a way of making sense of experience. 2) Knowledge is always an interpretation and therefore always fallible and inherently uncertain. 3) All interpretations are based on prior knowledge. Colloquial positivists declare that knowledge of evolution is a direct representation of reality and therefore not open to belief or unbelief, only to understanding. In contrast, constructivists say that knowledge of evolution is science's best reckoning of reality - it is the way science believes things to be. It is what scientists currently view as the most valid interpretation of phenomena. Of critical importance, constructed knowledge admits to doubt and does not carry with it the force of truth. This is a very different view of knowledge, one which makes perfect sense of the question do we teach for understanding, belief, or both? Moreover, sense making is influenced by social and cultural factors in a student's life (e.g., Atwater, 1991; Cobern, in press b; Gallard, 1992; Lassiter, 1992; Pomeroy, 1992). Elsewhere, I have argued the importance of fundamental beliefs with respect to learning science and the development of scientific attitudes (Cobern, 1991). The argument is both intuitively and rationally strong that fundamental beliefs about the world exert a powerful influence on how sense is made of events in the world. The nature of that influence has to do with a distinction between understanding and knowing, i.e., believing (Cobern, 1993; Arendt, 1978). At heart is the question why one explanation makes sense to one person but not to another person. Under the influence of colloquial positivism, science educators long assumed that the case for the importance and validity of scientific knowledge was prima facie. However, some years ago Arendt (1978) noted that an argument can be rationally flawless, the interpretation of data can be epistemologically perfect, and yet, some people will reject the conclusions. The reason, she argued, is the fundamental difference between understanding and knowing. Understanding is necessary for knowledge, but never sufficient. Understanding is the epistemological or thinking process by which one comes to conceptual comprehension. Knowing is the metaphysical process or process of apprehension (determined by one's world view) by which one comes to accept as true or valid that concept one has comprehended. In other words, knowing is believing that such and such is so. Coming from a somewhat different constructivist perspective, Gunstone (1988, p. 90) made a similar observation about teaching, "rather than the traditional 'How can I explain it better?', the teacher is led to 'How can I make this interpretation/model/generalization, etc. appear believable to students?'" Because colloquial positivism views science as providing truth, there is no openness to other truth claims. This means that until a scientific explanation concerning a phenomenon is provided, for the positivist nothing is really explained. Once a scientific explanation has been provided, one need not defend it against other truth claims. After all, it is science that provides true knowledge. There are many examples to be found that demonstrate this phenomenon. The traditional account of Jericho's destruction is a lesson, so to speak, taught by the Bible. The January 1992 issue of National Geographic (Geographica section) teaches a different lesson about Jericho. To start with, the Biblical account is called a "tale," and then Geographic opines that the city was likely destroyed by an earthquake given the quake history of the region. The article clearly implies that one did not know what really happened to Jericho until now. The Biblical account does not qualify as knowledge for the author, nor is there even a sense that a complex of complementary explanations might be appropriate as MacKay (1974) or Reich (1990) would suggest. The article does not even argue that the new explanation is better. It simply presents the new explanation with the full expectation that readers will believe it. This only makes sense if one views science as offering the truth while all else is opinion. Then there is the curious debate about El Greco's painting style. Art critics traditionally attributed El Greco's elongated and exaggerated figures to his personal philosophy, but some scientists having taken an interest in El Greco paintings argue that El Greco's style is symptomatic of unilateral astigmatism (Ahlstrom, 1955; Dornhorst, 1987). In other words, El Greco painted strange figures because that is how he literally saw them. As above, those who support this scientific view do not argue that it is better than other types of explanation. When one is offering an explanation based on a system that provides the truth (i.e., positivistic science), one need not deal with opinion. My point is that in neither of these examples is there conclusive proof for one explanation or the other. At issue is what counts as believable - and for the positivist the answer is simple. Some science educators may want to jump in and say that these examples involve a questionable use of science. They may wish to argue that science used properly does not involve the question of what counts as believable. Sol Tax, to the contrary, provides a personal example of how this issue does apply to science within what is undeniably a proper scientific setting - learning about evolution. Tax (1983) wrote about a college course he took on biological evolution. It was no problem to him that the course emphasized evidences that could only be explained by evolution. As a personal challenge, however, he tried to imagine a non-naturalistic theory that accounted for the evidences and thus not refutable by the evidence presented in the course. Then he wrote quite candidly,
But this universe of my imagination established for me the absurdity of a supernatural alternative to naturalistic evolution. Needless to say, that was easy because I had never entertained a contrary belief. (p. 36, emphases added)
Upon reflection Tax realized that he had not come to his position on evolution through any rational process or argument. Evolution was consistent with what he already believed the world to be like. In this respect, Tax provides a very different perspective than the one in the first two examples. His lack of positivistic myopia is refreshing.

Cultural Constructivism

For Sol Tax, and of course for many others, there is simply no believable alternative to Darwin. The mistake in science education has been to go one step further and act as if belief were not an issue. I say that this is a mistake because it seems quite clear that many students do not share Tax's sense of what is believable (e.g., see Cobern, in press a). Bear in mind that one scientist talking with a co- worker, or even a scientist from another field, is not the same as talking with those outside the scientific community. Nor is teaching evolution at the secondary level, for example, anything like a biology professor and graduate students discussing the fine points of evolutionary theory. The question of what counts as believable is important in science education precisely because teaching takes place across groups, e.g., scientist to non-scientist. As noted earlier, a key point in constructivist thought is that meaning is an interpretation based on prior learning. Prior learning includes various scientific concepts, but it also includes culturally dependent presuppositions or assumptions about what the world is ultimately like and what constitutes first causes (Cobern, 1991). This is a definition for world view, and the claim of cultural constructivism is that learning is influenced by world view. Sol Tax found evolutionary concepts believable because they fit his world view. These concepts fit the world views of most scientists and nearly all science curriculum writers, but they do not fit the world views of many students. Therein lies the problem. The teacher of evolution faces a situation very much like Darwin presenting the Origin of Species to a public who historically held a very different view of origins. In Darwin's day the question of believability was still on the table. Today, the tendency is to present a lean factual account of evolution (perhaps most of science) devoid of nonscientific entanglements. However, this positivistic approach is not unencumbered. It implies a philosophically materialistic and reductionistic view of what is believable. If science education has as its primary goal the interests of science as currently construed then perhaps little instructional change is needed. The university science major, for example, works to understand concepts that are already within the domain of what that student considers believable. It seems though that the science education community is very much concerned about interest in science, as Eger (1989) would say. In other words, we are very much interested in the knowledge of science and attitudes toward science among the majority of students. These students are looking in at science and the first question that a constructivist educator needs to ask is, what counts as believable for these students? If concepts of evolution are not deemed believable, the student interpretations of what is taught will be decidedly different from intended instructional outcomes. Thus, the concept of cultural constructivism helps clarify why persistent science teaching, even when of high quality, is not always effective. To answer now an earlier question, belief is not a proper science education goal. If for no other reason, it is not proper because it is simply not practical. Certainly schooling influences what students come to view as believable, but of equal certainty are the myriad of non-school influences. Sol Tax is not atypical. People come to evolution as believers, not the other way around. Moreover, even if it were practical to teach for belief in something like evolution, to do so would be tantamount to proselytization. The proper goal for teaching evolutionary concepts is a worthy one but much simpler. It is the understanding of evolutionary concepts. However, as I argued above, belief cannot be ignored. Though belief is itself an improper goal, belief is the place where instruction should begin. One addresses the issues of origins not by teaching a doctrine in positivistic fashion (evolution or other), but by looking back historically to the cultural and intellectual milieu of Darwin's day and the great questions over which people struggled. Though evolutionary theory is not resisted in the 1990s the way it was in the 1860s, students are still interested in the same fundamental questions. For example: 1) What is the essence of Nature? 2) How do we account for the fact of life rather than no life at all? 3) What does it mean to be a human being? 4) In what sense, and to what extent, are human beings different from other living things? 5) What is society? What counts as believable is embedded in the answers one accepts for these questions. By beginning instruction with these questions, the teacher is attempting to capture student interest by first raising metaphysical questions that are usually of very broad interest among people. Moreover, I do not believe that an accurate conceptual understanding of evolution can be attained among the majority of students by ignoring these world view questions. This is not a suggestion for a philosophical or religious bull session. I have in mind what physicist David Bohm (1992, p. 16) called a dialogue, "The image this derivation [of dialogue] suggests is of a stream of meaning flowing among us... a flow of meaning in the whole group, out of which will emerge some new understanding... When everybody is sensitive to all the nuances going around, and not merely to what is happening in one's own mind, there forms a meaning which is shared." The recent Glasson & Lalik (1992) work on a social constructivism approach to the learning cycle empirically supports this idea. The balance of this article briefly examines the cultural history that I propose science teachers use as a framework for a dialogue on fundamental questions for the purpose of developing a shared meaning in the classroom.

Evolution as a Foreign Affair

The Thirty-Year War ended in October 1648 with the signing of the Peace Treaty of Westphalia. "The supremacy of Christian theology in European life was over. The age of Faith, the Middle Ages, had run its course" (Jaki, 1983, p. 11). For centuries, the fundamental questions of life had been answered by a Christian world view, which presented a unified view of knowledge and belief grounded in a theology of creation. The cosmology of the Christian world view was based on the doctrine of the plenary inspiration of Scripture which taught that Nature was the purposeful creation of God. Moreover, people drew from this the inference that Nature was essentially static. The Christian world view had a linear sense of time that had both beginning and end. The Biblically based sense of linear time, however, did not necessarily involve the view that the state of human existence was ever progressing (Greene, 1981). The notion of progress though based on a linear concept of time was to come much later, and indeed was a notion critical in the development of evolutionary theory. For the purposes of this paper, even a brief account of the intellectual and cultural history of the Renaissance and Reformation is not really needed. Suffice it to say, the religious wars that followed the Reformation dealt a crippling blow to the certainty that the Church and Christian world view held for people throughout the Middle Ages. The Westphalia Treaty ended the religious warring, and it also marked the end of the decline into epistemological uncertainty. The advances of the 17th century natural philosophers coupled with a seriously weakened Christian world view, racked by skepticism and uncertainty, provided an opportunity for positivistic naturalism. In this view, certainty of knowledge could be attained with an empiricism restricted to measurable characteristics and secondary (or natural) causes. In the words of E. A. Burtt:
The world that people thought themselves living in - a world rich with colour and sound, redolent with fragrance, filled with gladness, love and beauty, speaking everywhere of purposive harmony and creative ideals - was crowded now into minute corners of the brains of scattered organic beings. The really important world was a world hard, cold, colourless, silent, and dead; a world of quantity, a world of mathematically computable motions in mechanical regularity (1967, pp. 238-239).
For those who chose it, positivistic naturalism re-established certainty of knowledge, but one had to accept a diminished view of both religious and humanistic concepts. With the philosophy of Descartes, one sees the beginning of a mortal epistemological struggle between creationism and positivistic naturalism. Early positivists like Descartes were clearly still thinking within a Christian framework. Even Darwin himself as late as 1860, showed the influence of Christian thinking: I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world... On the other hand, I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance (quoted in F. Darwin, 1888, vol 2, pp. 311-312). With the Descent of Man, all had changed. Since Kuhn (1970), philosophers of science have been saying that theories of science are always underdetermined. So it was with evolution. It was not enough for Darwin to make the observations he did. For example, there had long been explanations for fossils within the creationist perspective. Without compromising the genius of Darwin, one has to recognize the influence of the cultural state of affairs during his lifetime. The West was still dominated by Christian thought. Positivists shared important elements of creationist epistemology such as the requirements of evidence and experimentation, the canons of proof. The West, however, was no longer dominated by a Christian world view. Darwin was born into an age of transition where long held ideas had been weakened. Of particular significance to Darwin were presuppositions concerning Nature. Newton argued that a static Nature was composed of particulate matter in motion. For many, this described a changeable Nature, not a static one. Herschel demonstrated that the stars were not fixed after all, but moved. The accepted assumption of a static Nature was becoming less tenable. By the 1800s, the West had witnessed remarkable scientific progress in providing a mechanistic understanding of natural phenomena. Moreover, Darwin's day was a time of unprecedented economic expansion, a time when laissez fair capitalism was the rule of the day. Competition was the ethic of the capitalistic marketplace that provided all the change and progress. In 1850, Joseph Paxton built the Crystal Palace in London to showcase the scientific and technological achievements of modern Europe. This was indeed an age of change and progress, and this was the backdrop for Darwin's accomplishment. One can imagine Darwin mulling over the ideas of mechanicism, competition, change, progress, origins. One can almost hear his thoughts, 'If only there were a mechanism...' I am not saying that these were the literal thoughts that led Darwin to the concept of natural selection or that he even had such thoughts. However, he was not a hermit. This was the environment in which he thought and reasoned. Though what I have written is the barest of descriptions for this rich piece of intellectual and cultural history, it is sufficient to make the point that one can describe Darwin's theories as science, but not his embrace of positivistic naturalism. Yet the first makes no sense without the second. To come again to the classroom, understanding evolution requires no less now than it did for Darwin. To understand evolution one must be able to see the world as it is seen by positivistic naturalists - the world view of evolutionary biologists and of many scientists in general. That is not, however, the world view of many students. Thus, my position is that the teaching of evolution needs to begin with the very metaphysical questions that were so troublesome in Darwin's day. These questions are not amenable to simple, didactic teaching; but these questions and the history behind them can serve as the basis for a dialogue among students and teacher that creates a shared meaning in the classroom. That shared meaning is the sense that these are important questions which people answer in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons. Constructivist theory implies that having gained this shared meaning in the classroom, students will be more attentive to the conceptual issues of evolution. This is what I think Hills had in mind when he wrote about teaching science as a matter of "foreign relations" (Hills, 1989, p. 183). Surely, Sol Tax would also approve of this approach to evolution since he himself wrote, "on reviewing what I had so far written, I say that for an avowed secularist I appeared to be associating a great deal with religious ideas. But then it occurred to me that to deal with students emotionally committed to religious premises might well require rather more than less acceptance of them, as in a Socratic dialogue" (1983, p. 39).


As long as evolution is approached from the perspective of colloquial positivism, there will continue to be large numbers of students with misconceptions about evolution or who reject it outright. The positivist view that science can be taught as a distillate or pure essence is untenable. All science and science teaching is encumbered (admittedly to varying degrees) by non-scientific ideas (Thelen, 1983; Fourez, 1988; Linder, 1992). Moreover, the subject of origins simply touches on too many other disciplines for it to be approached as a science-only topic even if it were possible. Students are influenced by too many non-school factors for a teacher to think that a science course, let along a unit, will significantly influence student belief even if it were agreed that such an objective is appropriate. To the contrary, constructivist thought suggests that understanding and belief are separate though related issues, and that the proper goal of instruction is understanding. The relation of understanding to belief does not allow one to ignore belief, therefore, constructivism suggests that belief be allowed a legitimate role in the science classroom. My specific suggestion is that teachers preface the conceptual study of evolution with a classroom dialogue, as Bohm (1992) defined this term, informed with material on the cultural history of Darwinism. There is ample scholarship that supports the assertion that social and cultural factors influence science, so this suggestion for instruction does no damage to science - unless one believes that science education is a matter of indoctrination. Will a cultural constructivist approach improve science learning? Since the science education research community is in the process of rethinking it's research agenda with regard to evolution, it would seem quite appropriate that this new agenda include hypotheses from cultural constructivism.


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