Making Scientific Americans: Identifying and Educating Future Scientists and Nonscientists in the Early Twentieth Century
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CitationMiller, Rebecca B. 2017. Making Scientific Americans: Identifying and Educating Future Scientists and Nonscientists in the Early Twentieth Century. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractWhile specialists in all academic disciplines identify with their subjects of study, speaking of themselves for example as Classicists or Sociologists, the status of “scientist” is a uniquely distinctive social category. Educators do not fret about how to teach social studies to “nonsocial scientists” or literature to “nonhumanists,” yet in the natural sciences the distinction between “scientists” and “nonscientists” has guided American educational thought and practice for nearly a century. This dissertation examines why American educators adopted a bifurcated approach to science instruction and how their practices produced an increasingly rigid distinction between those inside the world of science and those on the outside.
Throughout much of the nineteenth century, U.S. secondary and college pupils followed a prescribed curriculum that included some instruction in natural history and philosophy. By the twentieth century, however, scientists, educators, and political and intellectual leaders concurred that instruction should be reconfigured to serve two purposes: to prepare citizens for life in the scientific age and to prepare scientists to secure its advance. In subsequent decades, amid changing views of the nature of the scientific enterprise and its place in society, educators launched a succession of projects to identify and differentially teach these two groups. In so doing, they constructed and institutionalized the notions of “future scientist” and “nonscientist” as entities distinct in makeup, educability, and civic responsibility.
This study examines key episodes in the history of differentiated science instruction that connect varying conceptions of scientists and nonscientists with practices that shaped students’ educational and career trajectories. Educators enlisted new techniques of testing, curriculum and pedagogy, and psychological research to ascertain and measure indicators of scientific character and talent, foster the development of future scientists, and prepare nonscientists to participate in civil discourse and decision-making about scientific matters. These projects shaped beliefs about who could become a scientist, the characteristics indicative of scientific ability, and the social responsibilities ascribed to specialists and nonspecialists. This study sheds light on how educators’ conception of scientific identity developed, how it created and constrained student opportunity, and how it has formulated the relationship between science and the public.
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