Modern Science Education

Modern reformers demand science curricula and teacher training that emphasizes context possibly through the use of story, inquiry that allows the student to experience the excitement and struggle of investigation, and nature immersion. We also need to ensure that assessment tools measure achievement of these goals effectively, rather than undermining them. The National Science Education Standards tell us that “scientific literacy is the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity.” The National Academies further explain that “scientific literacy means that a person can ask, find, or determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences. It means that a person has the ability to describe, explain, and predict natural phenomena.” (National Academy of Sciences) 

These goals sound remarkably similar to the goals of science education within the Charlotte Mason paradigm. Students acquire first-hand knowledge of natural phenomena and ecology; they learn concepts and processes directly from scientists’ own narratives; they develop vital skills, such as observation, classification, inquiry, and investigation; they connect all of this knowledge and understanding to other areas, including ecology, health, art, and social studies. Could the disconnect, the reason that we have never fully realized her ideals, be in our purpose rather than our method? Could we address the problem by striving to feed our students rather than our industry? Can a Charlotte Mason program grounded in the science of relations achieve scientific literacy for aspiring scientists, as well as for general knowledge?

Mason’s thesis was that true education is the science of relations. Mason said that the object of education is to put the student in living touch with the life of Nature and of thought. The science of relations also implies that there will be a methodical building of relationship with knowledge as the result of learning. There are likely a number of different ways that a teacher could assess and provide for a student’s relationship, but we will use Lewis’ Four Loves as a structure in this course. You have already read about affection, friendship, eros, and charity. Affection is defined as familiarity and comfort with the other. It is built naturally by simply spending time with the other. Friendship occurs when we share a unique special interest or connection through our very personhood. Eros is a playful preoccupation that changes us over time and becomes part of who we are. And charity is the giving of one’s self. Charity is to sacrifice and pursue the other for the service of and in search of God. As we consider how Mason’s science program might be updated, we will refer back to these relational concepts because they can help us understand better both the larger picture and how to support the student’s progress.