Pupil-as-Scientist Metaphor

As we have pointed out earlier, research interlinking philosophy of science with science education seems to be a fallout of Piagetian constructivism and the pupil-as-scientist metaphor. This metaphor not only motivated studies of students' alternative conceptions but also generated studies that revolve around the debate of whether they can indeed be called novice scientists or not.

Carey [#!careybk!#], Driver and Easley [#!driver-78!#], McCloskey and Kargon, cited in [#!brewer!#] take the stance that children construct theories which are very similar to scientists' theories while DiSessa, [#!disessa!#], Solomon [#!solomon-83!#] and others have argued that children's theories are very different from scientific theories. Those who argue that children's theories are not like scientists', claim that unlike scientists, children's theories are inconsistent, context-bound, lack explanatory power, and are concrete. Brewer and Samarapungavan [#!brewer!#] point out the difference between science of the individual and institutionalized science and argue that differences in reasoning of children and scientists as documented by researchers are due to their failure to acknowledge this difference. They point out that pre-Newtonian theories of tides, terrestrial motion and celestial motion appear to be context-bound compared to Newton's theories. Inconsistencies in individual scientist's theories are in fact recognized because of the presence of written texts and are overcome over long periods of time. With examples of interview protocols on observational astronomy, they also show that children use their own alternative models as explanatory frameworks to answer novel questions.

Lakatosian Underpinnings

What is interesting to note in Brewer's work, is the beginings of the long overdue move towards a Lakatosian framework. In philosophy of science, an important shift in moving from the Popperian framework to the Lakatosian framework was a corresponding shift to research programmes from individual theories as the measure of progress in science. This complemented a recognition of the fact that a normative dimension which is to guide the progress of science cannot arise from outside the practice of science, it has to reflect the actual enterprise of science. In a similar vein, one is impelled to ask how a normative dimension to rationality in children might be dictated from outside the child's framework or world-view.

No comparison of scientists and children can afford to ignore the fact that the scientist works within a research programme and his/her functioning is influenced by the interplay of various interactions within the community. If one has to understand the functioning of the child, then one needs to identify what constitutes and characterizes the research programme for a child. One inherent difficulty in such an endeavor would be the fact that the scientific life-world constitutes a single sub-culture while a child's life-world constitutes several such sub-cultures (for instance, home, school, peer group and so on). Clarity on how far these sub-cultures are independent of each other, how they affect each other and interact in the child's world-view, might have implications for future work.

Pupils: not scientists

A crucial point that is often ignored in science education studies of children's theories is the fact that the culture of science is an alien culture for most children. Children in fact need to be groomed to appreciate science or participate in it. Attempting to draw out the similarities or differences between childrens' and scientists' ways of reasoning seems to be analogous to comparing the wood of a table with the trunk of a fully grown tree. A tree trunk has taken its form over a long time. It has grown with the efforts of people, watered, nurtured with manure, and protected against bad weather. A table has been carved and given a shape as desired by the carpenter. A tree survives despite one of its branches being diseased. Similarly a scientist has been trained in the tradition of science, and is living in a community working towards a shared goal, held by a common core; where despite anomalies in individual theories, the programme is sustained by other members of the community. Children perhaps do not share similar goals as those of scientists and therefore, debating on whether their views are like or unlike scientists is too constrained a line of thought and rather superfluous. A child is yet being 'taught' the ways of science. It is important to recognize that the world of science which is the life-world of the scientist is not the life-world of the child- a tree is living while a table is not. 2 By arguing so, we do not however intend to say that a child's life is passive and moulded completely by others. Rather, a child's world is wider than a scientist's and encompasses many world-views besides science. Therefore, the situation in which a developmental psychologist poses a task or a problem from science to the child and interprets her response against a scientist's theory remains merely an artifact used by the researcher but does not throw any light on scientific rationality in children. The child's rationale would borrow its premises from theoretical or empirical perspectives from many worlds, not only science.