Big Ideas in Literacy
Science Contributions to Culture and Society
Public perceptions of scientists are generally favorable, while public attitudes toward the applications of science are more mixed. Most people recognize that science and technology drive modern economies and provide jobs. At the same time, there is widespread cultural aversion to aspects of the scientific method and to the societal implications of particular scientific findings. Students today are growing up in a world where science is firmly established in the culture and economy, and where denial of science is also pugnaciously present. Among the many prominent examples of science denial are evolution; climate change; vaccines; and health hazards like smoking, gun control, and aspects of industrial regulation. Tone can be very important, including not overstepping the bounds of the realm of science, which should stay focused on evidence and generating data. Science literacy educators arguably have the most important role to play in getting students to become comfortable with the norms of science and developing the habit of following the evidence, even when you they may fear where it will lead.
In addition to the very practical considerations and benefits relating to the conduct of scientific research and its fruits, there is a broader aspect of science and its role in our civilization. Science is a great cultural achievement that we all should be proud of; just as knowledge of art and literature should be part of every citizen’s cultural literacy, so should some of the best science stories. Clearly science is not the only lens to view our lives and to understand our world, but it is a rewarding and useful way. Science education should aim to develop students’ understanding of a set of big ideas in science, including both its limits and importance in society.