With so many initiatives focused on STEM education, we frequently rant about neglect of the rest of the liberal arts. But it’s true that our students’ science knowledge falls far below where it should. And, even for those of us non-scientists, this is problematic. We sift through the latest nutrition fads and medical research with little frame of reference. And so we often discount valuable research, as Dan Willingham writes in Scientific American.
He proposes a solution: Teach science history in addition to science content.
“Through the study of the history of science, students might gain an understanding both of their own motivations for belief and of science as a method of knowing. If a student understands how a medieval worldview could have made a geocentric theory of the solar system seem correct, it is a short step to seeing similar influences in oneself.
“Science history can also help students understand why scientific knowledge grows ever more accurate. … By studying how new observations led to the revision of important theories … students see that science is not about immutable laws but provisional explanations that get revised when a better one comes along. They also see that scientists’ readiness to change their beliefs to align with data is a source of great strength, not weakness, and why near consensus on issues such as global warming or vaccine safety is so impressive.”
Unfortunately, most textbooks relegate science history to sidebars and inserts. For teachers seeking inspiration, The Story of Science is a notable exception.