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Certain countries have long been aware of the need for training in social-scientific issues that is distinct from conventional teaching disciplines (mathematics, life and earth sciences, etc.). Sciences and techniques must be put back in context, both in a historical perspective (the genesis of discoveries, the birth and evolution of the scientific mentality, etc.), in an epistemological context (the subjects of science, method, the nature of the scientific activity, etc.), and a societal context (jobs in sciences, relationships between science and economic development, environmental implications, ethical questions, etc.). We will first present the new disciplines which are tending to appear in the curriculum in North America and in Europe. This will provide an introduction to research work that takes a general look at the problems of controversial issues in science teaching. We will then turn to more specific work in the context of life and earth science teaching.
In the educational context, controversial issues which confront science teachers are “socially controversial scientific issues”: they necessarily include a societal dimension. The first thing to point out is that research work into teaching such issues does not bear a strong imprint of the scientific discipline involved. This is to do with the fact that the difficulty of teaching is often less related to the scientific dimension of the issues than to their societal dimension, which is more unusual and challenging to science teachers. So it is that the research work that we have explored deals more with the relationships between the scientific approach and the societal approach than on the special relationships that a given scientific discipline has with controversial issues.
In the USA, a common-core discipline known as “Nature of Science” (NOS) was introduced in 1996 into school teaching. It specifically aims at dealing with controversial issues.
Let us continue with globalisation and the approach to it proposed by Jean Simonneaux & Alain Legardez (). This approach seems to us to be symbolic of the research and teaching methodology for socially controversial issues that we have attempted to outline above. The authors first observe the "polysemic and ambiguous" nature of the word "globalisation", which makes it practically impossible to draw up a definition that is both meaningful and agreed on by all parties. Its meaning can be grasped in the form of nuances of neighbouring notions: internationalisation, world federalism, alterglobalisation, universality, world society, etc. Each refers to certain conception of the world, favouring now the economic or financial dimension, now convergence towards a scale of unifying, if not unified, values. So it is that possible approaches to globalisation mobilise several reference frameworks, involving the areas of economics, geography, sociology and political science respectively. Additionally, globalisation is a notion that is "impregnated with ideologies" that are in opposition to one another: consumerist neo-liberalism and humanist world federalism. It is also "impregnated by social practices": company practices, market consumption, political practices, cultural practices, etc. As for the areas in which globalisation represents high stakes, there are also many of these: f ood in the world, poverty in the world, the environment, culture, tourism, etc. A. Legardez and J. Simonneaux next supply some "avenues for teaching". They propose getting to grips with the problem on the basis of links between the "scopes", the possible illustrations of the social practices concerned, and finally the theoretical problem issues that can be mobilised (for example, for the environment field: "governance", "sustainable development", "democracy", "regionalisation" and "centres of development"). As for how these are to be taught, debate "brings social and ideological questions related to globalisation into the classroom without providing "an" answer, but, on the contrary, bringing the different possible choices into confrontation with the values of citizens and therefore with society's choices".
The controversial issues are: Scientific research-thinking about the consequences of a ‘breakthrough’ like creating life, Frankenstein’s obsession which shuts him off from friends and family, Frankenstei...
Warning: In this chapter we will restrict ourselves to examining how controversial issues are dealt with in the context of the civic education school discipline in France. It would, of course, be of interest to broaden the perspective to include Education for Democratic Citizenship programmes, such as they can be interpreted at national and supra-national levels. But such a perspective is too vast to be developed in this newsletter. We will simply provide some bibliographical avenues in that direction. Obviously, the civic education discipline is not foreign to the project of citizenship education: it is even the discipline of choice! But it must not be taken as being identical. It will also be seen that the other disciplines dealt with in this section also include within their field approaches which have to do with citizenship education. And this is all the more the case when it is a question of teaching controversial issues.
In an article that appeared in the International Journal of Science Education, C. Oulton, J. Dillon & G. Marcus (), express concern about the attitude of mistrust shown by public opinion in the UK towards science and scientists. According to them, this attitude significantly distorts the public debate on controversial socio-scientific issues. They see the cause of this to be an erroneous representation of the very nature of science and scientific activity, for which the media are responsible, but also current scientific teaching. To put this right, the authors suggest "reconceptualising" the teaching of controversial issues and then state a number of teaching principles:
In North American and Latin American the current of "native studies" has contributed to a makeover of history on the American continent, giving a fairer amount of space to the "native people" and to the destruction they have had to bear since settlers began to arrive from Europe. A very great amount of work examines these issues but cannot be gone into here.
Construct logical arguments for and against the use of Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALYs) in the decision of healthcare resource allocation and present a written defense of each side of the issue.
Warning: As with civic education, it should be pointed out that the available space in this letter does not allow us to develop the approach to controversial issues in the broader framework of "education in the environment and sustainable development" (EESD), by formal or non-formal education. And yet we cannot be unaware that in France, as in a number of countries, EESD at the present time is a very fruitful area where inter-, multi- and cross-disciplinary research converges, shedding light on issues that are socially very controversial. As this subject is too vast, we refer the reader to the first Dossier de la Veille, which appeared in 2004 and was devoted to .