Skip to main content

Welcome, the Hub connects all projects

Voices From The Field

MSPnet Blog: “Argument and arguments”

See All Blog Posts

posted July 7, 2014 – by Brian Drayton

Arthur Camins’s blog offers an energetic discussion of the importance of argumentation in science, math, and STEM education here . His post then goes on to contrast the intellectual values which argumentation incorporates with the assumptions of mainstream education “reform,” and concludes with this rousing passage:

Current education policies interfere with establishing…conditions for successful STEM learning. First, because assessments are inextricably linked to high-stakes consequences, teachers and students are apt to think about tests as the goal of learning — and fear them — rather than embrace opportunities to demonstrate progress and learn from error. Second, performance pay linked to students’ testing success fosters competition among teachers for rewards rather than collaboration to collectively meet students’ needs. Third, supporters of current education policies violate the basic framework for scientific argumentation, setting a bad example. They have failed to take seriously the evidentiary challenges to their policies while refusing to consider that they may be mistaken and change course. It is time to back away from high stakes testing induced fear and competition and instead embrace learning from failure and collaboration.

Do I agree with these points? Well, mostly. David Cohen and Deborah Ball long ago wrote about the “pedagogy of policy” and Philip Jackson and Benson Snyder about the “hidden curriculum” embodied in the structure, and even the architecture, of schooling. There is every likelihood that the shape of policy, and the way that policy is shaped, convey messages about what education is which, when made explicit, would be unappealing and even alarming.

The argumentation which is central to rigorous inquiry is part of the safety valve of science — the gradual self-correction and “learning from mistakes” which means that most of the time, we approximate the way things work more and more closely. At the level of the learner at work on the challenges of the day, this can look like learning from our mistakes, which represent a precious, and ever-flowing resource.

So argumentation of this kind is perhaps the best tool we can offer the next generation, who tend  to start by learning to address their little mistakes in classroom or home, but soon enough start to critique our big ones— before they see the fresh material they’ve created themselves, as the experiment of life goes on.

Blog comments have been archived, commenting is no longer available.
This blog post has 2 comments, showing all.

Argumentation and Rhetoric

posted by: Nancy Shapiro on 7/17/2014 8:20 am

Brian, your posting made me smile--and think. I taught rhetoric and writing for 10 years at the University of Maryland before transitioning into STEM policy and practice. You have highlighted one of the reasons that my transition was more natural than it would otherwise appear. The essentials of argument are defined and detailed in the study of rhetoric--identifying a claim (or hypothesis); assembling evidence, and organizing the evidence in the most compelling way for a particular purpose and audience. "Purpose and Audience" are the two critical lenses for good argument. As we think about what we are teaching about science, science inquiry, and argument it makes a great deal of sense to think carefully about our purposes and our audiences.
I'd love to hear what others think about our primary purposes for teaching science, and our primary audiences. What should our purposes/audiences be beyond the classroom? The other critical element of rhetorical analysis is the credibility of the speaker: who do we have "arguing" toward what purpose to what audience?

Finally, I offer a fascinating "interactive info graphic" designed to link majors to careers--if you check it out, you'll see that the ONLY two majors that lead to EVERY career strand are English and Science! d#.UqDR4o1lYzR

post updated by the author 7/17/2014

What should our purposes/audiences be beyond the classroom?

posted by: Brian Drayton on 7/21/2014 12:55 pm

Nancy, there's so much in your post!
the question I've excerpted as the subject line of this reply seems really important how do we take seriously, for example, the need to help parents and policy people understand the research on learning and teaching that we see is foundational -- how to convey why we find them compelling?
And of course there's the old scary dragon: What is the purpose of education anyway? The beautiful graphic thing you linked seems helpful in revisiting that conversation.