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Exploring Science as Transactional Inquiry:
A Working Group on Elementary Science Education

Initial Readings/Notes on Inquiry
Alice Lesnick
10 December 2006

From Kuhn, Deanna (2005). Education for Thinking. Cambridge, MA; Harvard Univ. Press.

"Thinking skills are typically regarded as intellectual competencies that educators endeavor to instill in students' heads so these competencies are available for use when needed. The concept of thinking skills adopted here contrasts sharply with this traditional one. Thinking is something people do, most often collaboratively, while they are engaged in pursuing the activities and goals that fill their daily lives." P. 13

"To produce individuals who can thrive in and contribute maximally to a democratic society, we need to ensure they develop the intellectual skills needed to inquire and to argue, individually and collectively, and to value these activities as the soundest path to achieving goals, solving problems, resolving conflicts, and maximizing individual and group welfare." P. 14

"If we regard learning as change in understanding, what we do know is that such understandings are organized into theory-like entities. Children from an early age construct theories as a means of understanding the world. These theories undergo revision as children interact in the world and encounter evidence bearing on their theories (Gelman and Kalish, 2006). This process of theory-evidence coordination, however, in children's early years does not necessarily take place at a level of conscious awareness or explicit control. Gaining metacognitive control over this process is a major dimension of cognitive development in the years beyond early childhood (Keating, 2004; Kuhn and Franklin, 2006). It is this intentional, controlled theory-evidence coordination, and resulting conceptual change, that is entailed in inquiry learning." Pp. 60-1.l
From Johnston, James Scott ((2006). Inquiry and Education: John Dewey and the Quest for Democracy. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. "Positivism and scientism assume that scientific method is the best method for solving the problems of men. . . . I urge that it be said of scientific method that it is to be brought to bear on problems that occasion the sort of inquiry, of rigorous hypothesis testing, ordering, and control, that would be of benefit in coming to a solution to these problems. To the extent that scientific solutions to the problems of men are of benefit, scientific method is to have its place. But to the extent that solutions occasioned in settings other than those of the physical or natural sciences are required, or that scientific solutions would not fit the bill, scientific method would not be occasioned. This is not to claim that other methods are nonexperimental; rather that what is to count as a method being "scientific" is the aims that are set for inquiry and the context in which it is used. Scientific method thus exists as a variant or (even better) variants of inquiry, highly technical and controlling variants, to help in the search for solutions to the problems of men, but are not the only variants. P. 46

Inquiry is engaged with "fact and value all the way down"
From Donna J. Haraway *Chapter 9, "Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective" in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: the Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 183-201. So, I think my problem and 'our' problem is how to have simultaneously an account of radical historical contingency for all knowledge claims and knowing subjects, a critical practice for recognizing our own 'semiotic technologies' for making meanings, and a no-nonsense commitment to faithful accounts of a 'real' world, one that can be partially shared and friendly to earth-wide projects of finite freedom, adequate material abundance, modest meaning in suffering, and limited happiness. Harding calls this necessary multiple desire a need for a successor science project and a postmodern insistence on irreducible difference and radical multiplicity of local knowledges. All components of the desire are paradoxical and dangerous, and their combination is both contradictory and necessary. Feminists don't need a doctrine of objectivity that promises transcendence, a story that loses track of its mediations just where someone might be held responsible for something, and unlimited instrumental power. We don't want a theory of innocent powers to represent the world, where language and bodies both fall into the bliss of organic symbiosis. We also don't want to theorize the world, much less act within it, in terms of Global Systems, but we do need an earth-wide network of connections, including the ability partially to translate knowledges among very different -- and power-differentiated -- communities. We need the power of modem critical theories of how meanings and bodies get made, not in order to deny meaning and bodies, but in order to live in meanings and bodies that have a chance for a future.

Natural, social, and human sciences have always been implicated in hopes like these. Science has been about a search for translation, convertibility, mobility of meanings, and universality -- which I call reductionism, when one language (guess whose) must be enforced as the standard for all the translations and conversions. What money does in the exchange orders of capitalism, reductionism does in the powerful mental orders of global sciences: there is finally only one equation. That is the deadly fantasy that feminists and others have identified in some versions of objectivity doctrines in the service of hierarchical and positivist orderings of what can count as knowledge. That is one of the reasons the debates about objectivity matter, metaphorically and otherwise. Immortality and omnipotence are not our goals. But we could use some enforceable, reliable accounts of things not reducible to power moves and agonistic, high status games of rhetoric or to scientistic, positivist arrogance. This point applies whether we are talking about genes, social classes, elementary particles, genders, races, or texts; the point applies to the exact, natural, social, and human sciences, despite the slippery ambiguities of the words objectivity and science as we slide around the discursive terrain. . . . pp. 200-201

Alice's Notes:

  • Inquiry can be goal-oriented/oriented to problem-solving but it can also be curious, playful, open-ended, oriented to problem-posing.
  • It can be political - problem-posing, oriented to re-framing, de- and re- centering knowledge.
  • Inquiry - a search, a course, research, examination - all over-time processes. To seek knowledge by questioning.
  • Can also mean a question, and an asking after a person.
  • Curiosity -- Question development
  • Sustained cognitive engagement with generative uncertainty
  • How related to thinking and knowing? And awareness of both?
  • How situate the current movement for inquiry-based science in the broader narrative of science as having begun as philosophy (oriented to first principles and natural laws, not empirical or experimental) and having become observation-based (cf, Cobb, Generation)?

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