On Common Ground: Science, Technology, and Teaching
By Thomas R. Whitaker
On the facing page the American painter and inventor, C. W. Peale,
portrays himself lifting the curtain upon the grand project of his later
years, a museum of natural history. Let us here echo his gesture, in a
modest way, by lifting the curtain upon a number of On Common Ground
devoted to science and technology. Our first three numbers have emphasized
some broader contexts of partnerships between schools and universities:
federal-state relationships, the historical perspective, and the world of
work. We now engage more closely some of the problems and opportunities
that such partnerships must confront in the classroom.
The Essays: Some Connections
How can school-university partnerships contribute to science
education in the elementary grades? Bruce M. Alberts and Jan Tuomi recount
how a partnership between the San Francisco public schools and the
University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) has led to the replacing
of science textbooks with hands-on science materials. They point to
several important aspects of this program, including dialogue with the
school district leadership, and close working relationships between school
teachers and members of the UCSF community. The "key" to this effort,
however, has been the identification of outstanding instructional
materials in effect, science kits. An earlier version of this essay
provoked a very lively discussion at the January meeting of the Editorial
Board. A number of reservations were expressed about its approach to
science in the elementary grades. May kits provide too "ready made" and
"self-contained" an experience? Do they help teachers to relate science to
other aspects of a holistic elementary school program? Would the students'
inquiry and problem-solving be furthered by having them prepare their own
kits, which might also relate to other aspects of the curriculum? Might
the teachers then become more deeply involved in the process of curriculum
construction? These questions, of course, raise larger issues of
curriculum design and professional development in the elementary schools.
The Board thought it useful, therefore, to solicit some responses to that
essay from other points of view.
Our first respondent, Sharon Olguin, trains teachers in the
Albuquerque Public Schools/University of New Mexico Collaborative. She
agrees with Alberts and Tuomi about the need for an experiential approach
to science instruction. She argues, however, that science kits are too
easily used in ways that do not significantly advance the students' skills
in problem solving and critical evaluation, that the kits too often seem
to relieve the teachers from responsibility for their own continuing
education, and that sets of fairly expensive and quickly expended
materials do not constitute the most efficient use of a school's limited
Our second respondent, Eloy Rodriguez, established the "Kids
Investigating and Discovering Science" program at the University of
California, Irvine, in partnership with the Santa Ana Unified School
District. The successful science teaching in that program for low-income
Latino youngsters, he tells us, depends upon a network of interpersonal
collaboration. Parents, becoming participatory partners, serve as teaching
assistants and homework mentors. Minority faculty from the university
become role models and mentors, for the school children and also for the
minority graduate and undergraduate students who work with the K-12
teachers. Through such means, the university campus has become "a truly
common ground for fostering the love and learning of science."
How has the National Science Foundation been assisting university
school partnerships in science, mathematics, and technology? Janice Earle
and Julia C. Wan describe how the Statewide Systemic Initiatives Program
(SSI) has encouraged the creation and strengthening of partnerships. They
also point to four states Montana, Ohio, Connecticut, and Louisiana as
examples of SSI programs that are oriented toward several types of
curricular reform, teacher preparation and development, and the
improvement of teaching methods.
Can smaller and poorer nations teach us a good deal about creative and
cost-effective partnerships? Stephen C. Ehrmann argues, on the basis of
his experience in Portugal, that they surely can. He describes Project
Minerva, which was designed to foster broader use of computing in the
Portuguese schools. This project involved a "distributed leadership
structure," with three partners: the Ministry of Education, the
universities, and the schools. Each had its own area of leadership in a
reform effort sparked by technological innovation but extending into other
areas of the curriculum.
What obstacles do we confront when seeking to introduce into our own
public schools what is now our society's central tool for communicating
and creating knowledge? In a sobering essay on that question, John Merrow
identifies three major obstacles: inappropriate teaching methods,
stereotyping of students, and obsolete facilities. Unless these are
overcome, he argues, the gulf in our society between the "haves" and the
"have nots" will grow yet wider a prospect that should frighten us all.
Teachers also need to be alert to technological resources beyond the
walls of the classroom. Robert Wheeler suggests how they can make use of
artifacts in their localities as means of conveying the excitement of
scientific inquiry. Wheeler's emphasis on links that connect science,
technological invention, and economic processes in the larger society also
illustrates the broadly interdisciplinary focus that he has found useful
when leading a seminar on "Electricity," in the Yale-New Haven Teachers
Institute, for teachers drawn from several different fields.
Two other essayists in this number of On Common Ground address
more general problems of curricular reform and each is concerned with
the coherence of our educational efforts. Carlos Mora, who directs the
Partnership for Minority Student Achievement in New Haven, reminds us of
the dangers of fragmented reform efforts and suggests that "empowerment"
and "constructive accountability" may provide a basis for better
coordination and more fruitful decision-making. Carole F. Edmonds, Dean of
Arts and Sciences at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Michigan,
is responding to Robert Reich's essay in our last number, on the role of
the community colleges in providing new paths to the middle class. She
calls attention to the need for more collaboration among the quite various
programs within the community college and she describes how her
college has met this challenge.
Our regular columnist, Fred Hechinger, delivers a related challenge to
Yale and by implication to all universities. Can university faculties
that have experimented with interdisciplinary teaching now offer their
experience to leading high school instructors and demonstrate the concept
of such team teaching? If so, they may move into the forefront of the new
high school reform movement.
We also inaugurate in this number two "departments" that, we hope,
will make at least occasional appearances in these pages. One is a place
for book reviews. Toni Marie Massaro's Constitutional Literacy: A Core
Curriculum for a Multicultural Nation spells out one way of balancing
the demands of unity and diversity in our school curricula by "teaching
the conflicts" in the area of constitutional law. (The phrase, and the
pedagogical approach to which it refers, comes from the work of Gerald
Graff, Professor of English at the University of Chicago.) Massaro's book
is here reviewed by Robert A. Burt, from the Law School at Yale, who has
led seminars on constitutional law for the Yale-New Haven Teachers
Institute, and whose own recent book is entitled The Constitution in
The other department, "Voices from the Classroom," will provide space
for a variety of contributions from the schools. On this occasion, we
offer excerpts from a conversation with three classroom teachers who have
recently joined our Editorial Board: Sharon Floyd, Sharon Olguin, and
Patricia King. They speak of their experiences in collaborative projects,
and they express their views on the potential usefulness of On Common
The Images: Some Perspectives
The images in this number complement the essays in a variety of ways.
Several of them quite explicitly provide artistic and historical
perspectives on certain aspects of science, technology and teaching.
C. W. Peale's The Artist in His Museum, on this page, celebrates
the artist's own remarkably various career, which had taken him from
painting (he was the most notable portrait painter of the American
Revolution) and invention (he designed a truss bridge, for example, and a
fireplace that consumed its own smoke) on to the study of natural history.
He became an avid collector of birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects,
organizing his collection in accord with the scientific principles of the
day. And through twenty years of labor, he created the first serious
museum of natural history in the western hemisphere. That museum sponsored
the first American scientific dig, which excavated a fossil skeleton of a
mastodon a process that Peale recorded in another notable painting.
In The Migration Series, Jacob Lawrence traces the great migration
between 1916 and 1930 that took more than 4one million African Americans
to the North. Panel 58, which we include on this page with "Voices from
the Classroom," carries as its text: "In the North the African American
had more educational opportunities." At age twenty-three, Lawrence had
already married tempera technique with a synthetic cubist style. In this
panel the jagged rhythms and bold symmetries provide a rather syncopated
harmony with the arithmetic sequence that the girls are writing on the
board. As Lawrence later said about this cycle: "I tried to create a
staccato-like rhythm over and over and over again with the shapes as they
move. . . I build on the geometry and I love it." And yet he so strongly
identified with the figurative elements that he could also say: "I don't
think in terms of history in that series. I think in terms of contemporary
life. . . If it was a portrait, it was a portrait of myself, a portrait of
my family, a portrait of my peers."
On our front cover, William H. Johnson's Dr. George Washington
Carver pays homage to the great African-American scientist who was
also an inventor of new agricultural products, a teacher at Iowa State
College and Tuskegee Institute, and an artist in several media. By
developing products from peanuts, sweet potatoes, and pecans, as well as
cotton, Carver effectively revolutionized the agriculture of the South.
Johnson's painting, which employs his late style of "conscious naivete,"
orders in a single brilliant design a multiplicity of scientific,
technological, and economic relationships, glimpsed in part through
moments in Carver's life.
On our back cover, a detail from Diego Rivera's fresco cycle, Detroit
Industry, focuses on the manufacture of the engine and transmission of
the 1932 Ford V-8. The entire mural project, on several walls at the
Detroit Institute of Arts, places the automotive industry in a broad
mythological, historical, geographical, and geological context. In this
panel, however, the workers are given the faces of Rivera's assistants and
Detroit acquaintances. Rivera thus offers a secular and pan-American
answer to the cosmic scope, universal history, and contemporary details
often found in the frescoes of European churches.
Other images in this number may seem to have abstracted science,
technology and teaching from any historical context. But they teach us in
other ways, leading us into a realm where design and color have merged
with the depiction of a technological, geometrical, or arithmetic
That is true even of Thomas Eakins' Drawing of Gears (page 15), an
academic exercise carried out by a student at Central High School in
Philadelphia who later became a major American painter. Here the beauty of
the geometrical forms that are essential to the mechanical transmission of
energy seems at one with the beauty of graphic design.
Josef Albers' Homage to the Square (page 9) is one of many such
works painted during the latter part of his life by this teacher at the
Yale University School of Art and Architecture. They were part of his
study of the "saturation of colors" and the mutability of color
perception, topics treated in his book, Interaction of Color. This
painting proposes a realm in which science and art overlap or merge a
realm of ambiguity and mystery, where luminosity is a transcendent energy.
In Jasper Johns' 0-9 (page l6) on the other hand, the ambiguities
are more jarringly insistent. Arithmetical symbols and aesthetic form here
seem at odds and yet in harmony. They are mutually obscuring and
mutually confirming. To look intently at this image is to be shuttled
endlessly back and forth between digits and design.
Finally, we include with the "Book Review" (page 21) a work by John
Frederick Peto, for whom books often provided the occasion for eloquent
formal designs. Nine Books was given to the Yale Art Gallery by
Charles F. Montgomery, late Professor of Art History at Yale, and the
Curator of the Garvan and Related Collections of American Art. Had it not
been for his untimely death in 1978, Montgomery would have led the first
Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute seminar on American Art.
More on the Arts in Our Next Number
There are strong arguments for the importance of the arts in the
educational process. Judging from the recent decisions of many school
administrators, those arguments have not been heard. Herbert Read's
Education Through Art, first published a half-century ago by Faber
and Faber (3rd ed., 1961), is a classic in this field from which we still
have much to learn.
Our next number will focus on this topic. It will include, among others:
Scott Massey on "The Arts as Knowing," Elliot W. Eisner on "Why the Arts
are Marginalized in Our Schools," James Gray and Richard Sterling on "The
National Writing Project," and Marty Trujillo on "Saint Joseph Ballet's
Program for Inner-City Children."