View of socioscientific issues among educators: The willingness of teachers to accept SSI into the classroom and the reasoning underyling those beliefs

John Carlos Parr, University of Southern Mississippi

Abstract

Socioscientific issues (SSI) are potentially controversial topics, which can be examined using a social and a scientific perspective. The inclusion of these topics in elementary and secondary classrooms has caused a number of conflicts over the past century. In the present study, I explore the willingness of teachers to include three SSI: evolution, stem cell research, and global climate change in the science curricula. Participants included 221 educators currently employed in K-12 schools. Teachers have the greatest impact on classroom instruction, regardless of state curricula. I found most educators willing to include the three previously named SSI in the curricula, but support was not an indication of a pro-science perspective. Teachers modestly preferred the inclusion of scientific perspectives over alternative ideas, but this support was not universal. Potentially important demographic factors were collected; participants from rural populations, Evangelicals, frequent church attendees, Republicans, and conservatives were found to be less receptive to science-supported ideas. A similarly lower level of support was found among those teachers who did not teach secondary science and those who had taken fewer science courses while in college. Interestingly, a possible correlation between the aforementioned demographic factors and chosen teaching position was identified. I identified a perceived low level of support for the science underlying the selected SSI as one possible explanation for the lack of emphasis on empirically supported concepts. Similarly, the majority of educators were willing to support legislation which formally encouraged the idea of "balanced" coverage. I found the lack of support for scientific ideas and the reasoning quality supporting these views surprisingly low. Educators consider SSI using very different lenses. It was these lenses, and not empirical evidence, which had the greatest impact on decision making. For some participants these frames of reasoning seemed so engrained that they were unwilling to even contemplate the validity of opposing viewpoints.