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Biology education in the public high schools of the United States from the Progressive Era to the Second World War: A discursive history

Posted on:1992-07-09Degree:Ph.DType:Dissertation
University:University of California, Santa CruzCandidate:Engles, Eric WilliamFull Text:PDF
GTID:1477390017950143Subject:Education History
This study examines, as a cultural practice, pre-World War II general biology education in the public high schools of the United States. The discourse of this practice--the linguistic means by which the subject of biology was taught--is analyzed and interpreted in the context of the period's social history to discover what meanings it worked to generate. The date used include popular textbooks from the period, the polemical writings of biology educators and others, and both historical and contemporary studies of high school biology content. These materials are examined using a variety of interpretive tools native to the humanities and the social sciences.;It is shown that high school biology before World War II, in "educating" American adolescents about the living world, constructed that world in particular ways generally consistent with commodification, capital accumulation, the bureaucratization of society, the strengthening of professional and technocratic authority, the marginalization of people of color and women, and the privileging of heterosexuality and the nuclear family. The ontological assumptions, political orientations, and class-, race-, and gender-specific values embedded and hidden in the language and metaphors used to represent the living world were responsible for reproducing biology educators' worldview in classrooms and textbooks as objective depiction of the way things are.;It is concluded that pre-war biology education tended to explain the social world in terms of the natural. By reducing mind, emotion, and behavior to ultimately organic causes, by naturalizing extant social relations, and by essentializing human identity and difference, biology education eclipsed human agency as the ultimate force shaping social reality. Because it worked discursively in these ways, biology education was one of many early twentieth century phenomena that served to de-politicize social existence, to make hierarchy invisible, to universalize values and goals, to make it seem as if everyone's interests were the same.;Contemporary issues in science curriculum reform as briefly examined in light of these findings.
Keywords/Search Tags:Biology education, World, War
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