A history of the concept of scientific literacy based in the intellectual discourse of the gilded age
Dike, Joy Hartmann
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Understanding and embracing scientific literacy is one of the grand challenges science educators face today, particularly as influential and guiding documents from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Research Council advocate for scientific literacy as a goal of science education. This research contemplates scientific literacy through the lens of Gilded Age intellectuals. The foundation of the research is on Edward Livingston Youmans’ book from 1873, The Culture Demanded by Modern Life, which is a compendium of addresses and arguments on the claims of science education. The book includes the essays of Gilded Age scientists such as Michael Faraday, Thomas Henry Huxley, Herbert Spencer, John Tyndall, William Whewell, and others. An understanding of the discourse of CDML is augmented by examination of diverse primary sources of intellectual discourse from the Gilded Age as well as many secondary sources from both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. By looking at why our forebears thought that scientific literacy should be a goal of science education, we have a great opportunity in the present to think about our own goals for science education. Understanding the past, particularly the ideas of the past, may help us to think about our own underlying assumptions today. While there is certainly an abundance of current literature on the topic of scientific literacy, this historical approach to scientific literacy can breathe fresh air into the ongoing discussion of scientific literacy in science education.