Scientific literacy: Another look at its historical and contemporary meanings and its relationship to science education reform



Scientific literacy is a term that has been used since the late 1950s to describe a desired familiarity with science on the part of the general public. A review of the history of science education shows that there have been at least nine separate and distinct goals of science education that are related to the larger goal of scientific literacy. It is argued in this paper that instead of defining scientific literacy in terms of specifically prescribed learning outcomes, scientific literacy should be conceptualized broadly enough for local school districts and individual classroom teachers to pursue the goals that are most suitable for their particular situations along with the content and methodologies that are most appropriate for them and their students. This would do more to enhance the public's understanding and appreciation of science than will current efforts that are too narrowly aimed at increasing scores on international tests of science knowledge. A broad and open-ended approach to scientific literacy would free teachers and students to develop a wide variety of innovative responses to the call for an increased understanding of science for all. © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 37: 582–601, 2000