The Journey of Bridging Cultures
Journey Of Bridging Cultures

By Katelynn Prokop


The purpose of this webpage is to showcase the progress of my journey to create a bridge between Eurocentric Science and Indigenous Knowledge in order to provide student-centered and engaging science courses for all of my students.  I have gathered a majority of my information from         "Bridging Cultures" by Glen Aikenhead and Herman Michell.

I. Why I chose to study scientific and Indigenous ways of knowing nature and teaching science
II. Background information on Eurocentric Science and Indigenous Knowledge
III. Similarities and differences between the two cultures 
IV.  Implementing New Ways Of Learning into the classroom
V. How I plan to use my research in the future

Why I chose to Study Scientific and Indigenous Ways of Knowing Nature and Teaching Science

While completing my education internship, I came to a few important realizations.  The first was that not everyone is as excited about science as I am. The second was that students' varied opinions and attitudes towards science come from years of being taught science in a very traditional way (in a majority of the cases).  The third was that the content brought up in science is problematic when it comes to students' religious and cultural beliefs.  I quickly realized that teaching science using traditional methods is not effective for a majority of students in today's classrooms and has successfully marginalized many groups of students. 

Until recently, I did not realize there are so many different ways to learn and know science.  A large majority of the sciences courses I have taken have been taught by middle-aged white males and as a result, have projected completely Eurocentric views.  I have always been an engaged science student, sucking in all of the information that was presented to me.  I never questioned the motives or validity behind the science I was being taught.  Recently, I have realized that university has made me think about the scientific world in a way that I am not proud of.  I find myself thinking of humans as controllers of nature (anthropocentric) and that scientists have all of life's answers.  I have never questioned the information provided to me by scientists; I see it as true and real.  Throughout the course of this critical project I hope to help myself shift my scientific thinking to be more connected with nature on a personal level.  I plan to use Indigenous ways of knowing to help me understand how to make these deeper connections. 

As I looked into science teaching methods, I found that teaching with a Eurocentric point of view is not only ineffective for some students, it may actually damage their identity.  Aikenhead and Michell (2011) explain that the views and beliefs of Indigenous students often clash with the content in Eurocentric Science and attempts to force them to learn the content can be viewed as a type of assimilation.  Many science teachers would argue that assimilation is not their intent; however, they do not realize that their learned methods of teaching have been used by white people to separate Indigenous people from their culture and nature for many years (Aikenhead & Michell, 2011).

Every course I have taken while in the Faculty of Education has contained knowledge passed down from many generations.  Who were the people in the previous generations?  A majority of them were white, Christian males.  Included with the knowledge these men have passed down are deep historical moral values, such as the idea that Indigenous people are "a white man's burden" and must be educated in a special way to help them think more like white people.  The knowledge previous generations have passed down to me provides me with many benefits, but has also caused me to look at the knowledge of other cultures with disdain.

I will admit, I used to see no benefit in learning about Indigenous ways of knowing; however, after being exposed to it, I have become very fond of it.  I am hoping that it will help me provide personal depth for my students in my future classes.  Indigenous knowledge encourages one to observe the connections within nature.  Life is cycled through nature and a disruption  in one part of the cycle will damage all other parts  (Aikenhead & Michell, 2011).  My hope is that this Indigenous knowledge will help my students understand why taking care of the environment is crucial to life.  I will expand on Indigenous knowledge and its benefits later in the study.  

Throughout the course of my study, I hope to develop the tools one needs in order to provide an equitable science education to all of my students.  My goal is to break the cycle of pushing Eurocentric Science on students by integrating Indigenous ways of knowing into my pedagogy and therefore, into my teaching methods and plans.  

Eurocentric Science (ES)

ES is a dynamic and ever-evolving field.  ES stems from the observations and ideas of ancient Egyptian and Greek philosophers.  During this time, philosophers were providing theories to explain the phenomena in the world around them.  The evolution of philosophy to modern science can be marked by the major social changes in Europe.  Individuals, such as Galileo, began observing nature and providing explanations for phenomena based on empirical evidence.  Over time, science became a field in which individuals studied nature in order to provide rational explanations for all observations in our universe (Aikenhead & Michell, 2011).  

Another view in ES is that anything that can be quantified exists as reality.  The example that Aikenhead & Michell (2011) use is IQ.  IQ does not actually exist in a person, but since psychologists can measure it, ES believes it to be true. ES believes time to be linear.  Once time is used it cannot be recycled.  The concept of "reality" is another concept which is disputed amongst people.  What is truly "real" and what is a figment of imagination?  Do unobservable things, such as gravity or DNA, actually exist, or are they solely a belief of scientists?  Coming from a science background, I believe these concepts to be true and real; however, many of my students may think otherwise, which I must respect.  

By understanding the history of ES, one can understand why modern scientists view themselves as outsiders observing and explaining nature, but not as being a part of it.  In ES history, people have considered themselves above nature and therefore, in control of it.  Many scientists believe that any problem in nature can be solved via human intelligence and action.  Anthropocentrism is the term used to describe the hierarchy in which  humans have special status within nature.  Scientists and other people with this view often abuse nature as a resource for humans.  All of the views discussed can be found quite clearly in current science curriculums (Aikenhead & Michell, 2011).  

Aikenhead & Michell (2011) explain that the original English science curriculum in 1867 was built around three main ideologies:

1) The curriculum will target an elite upper class of students.
2) The curriculum will be a pre-professional screening for university science departments.
3) The curriculum will put an emphasis on mental training and abstract knowledge over practical know-how. 

From my observations, the ideologies of science curriculums have not changed significantly since 1867.  The curriculums use language that is difficult for most students to comprehend, which limits the likelihood of the students being able to learn and understand the content.  As a result, many students fail to be successful in science courses.  Unfortunately, First Nations students are often among those who fail to do well in science, due to a variety of factors which will be discussed further throughout the study (Aikenhead & Michell, 2011).

The following is a clip from the sitcom "The Big Bang Theory."  The scene is comedic, but unfortunately is a great comparison to most science classrooms.  Sheldon is extremely passionate about science and assumes that everyone should be able to keep up with his jargon.  Penni does not understand what Sheldon is trying to teach her and gets frustrated, until she is able to relate to the information.  

The Big Bang Theory


The experiences I have had working with the current Saskatchewan science curriculums have been slightly frustrating.  The curriculums require teachers to push an over-abundance of information at students in a short amount of time.  It is nearly impossible to effectively include all of the information from the curriculums into one semester of classes.  As a result, science teachers often do not have time to create engaging and stimulating lessons to meet the needs of all of their students; the students are forced to take the information, memorize it, and regurgitate it for exams.  Very few students are able to do well with this type of science instruction and even fewer students are able to enjoy it.  

Indigenous Knowledge

First, I must explain that I do not wish to generalize or stereotype Indigenous ways of knowing.  There are many different beliefs and practices within the Indigenous culture.  What I would like to accomplish is to understand the main ideologies of Indigenous knowledge and learn more about individual communities as I continue my journey.  

Aikenhead & Michell (2011) refer to Indigenous knowledge, beliefs, and practices as Indigenous ways of living in nature (IWLN), which I will be using for the remainder of this study.  The expression IWLN indicates that Indigenous people do not only retain information about nature, they use that information to live in harmony with and in nature.  The expression assumes that knowledge holders exist holistically; individuals must connect knowledge with their mind, body, and spirit, which allows them to live peacefully in nature.  The connection of body and mind is of great importance within IWLN (Aikenhead & Michell, 2011).

Aikenhead & Michell (2011) explain that IWLN must be experienced in the following three ways:

1) in a particular place in nature,
2) in the content of multiple relationships with nature and people, and
3) in the pursuit of wisdom-in-action for the purposes of survival.  

The three ways one must come to know IWLN are important for teachers to understand.  Without providing students with opportunities that reflect the three ways, lessons involving IWLN would be purposeless.  As these learning techniques are new to me, I will attempt to explain them further.

While ES can be experienced anywhere, IWLN is very dependent upon specific communities and surroundings.  Everything from practices to languages within Indigenous communities are reliant on local plants, animals, land, etc.; therefore, IWLN vary greatly from place to place.  For this reason, one must be conscious of how you discuss IWLN with Indigenous people.  Indigenous people also hold strong relationships with the nature in their communities.  IWLN holds the belief that nature is cyclical and if one dimension of nature is damaged, all others will be damaged as well.  Included in the dimensions of nature is a spiritual aspect.  IWLN believes that all parts of nature are alive and have a spirit.  Disturbing the interrelationships within nature creates disharmony for all dimensions.  For the sake of maintaining harmony, IWLN encourages people to use their knowledge to take from nature only for the purpose of survival and to give thanks for resources used from nature 
(Aikenhead & Michell, 2011).

An important belief of IWLN is that time is cyclical, which means it has no beginning and no end.  What goes around, comes around.  With this IWLN concept comes the belief that living beings can be connected to spirits of the past, which is a common practice in IWLN ceremonies.  Indigenous people draw strength, courage, knowledge, etc. from their ancestors using spiritual ceremonies.  Many people question the validity of IWLN; however, Indigenous knowledge is a product of human experiences and ancestral stories, which Indigenous people believe is more valid than any abstract scientific theory  (Aikenhead & Michell, 2011).

The following video provides one Indigenous individual's perspective on science and nature and the importance of IWLN to survive on our planet.  

Indigenous View of Science and Nature

Similarities and Differences Between ES and IWLN

The intent with both ES and IWLN is to make sense of the world in order to help the human race thrive; ES however, is often only worried about improving life for humans, while IWLN attempts to treat all entities within nature with equality.  Both groups make sense of the world by using intellectual processes such as observing, questioning, interpreting, inferring, classifying, predicting, verifying, problem solving, adapting, monitoring, and so on.  The individuals trusted as practitioners within each group have very different techniques and priorities; both however, exercise rational, intuitive, and logical thought while gathering information from intellectual processes (Aikenhead & Michell, 2011).

While Indigenous elders see themselves as an extension of the nature they are observing, scientists remain detached and disconnected.  Scientists use their observations in order to explain natural phenomena and in turn, exercise control over it.  Indigenous elders believe that learning about nature is a lifelong journey that must be respected, not abused.  Scientists often break nature down into parts which they can explain, while Indigenous people view all of nature as interconnected.  In IWLN, one part cannot exist without another.  Indigenous people have a "right way" of understanding and knowing nature which involves many ceremonies and rituals.  ES usually involves one group of scientists discovering new concepts by following strict laws, theories, and scientific values while learning about nature.  Scientists share their new information by releasing impersonal papers, while Indigenous elders share information through verbal story telling and communication (Aikenhead & Michell, 2011).

Neither scientists nor elders are able to carry out learning journeys on their own.  Discovering new information about the world often involves communal cooperation.  ES and Indigenous ways of knowing nature have each evolved over the years.  Each group recognizes when new findings are able to replace old information.  The information contained by each group holds cultural bias, which makes sharing knowledge with other groups difficult.  Many scholars would agree that both ways of knowing contain relevance; the knowledge however, is culturally relevant; therefore much of the information seems insignificant to to other groups. Aikenhead & Michell (2011) have compared IWLN and ES in a table, which I will attempt to summarize:

Indigenous people see the world as a whole system of material and spiritual interconnectedness.  ES holds the views that nature can be picked apart and studied independently.  IWLN studies nature in order to keep all parts of the community at peace, while scientists study nature for the improvement of the quality of human life as well as to advance an individual's scientific credibility. IWLN believes Mother Earth is in continual flux, while ES assumes that nature functions in predictable patterns.  IWLN has cyclical time, which allows Indigenous people to be in contact with spirits from the past.  ES uses rectilinear time with specific beginnings and ends.  IWLN is place-based, which is hard for others to understand, while ES can be used and understood nearly anywhere.  The main goals of IWLN are to become healthy and whole with regards to the mind, body, and spirit.  The main goals of ES are to completely understand and control nature with a focus on intellectual and physical pursuits (Aikenhead & Michell, 2011).

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