“The Role of Inquiry in Science Teaching,” Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 1964, 80-84. (download paper). The opening paragraph of this 1964 paper expresses the fundamental doctrine of science education. It says

“When it comes to the teaching of science it is perfectly clear where we, as science teachers, science educators, or scientists, stand: we are unalterably opposed to the rote memorization of the mere facts and minutiae of science. By contrast, we stand foursquare for the teaching of the scientific method, critical thinking, the scientific attitude, the problem-solving approach, the discovery method, and, of special interest here, the inquiry method. In brief, we appear to agree upon the need to teach science as process or method rather than as content.”

Using as examples the learning by students of two typical physical science topics—universal gravitation and the reflection of light—the paper argues that

“To separate conceptually scientific content from scientific inquiry is to make it highly probable that the student will properly understand neither. From this there follows an inescapable conclusion regarding the feasibility of teaching science as inquiry: science teachers must come to understand just how inquiry is in fact conducted in the sciences. Until science teachers have acquired a rather through grounding in the history and philosophy of the sciences they teach, this kind of understanding will elude them, in which event not much progress toward the teaching of science as inquire can be expected.”

In rereading the paper, I find that I continue to stand by its conclusions. Moreover, it’s clear that I did so in my work over the years—see the Project Physics Course (www.archive.org/details/projectphysicscollection) and Science for All Americans and Benchmarks for Science Literacy, in particular Chapter 1 The Nature of Science and Chapter 10 Historical Perspectives (www.project2061.org).

Even so, I find the paper deficient in one regard: it does not make the companion case that some content is worth learning for its own sake, not only because it might also reflect the content/method interdependencies. Science itself has two grand purposes. One is to generate knowledge that can be applied to human needs and wants; the other is to increase our knowledge of the natural world for the sake of knowing.  Utility and awareness both have a place in the science classroom. I should have developed this proposition when focussing on the content aspect of science when claiming that content and inquiry both have a place in the science classroom.