What Do We Mean By
Texas A&M University
Many documents have called for the education of ocean literate
citizens. But what do we mean by ocean literacy? Is it similar in meaning to
E. Donald Hirsch's Cultural
Literacy? Or to Science Literacy?
- Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., the NOAA Administrator, in his
talk on Creating
an Ocean Literate Society, states NOAA's need for an ocean literate
- "NOAA needs talented pool of employees. Education efforts need
to sow seed for next generation of scientists and leaders
- NOAA’s job is easier with public’s support/understanding
of NOAA’s mission.
- In Addition, he cites the need for citizens to know about how the
ocean influences their daily lives."
- The New England Center for Ocean Sciences
Education Excellence defines ocean
literacy to be:
- "The awareness and understanding of a set of fundamental
ideas, perspectives, or big picture
concepts about the ocean that every citizen should have. We propose four
concept areas as the critical components of ocean
- The ocean makes the planet habitable.
- Ocean and terrestrial systems are linked.
- The distinct properties of the ocean create distinct habitats and
- Humans and oceans are intimately linked."
- The Pew Oceans Commission calls
for a new era of ocean literacy that links people to the marine environment.
They state we need to:
- "Broaden ocean education and awareness through a commitment to teach
and learn about our oceans, at all levels of society."
- Wendy Allen, in her letter
to the Oceans Commission from the National Marine Educators Association,
noted the need for ocean literacy, but did not define the concept.
- The Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education's (CORE), 1996 Report
From Ocean Education Workshop on Ocean Science and K-12 Education does
not explicitly define ocean literacy, but the report does site examples:
- "Knowledge components (by discipline, such as physics and by topic,
such as ocean currents) that should be understood by students at different
grade levels (K-4, 5-8, 9-12) and which can be explored and tested through
grade appropriate inquiry-based study." And,
- Concepts and information that "a science literate person know
about the oceans and their influence on global environment and impact
(both now and likely in the future) on the global economy.
- The Ocean Literacy
web site proposes "to help those interested in the development
of a populace knowledgeable about our oceans."
- Project 2061 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science,
in their book
Science for All Americans (Project 2061, 1990: page
xvii), defined a scientifically
literate person as "one
who is aware that science, mathematics, and technology are interdependent
human enterprises with strengths and limitations; understands key concepts
and principles of science; is familiar with the natural world and recognizes
both its diversity and unity; and uses scientific knowledge and scientific
ways of thinking for individual and social purposes."
- Morris Shamos, former
president of the NSTA, in his book on The Myth
of Scientific Literacy,
defines three levels of scientific literacy, which can help guide our defining
- Cultural Scientific Literacy. A grasp of certain background information
and vocabulary shared by all literate people. This is the simplest form
of literacy, and corresponds to Hirsch's definition of cultural literacy.
"This is the only level of literacy held by most of the educated adults
who believe they are reasonable literate in science. They recognize many
of the science-based terms (the jargon) used by the media, which is generally
their only exposure to science, and such recognition probably provides
some measure of comfort that they are not totally illiterate in science."
- Functional Scientific Literacy. "Here we add
some substance to the bare skeleton of cultural literacy by requiring
that the individual not only have have command of a scientific lexicon,
but also the ability to converse, read, and write coherently, using science
terms in perhaps a non-technical but nevertheless meaningful context.
This means using the terms correctly, for example knowing what might
"some of the simple everyday facts of nature," such as having
the knowledge of our solar system, of how the Earth revolves about the
Sun and the Moon revolves about the Earth, and how eclipses occur. Much
of this is better classified as natural history than as science proper,
but it is nevertheless a part of the overall scientific enterprise. Elementary,
to be sure, yet unfortunately not at the fingertips of most Americans.
Or to get a bit more sophisticated, expecting the individual to identify
the ultimate source of our energy; or the "greenhouse effect," or
knowing what "clean air" means or how we get the oxygen we
breathe." This level
of literacy is attained by about 30 percent of Americans using the least
rigorous form of the definition.
- "True" Scientific Literacy. "At this level
the individual actually knows something about the overall scientific
enterprise. He or she is aware of some of the major conceptual schemes
(the theories) that form the foundation of science, how they were arrived
at, and why they are widely accepted, how science achieves order out
of a random universe, and the role of experiment in science. This individual
also appreciates the elements of scientific investigation, the importance
of proper questioning, of analytical and deductive reasoning, of logical
thought processes, and of reliance upon objective evidence... Nevertheless
... even this modest criterion puts scientific literacy beyond the reach
of most educated individuls...The fraction of Americans who might qualify
as true scientific literates in this sense is 4 to 5 percent of the adult
population, nearly all being professional scientists or engineers.
A Proposed Definition of Ocean Literacy
The various ocean-literacy reports cited above advocate a
level of ocean literacy congruent with Shamos' Functional
Scientific Literacy. I propose that an ocean literate individual:
- Has a basic oceanic vocabulary.
- Is able to converse, read, and write coherently,
using oceanographic terms in perhaps a non-technical but nevertheless meaningful
- Knows key facts and concepts about the ocean relevant
to daily life.
- Has a knowledge of the important oceanic and earth systems
and how they interact to produce a habitable planet.
This definition of ocean literacy is shorter than, but agrees
well with the definition of ocean
literacy proposed by the New
England Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence.
E. D. Jr. (1987). Cultural
Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Project 2061 (1990). Science
for All Americans. New York:
Oxford University Press.
Shamos, M. H. (1995). The Myth of
Scientific Literacy. New
Brunswick, Rutgers University Press.
Please send comments to Dr.
Bob (Bob Stewart).
21 September, 2004
6 January, 2009