Inderscience Publishers

Controversial issues in an environmental science course: how do students respond?

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This qualitative study described non-science majors' responses to environmental case studies and news events embedded in an introductory level environmental science course. A phenomenological approach was used for this descriptive emergent design study. Sixty-six participants were enrolled in a 12-week course, structured to reflect science education reform principals, at a liberal arts college. Examples of environmental issues included the CHEERS pesticide study on children; use of depleted uranium in military conflicts; a homeowner's plastic lawn; and local cases of environmental racism. According to the emergent model, a controversial issue must have an element of injustice to affect a student's moral code or value system, thus, provoking feelings of cognitive dissonance. An environmental issue may be deemed controversial if the injustice exhibits elements of inequality, absence of freedom, or intentional affliction or abuse. To reduce the dissonance, some students sought participation in environmentally-friendly practices beyond the classroom.

Keywords: controversial issues, STS, socioscientific issues, cognitive dissonance, belief in just world, environmental justice, environmental activism, environmental education, environmental science courses, non-science majors, environmental case studies, environmental news events, moral codes, value systems

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