The value of science literacy is often taken for granted on the grounds that some understanding of science is useful for all students, not just those who will become scientists. In this paper, the author considers whether science literacy, as traditionally imagined, is actually useful. The paper includes a summary of current perspectives on science literacy, all of which, he argues, aim to produce marginal insiders: people who have had a glimpse of science content and process but no sense of how to connect science with their everyday lives. The author argues for a new perspective on science literacy that integrates research on “public engagement with science” with research on science education. According to this new perspective, school, agencies, and ISEs should help people become competent outsiders with respect to science: people who recognize when science is relevant to their lives and can interact with sources of scientific expertise to help them achieve their own goals.
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