STE(A)M Education & Democracy



Professor Geraldine Mooney Simmie | Interrupting the Discourse | 02 October 2023


Where Do I Begin

I have a great interest in the discursive power of EDUCTION in general, and STE(A)M
EDUCATION in particular, to influence with honor and to make a lasting emancipatory
difference to people’s lives in what is an increasingly unequal globalizing world.

There are several different intellectual traditions that frame and script the human being
and their development and change story differently.

My belief system is that education aspires to both nurture a rich inner (soul) world of
human consciousness as well as learning to live well in a social and material world. This
takes an expansive view of education as relational and understands the purposes of
education as always multiple and contradictory, deeply personal and connected to
freedom of conscience and at the same time deeply ethical and political in relation to our
collective (democratic) responsibility in the social reconstruction of the wider world.

This intellectual tradition, is worth ‘fighting for’ today in the multidisciplinary field of
education and is connected to theories from critical pedagogy and feminist studies. This
sustains my purpose as an academic, an educator and science (STEAM) researcher.

At the same time, I am aware of the dangers of advocating for a naïve view of human
empowerment and resilience in the face of the underpinning model of human capital
theory that dominates education as a singular ‘discipline’ for primacy of the markets.

This begs the question of how can we reorient education away from a commodity view of
human beings and human change, from a functionalist gaze on human development that
is formulaic and damaging to the soul (see the paper in the Harvard Review by Shulman in
1989 talking about his fears when introducing a systematic study of teachers’ practices).

So how might education in general, and STE(A)M Education need to be framed in order to
make a (trans)formative difference to the greater good of society and democracy in
Ireland, the wider world and for a sustainable future of the planet [and not just an
economic sustainability]. Will cognitive and affective development while necessary be
sufficient to ensure we all step up and play our part in assuring justice and equality for all?

The problem is where to begin this blog, in a carefully considered way, that can hold onto
the multiple and contradictory purposes of STEAM Education & Democracy in the world
today and yet shine a light on what is happening, on where we are going wrong while
offering hope on what we need to do differently to make this aspiration a reality.

We clearly need to reorient education away from a narrow focus, from a rapidly increasing
and dominating narrative that is cleverly disguised in the policy and politics of education
as a practice for predetermined outcomes and a risk averse and predictable future.

How to do this without presenting some unattainable utopia and/or some dogmatic
approach that is dressed up as a closed system of formulae with ‘to-do lists’?

When we listen to local, national and world news today and the hear the injustices and
inequalities wrought from drugs, war, migration, floods, heat waves, global pandemics,
famine, genocides, misinformation, the precarious nature of the education and
advancement of women and girls and other minorities in the 21st century, and the lack of
dignified living conditions of so many people – we are presented with very pressing socio-scientific problems that education and STEM education cannot hide from and, at the very
same time cannot magic up a fix-by-formula solution.

We are clearly called on in the words of Donna Haraway, a scientist and environmentalist
to ‘stay with the trouble’ so that education centered on human change and development
can make a difference to the emancipation of humans, other species and eco-justice at a
planetary level. Using the words of Hargreaves and Fullan, that’s what appears to me to be
‘whats worth fighting for’ in STEAM Education and Democracy in Ireland today.

− My interest as an educational researcher and activist is in the relations, living
contradictions, dilemmas and possibilities between scientific knowledge, situated
knowledge and different ways of knowing in STEAM Education & Democracy at a
time when democracy is fragile and brittle and coming under serious threat that is
lowering capacity for us to co-operate and truly care for other humans (outside our
familial circles), other species and the planet.

− We clearly need ongoing access to new STEAM knowledge, and knowledge-incontext, and understanding the big ideas and concepts in the science behind
pressing issues such as climate change. However, history tells us that cognitive
development alone, while necessary will not be sufficient to make the ethical,
social, affective and political changes needed for the survival of humanity and the
future sustainability of the planet.

We need to learn how to listen and care for one another with a generous spirit and
empathy, outside our immediate familial circles, so that we can do the right thing
ethically and politically for the wider world. Clearly STEAM education has a
pivotal role to play in this raising of social consciousness. How can this expansive
role be grasped if education is viewed in simplistic and formulaic terms as a data
based product or as a private good for the self-regulating (competitive) individual?

− I have come to understand the problem of STEAM Education & Democracy as a
deep socio-cultural problem rather than a problem of excellent instruction and/or
ethics for a normative and empirical consensus. We are called on today to engage
in discursive ethics, to open new and fruitful conversations about values and
dilemmas with people, especially people who are not only like us.

− This can become a starting place for my blog for this academic year 2023-2024! I
was going to give you a link to a BBC podcast on HARDtalk, an interview on 18th
Sept 2023 with Stephen Sackur and the Historian and Author Yuval Noah Harari.

I’ll include the link but I now understand it might only be available in the UK



Yuval is asking very deep questions in this episode of BBC HARDtalk. Stephen is pressing
him hard, too hard at times. I wish he would have let him talk more. But the frightening
observation made here is that we need to grasp and carefully consider democracy as a way
of government that aspires toward equality, liberty and fraternity. It simply cannot be
understood as a form of majority rule (full-stop).

This revisiting of what is meant by democracy is especially important at a time when
artificial intelligence is signaling the arrival of new super intelligence and control systems
that the world has never known before. Democracy is a unique best-worst system of
government that allows elected representatives govern but only in the direction of public
interest values for the greater good of society, and with checks and balances [laws, human
rights] that prevent rule by an elite for fascination with the political economy.

I love how Yuval ends his talk speaking about what culture is and how people over long
historical timelines have developed their cultures, in the stories and histories they tell
each other, in the signs, values, symbols, myths, dreams and magic created, in the music,
poetry, dance, language, religions we share with our families, friends and communities as
we live out our ethical, social, emotional and political lives, hardships and achievements in
what is a highly complex and fast globalizing, scientific and technological world.

What I want to reconsider here is what role does culture play in education in Ireland,
especially in STEAM Education and its relation to Democracy, and to our new Teaching
Council standards of Global Citizenship Education in Initial Teacher Education. How is it
grasped in cutting-edge and inclusive pedagogical spaces for securing our national
traditions, and at the same time the new spaces we need to open for affordances for new
imaginative ways in responding to the social and political problems of our time e.g.
problems of green energy, inclusive pedagogies, new ways of health and wellbeing and the
possibility for transformative thinking and designs for new architecture in our houses,
towns, hospitals, transport systems and green spaces.

The heart work of STEAM Education & Democracy is clearly upstream of any laws,
procedures and techné, and will need new capacities to educate young people in the
STEAM literacies, in the discursive ethics and care-filled social relations and
consciousness they will need for new ways of ‘being’ in and ‘doing’ the world.

UNESCO 2021 is calling for a new social contract in education, and a new view of
knowledge that will provide a secure ‘floor’ below which no one falls and a ‘ceiling’ on practices that pose a threat to a just society and planet. This call has become the starting
place for our new ESAI Critical & Feminist Special Interest Group in Policy, Research and
Praxis in contemporary times. You can join our membership by clicking on our link here:

What role will STEAM Education & Democracy need to play in Ireland today in order to
secure our birthright as a Celtic nation with a proud history, culture, religion, science,
Gaelic games and ethical values and, at the same time, make way for a pluralist democracy
for securing the birthright of the next generation for a future of uncertainty?

 Edling, S. & Mooney Simmie, G. (2020). Democracy and Teacher Education: Dilemmas,
Challenges and Possibilities. London: Routledge.
 Short videos of key ideas and concepts to accompany Democracy and Teacher Education
 Mooney Simmie, G. (2022). How can the philosophy of education inform STEM Education
Policy in schooling and higher education in a post-Covid pluralist and democratic Ireland:
Growing back better. In E. Costello, Girme, D. Hyland, T. Kaur, O. Kelly, T. McLoughlin, &
P. Van Kampen (Eds) Proceedings of the CASTeL 9th STEM Education Research Conference (pp. 66-78) Dublin City University [25th June 2022].


Contact Details

Professor Geraldine Mooney Simmie, Professor of Education (STEM Education)
Director EPI•STEM National Centre for STEM Education, Room A1064
School of Education, University of Limerick. Email: