The imperative to move toward a dimension of care in engineering education

Kristin L. Gunckel, Sara Tolbert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


The push for STEM has raised the visibility of engineering as a discipline that all students should learn. With the release of the Framework for K-12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), engineering now has an official place in the science curriculum. In both the Framework and the NGSS, engineering is framed as a way to solve the world's greatest problems. Despite this potential, there are troubling aspects in the way that the Framework and NGSS present engineering and how engineering is taken up in the curriculum. In this article, we use critiques of technocracy, utilitarianism, and neoliberalism to analyze the portrayal of engineering in the Framework and NGSS. We claim that the Framework and NGSS promote a technocratic perspective that engineered solutions can all problems, ignoring the socio-political foundations of many of the world's most pressing problems. Furthermore, both standards documents reflect a utilitarian ethic that promotes all progress as good and ignores issues of justice. Lastly, the Framework and NGSS betray neoliberal foundations that undermine education and engineering as public goods. To address some of these issues, others have argued for a greater emphasis on ethics. In response, we raise cautions because ethical framings present further intractable dilemmas. Instead, we draw on feminist theory to argue for reframing engineering education around an ethos of empathy and care. We call for a dimension of care that situates design problems in the full socio-political context and centralizes issues of justice. We provide an illustration of how an NGSS example activity for designing solar cookers could incorporate a dimension of care that addresses issues of harm, power and inequality, and ecological (in)stability to provide students with opportunities to weigh and take responsibility for the real costs and benefits of their designs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)938-961
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Research in Science Teaching
Issue number7
StatePublished - Sep 2018


  • caring
  • engineering
  • neoliberalism
  • technocracy
  • utilitarianism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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