Strategies for Science Teaching and Learning
Just as in broader society, racism operates at multiple levels within science and science education (Haley Mackenzie 2021). Science as a discipline has been used to perpetuate and justify white supremacy (Kendi 2016). At a classroom level, white supremacy can influence who is seen as capable of doing science and who is not. At the same time, science has often been positioned as a race-neutral entity by scientists, teachers, students, and broader society. As a result, its racialized characteristics are left unexamined in science teaching (Patterson Williams and Gray 2021).
Such colorblind ideologies do not prevent the impacts of racism in science classrooms (Leonardo 2013). I present a framework to support noticing and disrupting how racism impacts student learning opportunities in science classrooms. This may support more anti-racist science teaching and learning. I draw on a whiteness framework to explicitly analyze how actions, practices, and spaces are historically and currently organized to support white supremacy. Specifically, I use Frankenberg’s (1993) three-pronged definition of whiteness:
This definition highlights how whiteness works to position white people over people of Color (Picower 2012). It emphasizes that whiteness includes ideologies, structures, and actions (Leonardo 2013). Bonilla-Silva (2017) explains, “The central component of any dominant racial ideology is its frames or sets paths for interpreting information” (p. 1). This definition provides different points of analysis for how to disrupt whiteness in any space, in this case high school science classrooms.
While whiteness is perpetuated systematically, individuals are actors socialized into upholding whiteness (Harro 2000). Often, white people are unaware of their racialized privilege and are uncomfortable discussing their role and benefits in white supremacy (Baldwin 1965). However, it is necessary to analyze how whiteness operates in science education and what teachers and students can do about it. These strategies will support noticing and disrupting racialized power hierarchies, that impede science learning opportunities.
To notice how white supremacy operates within your classroom, work to:
To disrupt racialized power hierarchies, work to:
These noticing and disrupting racialized power hierarchy strategies will support students’ science learning. Becoming attuned to disparities in who and what expertise is valued is key to disrupting whiteness operating within science classrooms. While this does not address the systemic nature of whiteness, it does provide insight into ways teachers and students can begin divesting in whiteness as they work to become more antiracist (Matias 2016).
Baldwin, J. 1965. White man’s guilt. Ebony 47–48.
Bonilla-Silva, E. 2017. Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in America. Largo, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Frankenberg, R. 1993. White women, race matters: The social construction of whiteness. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Haley Mackenzie, A. 2021. The socially-just science classroom: What will we teach with critical race theory under attack? The Science Teacher 89 (1): 6–7.
Harro, B. 2000. The cycle of socialization. In Readings for diversity and social justice: An anthology on racism, eds. M. Adams, W.J. Blumenfeld, D. Chase, J. Catalano, K. Dejong, H.W. Hackman, L.E. Hopkins, B. Love, M.L. Peters, D. Shlasko, X. Zuniga, pp. 15–21. New York: Routledge.
Kendi, I.X. 2016. Stamped from the beginning: The definitive history of racist ideas in America. London: Hachette UK.
Leonardo, Z. 2009. Race, whiteness, and education. New York: Routledge.
Leonardo, Z. 2013. Race frameworks: A multidimensional theory of racism and education. New York: Teachers College Press.
Matias, C.E. 2016. Feeling white: Whiteness, emotionality, and education. New York: Springer.
Patterson Williams, A., and S. Gray. 2021. (W) holistic Science Pedagogy: Teaching for Justice. The Science Teacher 89 (1): 52–57.
Picower, B. 2012. Practice what you teach: Social justice education in the classroom and the streets (Vol. 13). New York: Routledge.