Supporting Excellent Science Teaching for Georgia

Navigating Negative Narratives for Change by Dr. Patricia Morgan

26 Jun 2020 3:57 PM | Heather Cowart (Administrator)

By: Dr. Patricia Morgan, President of the Georgia Science Supervisors Association

Dear GSTA, 

Over the past week, our mailboxes have been flooded with corporate messages about solidarity, outrage, and even a few calls-to-action. The larger conversation has been centered on racism in our justice system; however, equally important are the critical discourses we must now engage in as it pertains to the racial disparities and social injustices in science education. As a Black woman science leader, I have experienced marginalization and othering both during my schooling experience and throughout my career. I am taking a stand for racial and social justice for our students, those same students that we profess to love and support.  Many students receive schooling that acts as the source of their oppression. We have the power within our community of Science Ed to redress these injustices. Here are some real and actionable steps we can take to combat racism within our own curriculum in ways that will liberate our students from the oppression, marginalization, and othering that exist within the curriculum.

Curriculum is NOT a set of standards. Curriculum is both prescriptive (planned interactions) and descriptive (experiences). Think of the curriculum as being your game plan in football. Standards are the rulebooks and are consistent throughout our state and are in place to ensure the fidelity of the game. However, there are aspects of the curriculum that varies and also impacts the game plan. These are textbooks, ancillary materials and consumables, labs, scientific discourses, hidden curriculum, AND learning experiences. Sadly, some students’ learning experiences, thus their game plan, are stained with racism, sexism, classism, and a multitude of other isms that oppress our students. School is just a microcosm of our society. 

I loathe hearing “we need more time to digest this” or “there’s no silver bullet to fix this.” Because actually there is a fix, and our students shouldn’t have to endure another school year of systemic injustices as we grapple with our feelings. Our students do not have educational gaps, we have an educational debt that must be addressed and paid swiftly. Below I highlight five things we can do immediately to create equitable spaces in science:

  1. Critically examine your biases (implicit and explicit), privilege, and cultural competence. 

    a. Need help → Take Harvard’sProject Implicit Test. Also, watch and read the following:Your Privilege is Showing,The Danger of a Single Story,Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,National Museum of African American History and Culture, andCultural Competency.   

  2. Remove deficit-based languages from your vocabulary. For example, “those kids don’t speak English” vs. “my students are multilingual.”  

    a. Need help → Remove deficit language and instructional practices from your teaching toolbox. For example, stop teaching science content words in isolation of experience (e.g., seeSTEMTeachingToolfor tips).

  3. Question if your students see themselves reflected in the curriculum or are they the same dominant identity markers (cis white males)? For example, Chambers (1983) studied students’ depiction of scientists from 1966 to 1977 and found that 0.6% of elementary-age children drew a female scientist during his “The draw‐a‐scientist test.” Miller et al. (2018) continued this work with a meta-analysis of five decades of continued testing and found that now 28% of children drew female scientists.     

    a. Need help → Ensure your class posters and resources represent the children you serve. Also, partner with your families and community to explore and highlight your student’sFunds of Knowledge.

  4. Help students develop a critical consciousness so that they too become change agents. Most times (or just during Black History Month) we share positive narratives of Black people in STEM (i.e., Hidden Figures) but we fail to discuss and have courageous conversations about systemic oppression and abuse of Black people in Science (e.g.,  Henrietta Lacks and Cell Research, Tuskegee Syphilis Study, Beyonce, Serena and the High Mortality Rate of Black Mothers, etc.). 

    a. Teach both realities and have them challenge the current status-quo of the social order. Need help → Read and watch the following: But That's Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,Teaching Tolerance,Cooperative Children’s Book Center Diversity Resources,Teaching for Change,Coretta Scott King Book Award Winners,STEM Teaching Tools,The National Association for Multicultural Education,Social Justice: National Museum of American History Resources, etc. 

  5. Review course sequences and course offerings for children of color and disaggregate student placement in remedial, gifted, honors, and AP courses by ethnicity and gender. What does this data tell you? You may be surprised to see that for years, low-income/ high IQ students are steered away from gifted courses due to their teachers’ perception of their abilities, and children of color are steered away from more advanced and rigorous courses than their white peers. I’ve heard plenty of horrible excuses for this practice (e.g., “My students can’t read on grade level for Biology, so I am going to place them in Earth Science to start”). This is wrong and as someone that sat on the Earth Science Standards Revision Committee, I can ensure you that Earth Science is just as vocab intensive as Biology. The ugly truth is that we try to steer students away from Biology because it is a tested subject and tested subjects require accountability. 

    a. Critically review course entrance rubrics and staff these courses with highly qualified staff that want to teach diverse students. Need help → Read Unequal Opportunity: Race and Education, and Hierarchy and Discrimination: Tracking in Public Schools


Patricia Morgan, Ph.D.

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