Addressing Racisms and Anti-Racisms in Science and Teacher Education Research

Co-Investigators: Ng-A-Fook, N., & Ibrahim, A., & Labelle, P., & Lewis, L., & McGuire-Adams, T.

Research Team: Patrick Phillips, Rieley M. O’Leary, Marcus G. Parley, Patrick R. Labelle, Nicholas Ng-A-Fook, Ph.D.

Duration: 2023-2024

Funding: Social Science and Humanities Research Council and Genomics Canada Knowledge Synthesis Grant

Announcement:

Final Report: Click here.

About the Project

Today, although the mainstream understanding of ‘race’ among scientists and science educators is a social construct, studies in major research journals continue to claim race as a valid biological category of human difference. By some measures, the use of race as a biological category has increased in the so-called postgenomic age. Genomics, and in turn science education, are thus caught up in a paradox: ostensibly understanding race to be a poor proxy for human difference while still teaching it as a biological variable. And yet, opportunities for teachers and students to (un)learn the social, cultural and historical dimensions and contexts of genomics remain limited. Worse, typical teaching of science education curricula may foster problematic beliefs in certain racialized biological reductionism and/or its respective essentialisms. Meanwhile, teacher education, as a profession and body of knowledge, is charged with deepening our understanding in relation to such curricular and pedagogical paradoxes. In response, our scoping review sought to address the following questions:

– What research exists within the broader field of genomics education in relation to addressing racisms, diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racisms?

– If such research exists, what are the promising practices for teacher educators and/or science educators?

– Is such research on genomics in relation to anti-racist education taken up within the broader field of educational research and more specifically teacher education research?

– How might existing research on anti-racist education support the translation of such curricular and pedagogical opportunities and/or gaps for current practicing science teachers and/or future teacher candidates?

Key Findings

  • Genetic essentialisms remain a core challenge for teacher education, science education and curriculum policy. All students come to science education with implicit understandings of “race” and genetics learned from popular media and introductions to basic genetic concepts. Most students taking introductory science courses at university are only taught basic genetic literacy, which, even in the case of purportedly progressive science curricula, can serve to reinforce or instill the belief in a biological essence of ‘race.’ Such inattention to reductive essentialist thinking has the danger of reproducing existing racist beliefs within past, present and future policy and practice.
  • Disciplinary siloing limits the teaching and learning of contextualized (social, cultural, historical) genetics/genomics literacy. In the K-12 science curricula, the sociocultural and/or historical contexts of ‘race’ are often relegated (if present at all) to the social sciences and history curricula. However, biological categorizations of ‘race’ are still used to teach basic genetic concepts and/or as a proxy for human difference. Learners are often left with the implicit lesson that ‘race’ is still defined as a biological concept, which in turn reproduces dangerous myths among the public to persist.
  • There is an absence of science education studies and/or research programs in Canada that analyze and synthesize how racisms and settler colonial logics and their respective exclusions have framed historical and/or contemporary conceptions or debates of genetic essentialism and respective racisms in relation to the field of genomic education and its respective literacies.
  • Predominantly white K-12 and higher education institutions continue to reproduce science education and respective curriculum that often limits the educational opportunities for different non-white racialized equity-seeking communities. Most science majors arrive at post-secondary institutions without having learned about racisms and anti-racisms in relation to genomics. In the case of genomics-focused fields, disciplines are often dominated by a white settler colonial logic. Meanwhile, the reproduction of genetic determinisms framed as a biological category of race reinforces beliefs that different, non-white racialized people share DNA that is unique from the rest of humankind.
  • Creating, supporting and enacting science education curricula that introduce students to a humane genomics literacy reduces the dangers of reproducing genetic essentialisms. Genomics and genetics education assume the current order and cultural values, risking the understanding of race as ahistorical rather than seeing it as an historically contingent form of understanding human difference, thus foreclosing critical consciousness of how present and future technosciences might be misused.

Policy Implications

  • There remains a core need for an anti-racist and anti-essentialist humane genomics literacy curriculum for science education. Science teachers must be prepared to teach the racist past and future potential of their disciplines, as well as the present inequalities that scientific racisms maintain. Throughout students’ K-12 educational journeys, science educators are pivotal leaders in disrupting and challenging racisms and taking up anti-racist understandings of genomics science and its respective technologies.
  • An anti-racism and anti-essentializing humane genomics education curriculum should be taught from a cross-disciplinary perspective. Teacher education and methods courses must take up the different concepts put forth within a genomics literacy. A humane genetic literacy has the explicit purpose of refuting genetic essentialism and instead strives to create a society that is more equitable. This requires scaffolding the necessary knowledge and understanding of key genomics concepts across the K-12 science curriculum.
  • Create national, provincial and territorial K-12 professional learning opportunities for teacher educators and science educators to develop and implement curriculum and pedagogies that proactively take up the differences between basic, standard and humane genomics literacies. Such professional learning could disrupt and challenge genetic essentialisms, racisms, exclusions and anti-racist strategic curricular and pedagogical responses.

Further Information

Dr. Nicholas Ng-A-Fook, Professor of Curriculum Studies & Vice-Dean of Graduate Studies, Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa: nngafook@uottawa.ca