IDRA Recommends Accurate Inclusion of Scientific History
• Stephanie Garcia, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • September 2020 •
Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from the letter IDRA submitted to the Texas State Board of Education as it prepares to update the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Science.
A critical part of preparing students for success is teaching curricula that accurately portray the contributions of the diverse individuals and communities that are part of our collective story. As state board members consider revisions to the Science Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), IDRA urges inclusion of the scientific achievements of women and people of color – groups that are conspicuously and shamefully absent from the current standards. We also urge the board to confront social justice issues head-on – name them clearly, identify the scientists and scientific theories that have addressed or exacerbated injustices, and help students see science as a way to solve persistent social and systemic inequities.
Currently, every scientist named in the K-12 Texas TEKS is a white male. There is not a single contribution from a woman or scientist of color in the science standards for the State of Texas, where students of color make up about 72% of the public school population.
A recent study found that only 8% of scientists represented in textbooks (aligned to the standards) were people of color, resulting in a “significant underrepresentation” of Asian and Latina women, and no representation of Black women or Indigenous people (Wood, 2020). This portrayal of scientific history is patently inaccurate and extremely troubling.
When students cannot see themselves as scientists, they do not pursue careers in the sciences, and we are all denied the benefits of their creativity and brilliance.
As Texas State Board of Education members know from their work on the Mexican American Studies and African American Studies course standards, it is important for students to see themselves and their communities reflected in their coursework. And it is critical to equip teachers with the standards and materials to do their best work. Students and teachers are most successful, and schools are safer, with culturally sustaining and truthful curricula and pedagogy.
As is true in every subject, research indicates that all students benefit from learning about diverse scientists who reflect their identities. These benefits include:
- Increased feelings of belonging in the science classrooms and in science fields (Garcia, 2019);
- Increased identity and interest in the subject area, cultural knowledge and academic self-concept (Moore Mensah, 2020); and
- Increased agency and civic engagement that connect to the science content in more meaningful ways (Byrd, 2006).
IDRA leads the IDRA EAC-South, one of four federally-funded equity assistance centers that provide training to schools, education agencies and teachers on issues related to race-, gender-, religion-, and national origin-based discrimination. We also coordinate the IDRA Texas Chief Science Officers (CSO) program, which empowers student leaders to connect with their communities and other CSO programs around the world to create a diverse pipeline of STEM leaders. Additionally, many IDRA staff are former educators with a keen understanding of the need for comprehensive TEKS that teachers across the state can build on to develop their curriculum.
From these vantage points, we have observed students struggling with making connections to the science content and the field. The current canon of white male scientists in the curricula makes it difficult for students to see themselves as scientists. When students cannot see themselves as scientists, they do not pursue careers in the sciences, and we are all denied the benefits of their creativity and brilliance.
As of 2019, only 17% of students in Texas selected the STEM endorsement and an even smaller number are graduating with this endorsement (TEA, 2019). Changes are immensely needed to strengthen the Texas K-12 STEM pipeline and students’ overall success and trajectory in STEM. This work begins with cultivating students’ STEM identities in K-12 classrooms.
In order to disrupt the current status quo and make explicit efforts to move toward equity and dismantle the systemic barriers our students continue to face, we must revise our K-12 science standards. Below are IDRA’s recommendations for revisions to the K-12 science TEKS.
Directly confront social issues, such as racism and sexism, that exist in Texas’ science standards and are present in today’s STEM field. It is not a secret that social inequities are very present in science (historically and currently). Examples include medical research (unethical research that oppresses marginalized communities); men taking credit for women’s contributions (the many “Hidden Figures” in science history); and people being denied rights because of their DNA (race, gender, ability and more). IDRA recommends the SBOE consult with an advisory group to collect feedback from communities and other experts about the contributions of historically marginalized groups.
Create curricular connections to social issues to broaden students’ understanding and increase authentic learning. Research shows that “a direct focus on race and culture in the classroom is beneficial” and avoiding this “promotes mistrust of the education system for students who are already aware of discrimination and leaves the others unprepared for the world outside of school” (Byrd, 2016). Middle and high school students have the cognitive ability and capacity to understand social inequities as they relate to the science field. We do them a serious disservice when we deny them the opportunity to learn about those inequities. IDRA recommends professional development for teachers to use to build their capacity to facilitate these conversations in science classrooms, making deliberate and authentic connections to science content.
Do not remove interdisciplinary connections, such as history, from our science standards. It is greatly beneficial to incorporate multiple disciplines and perspectives in a subject matter (Garcia, 2019). These connections leverage opportunities to incorporate culturally responsive practices and help students make meaningful connections to the curriculum, thus increasing academic performance (Byrd, 2016). These connections also help to broaden perspectives and challenge misconceptions that science is only for white men.
Explicitly name those who have valuably contributed to the science field. Merely adding the word “diverse” to the eighth grade Science and Engineering Practices, as proposed (TEA, 2020) for example, is not an acceptable revision. There are many female scientists of color who can be incorporated in our science TEKS (Ignotofsky, 2016). This should not be an additive approach that only lists their names and briefly describes their contributions. There are authentic opportunities to connect their valuable work in the science field to our K-12 science content. It is not acceptable to erase their contributions from our science curriculum. Students’ experiences in STEM coursework greatly impacts their STEM trajectories after high school, so this has great implications for broadening representation in STEM degrees and careers (Johnson, 2016; Carlisle, 2020).
There are many women of color scientists who can be named in our K-12 science standards. (See infographic.)
We look forward to working with the board to expand access to equitable and excellent schools for all students, including future scientists.
Byrd, C. (2016). Does Culturally Responsive Teaching Work?, Educational Psychology.
Carlisle, G. (2020). Promoting Justice in Science Education, Medium.
Garcia, S. (2019). Pre-service Elementary Teach ERS Enacting a Critical Race Curriculum in Science: A Multi-case Study, doctoral dissertation. University of Texas at San Antonio.
Ignotofsky, R. (2016). Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press.
Johnson, P. (February 2016). STEM Pathways for Girls of Color – A Review of the Literature, IDRA Newsletter.
Moore-Mensah, F. (2020). A Need for Anti-Racist/Abolitionist Science Teaching, presentation.
TEA. (2019). Statewide Foundation High School Program (FHSP) Enrollment Reports, PEIMS Reports. Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency.
TEA. (June 2020). Scientific and Engineering Practices Work Group Recommendations. Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency.
Women You Should Know. (February 11, 2019). STEM Role Models Posters, Nevertheless Podcast.
Wood, S., Henning, J.A., Chen, L., McKibben, T., Smith, M.L. Weber, M., Zemenick, A., & Ballen, C.J. (June 24, 2020). A Scientist Like Me: Demographic Analysis of Biology Textbooks Reveals Both Progress and Long-Term Lags, Proceedings of the Royal Society.
Stephanie Garcia, Ph.D., is an IDRA education associate and directs the IDRA Texas Chief Science Officer program. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2020, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 2020 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]