Race and Biology: A Case Study Of Curriculum Development

GivItAGo: Today’s topic is the teaching of race to biology students…

    (GivItAGo [=”we should try it and see how it goes” in Australian English] stands center stage behind a lectern; Sceptico sits in a chair to the side watching; Jokero sits at the back of the audience. All have their names on big name tags.)

Sceptico (stands up): Time Out. What are you doing — standing behind a podium and lecturing? This is a BioQuest workshop — the audience should be involved in Posing the problem, Problem-solving, and Persuading others of the value of their approach.
(GivItAGo listens thoughtfully and during the following exchange continues to ponder the problem.)
Jokero (pops up and calls out from the back): Oh, that’s what the 3Ps are — I thought it was Perform to Provoke.
Sceptico: That’s only two Ps.
Jokero: Are you sure?
Sceptico: Yes, I’m sure.
Jokero: Oh well, I never had classes on numbers. That’s content. My teachers were only interested in process. (sits down)
GivItAGo (moving in front of the lectern): OK, let’s give this a try. We have prepared a script and we want to perform it. But, after we’ve run through it once, let’s start again and allow the audience to question what we say and suggest alternatives.
(Sceptico indicates sceptical assent [think of Clinton’s pursed lips, but without the smirk] and sits down.)
G: Today we’re going to explore the teaching of race to biology students.
S: Why teach about race? — don’t you aspire to a race blind society?
G: I do want a prejudice-free society, but we’re not nearly there yet. Race is still very important in US society, whether or not people think it should be. Turning a blind eye to it is not going to make discrimination go away.
S: OK, but still I don’t think you should teach race in a biology class. It sends the message that race is based in the facts of biology. Look at the history of biology being used to justify exploitation of one social group by another, and often to justify the extermination of the subordinant group.
G: Good point, Sceptico. Let’s put “facts about biology” and “race and historical case studies” on the list of things we should teach about biology and race.
S: History in a biology class!?
J: (pops up) Didn’t someone famous once say: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of history”? (sits down)
G: I’m not sure how it will work, but let’s give it a go. (Walks over to flip chart and writes down “factual lessons” and “historical case studies.”)
S: Are you proposing that there are facts that stand for themselves?
G: Good point. Let’s add “conceptual lessons.” (does so)
S: I don’t think the distinction factual vs. conceptual is very helpful for thinking about how to teach this material.
G: You might be right, but here’s my thinking —
1. Race is such an important issue in shaping culture, psychology, economics in the United States. So we have to address it whenever it can help to do so.
2. Reciprocally, there are many cultural, psychological, economic, and other facets to how people’s understanding and actions with respect to race are shaped. And the facets differ from person to person. So let’s think of the task of addressing race as one of helping students assemble a tool box from which they can draw when faced with race.
3. In our biology curriculum, we can help students assemble tools that relate to the facets of race where biology is involved, or, at least, is invoked. (Changes “lessons” to “tools” on flip chart.)
(to be continued)

Prepared June 99 at a BioQUEST workshop, as a result of interaction with Steve Fifield, Raquell Holmes, and Joel Hagen.

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One thought on “Race and Biology: A Case Study Of Curriculum Development

  1. Pingback: Race and Biology: A Case Study Of Curriculum Development II « Intersecting Processes

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