Accepting the teaching profession as my destiny, I was tormented by the classroom reality I had known both as an undergraduate and a graduate student. The vast majority of our professors lacked basic communication skills, they were not self-actualized, and they often used the classroom to enact rituals of control that were about domination and the unjust exercise of power. -bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress, 1994
Extending the rational characteristics of scientific inquiry to the social construction of a scientific community assumes that intellectual spaces are, by default, culturally neutral, with no group dominating in ways that serve to marginalize others. Conflating the element of objectivity with the action of objectivism, universalism masks the immutable role of institutional racism as a central feature of postsecondary STEM. -Lorenzo Dubois Baber, Colorblind Liberalism in Post-Secondary STEM Education, in Diversifying STEM: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Race and Gender, edited by Ebony O. McGee and William H. Robinson, 2020. I believe students and teachers throughout our educational system need and want a redesigned model of teaching and learning, one that recaptures our sense of wonder and prizes wholeness—that is, a model that focuses on the delicate balance between our inner life of intuition, emotion, and sense of meaning and purpose, and the outer world of action and service. In short, we need a model that speaks to our humanity, compassion, and care for our self-worth and the external world we inhabit. -Laura Rendon, Sentipensante, 2009
During recent years marked by a global pandemic, vast social upheaval, and powerful uprisings against white supremacy, many college STEM classes not only failed to address or even acknowledge these issues, but instead doubled down on pedagogies of control, oppression, and injustice. Educators uncritically adopted technologies of hyper-surveillance with web cameras and AI to continuously monitor students in their homes for any signs of cheating, such as looking away from the screen, standing, stretching, talking, eating, drinking, breathing. Despite abundant evidence that students were experiencing trauma and needed community and care, many faculty continued to adhere to instructor-centered teaching practices that treat education as transactional: information is presented, memorized, and submitted in high stakes testing, and college degrees are a certification of knowledge and technical skills to be put to use in the job market, as opposed to evidence of a commitment to critical inquiry, social responsibility, and the ability to hold complexity.
Within this dominant STEM culture, however, many educators have pursued alternative approaches to their teaching, often inspired by critical, feminist, and anticolonial theories of education. A variety of justice-centered educators, including graduate students, contingent faculty, and workers outside of prestigious universities, are transgressing the hegemony of STEM education within institutions that largely fail to support, and often hinder, their work as liberatory educators. Inspired by these educators and scholars, and by my own learning with students, I am exploring these two questions:
What are the privileged agreements of STEM culture, and how do they limit the possibility of teaching practices that invite holistic learning and recognize the humanity of students and educators?
What visions and theories can we bring to science education that offer alternative pedagogies for equitable, justice-oriented, liberatory teaching and learning?
[Incomplete research notes- please feel free to comment]