Race in late 20th-century biology education
Monday, November 4, 2013
: 4:30 PM - 4:50 PM
How has growing knowledge about human genetics affected American schools' teaching on race? In the first study to examine the treatment of race in high-school science instruction, I analyze 80 biology textbooks published from 1952 to 2002. This research reveals that after a long period of decline in attention to race, U.S. biology texts have pursued the topic with renewed vigor in recent years, inserting it into lessons on genetic disorders and debate on human evolutionary history. Moreover, textbooks have redefined race as genetic without furnishing empirical evidence for this framing, in sharp contrast to the copious explanations and illustrations that were deployed to support the earlier phenotypic model of race. The textbooks' transformation sheds light on the broader relationship between race and science in the United States, where claims about racial difference have not only drawn instrumentally and selectively from empirical research, but at times forgo scientific grounding altogether. As the textbooks show, both the tight and the loose linkage of race to science can preserve the cultural authority of the race concept. The texts also make clear that race is not a one-time construct or relic of centuries past, surviving only through cultural and institutional inertia. Instead, it is continually remade—and is being reworked today—suggesting its dynamic adaptation for ongoing use as a fundamental tool of social stratification.
Diversity and culture
Social and behavioral sciences
Identify the principal messages that U.S. biology textbooks convey about race.
Keywords: Ethnicity, Education
Presenting author's disclosure statement:
Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I hold a Ph.D. in sociology from Princeton University and am the author of a book entitled "The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference," published by the University of California Press in 2011.
Any relevant financial relationships? No
I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines,
and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed
in my presentation.