Three Canadian professors recently penned an editorial in an influential academic journal arguing that teaching students STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) helps perpetuate “patriarchy,” “heteronormativity,” and other social ills.
Led by University of Alberta professor Marc Higgins, the research editorial “Displacing Methodologies in STEM Education: Theory for Eco-Social Justice” argues that STEM education practices, called “methodologies,” reinforce a variety of social ills.
STEM education practices — such as the traditional way of teaching math — produce “patriarchy, heteronormativity, white supremacy, Eurocentrism, (neo-)colonialism, able-ism, classism, labor inequity, anthropocentrism, and/or others,” the professors claim.
While Higgins declined an interview to clarify, other academics have made similar arguments. Most notable is a University of Illinois academic, who argued that algebra and geometry skills perpetuate “unearned privilege” among white people.
In the recent essay, the Canadian professors go on to vaguely argue that STEM teaching is an “important site in which the movements of power occur, differentially (re)producing articulations of dominance.”
“We need to challenge the mask of innocence and ask ourselves how relations of domination and subordination regulate encounters in classrooms,” they argue, quoting Elizabeth McKinley, an early adopter of the social justice STEM movement.
But there’s hope for the future.
If STEM teachers adopt an explicitly “eco-social justice” stance, the oppression caused by STEM education might be disrupted. This stance can manifest in a variety of educational approaches professors might take.
STEM teachers can take an “anti-oppressive, anti-racist and critical race-based, decolonizing and de/colonizing [sic], queer, Indigenous, gender-equitable, post-colonial, community-based and participatory, critical place-based, [and] inter-species” approach to teaching, they suggest.
Going forward, the professors hope that other STEM professors will take heed.
“For this work to refuse, resist, and resignify the field or STEM… requires critical mass, as well as creative acts of perception and practice: again, STEM education needs methodological disruption and displacement for the possibly of justice to-come.”
This type of thinking about STEM being oppressive isn’t new.
For example, last year, a group of American professors argued in a textbook that math classes are “inaccessible and oppressive” for students lacking the “privilege and power” of their teachers. There are countless other examples.
The editorial was published in the newest issue of the Canadian Journal of STEM, one of the leading international journals for STEM teachers. The journal also recently published pieces on “Feminist Tinkering With Science” and “Blackness Studies in STEM Education.”
PJ Media reached out to the other two co-authors to help us make sense of their editorial, but Marc Higgins declined on their behalf.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen.