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Critical Race Theory and STEM Education  

Terrell R. Morton

Critical race theory (CRT) is a framework that attends to the prevalence, permanence, and impact of racism embedded within and manifested through the policies, practices, norms, and expectations of U.S. social institutions and how those concepts have differentially impacted the lived experiences of Black and Brown individuals. CRT bore out of the legal studies—complemented by philosophical and sociological fields—and has since been applied to a multitude of disciplines including education. Composed of several tenets or principles, CRT approaches to research, scholarship, and praxis take a structural, systematic, or systemic perspective rather than an individual or isolated perspective. CRT provides scholars and practitioners the ability to acknowledge and challenge structural racism and intersectional forms of oppression as foundational to the perceived and experienced inequities outlined by various constituents. In providing such a perspective, CRT facilitates the opportunity for future ideologies that promote radical and transformative change to systems and structures that perpetuate racial and intersectional-based oppression. STEM education—representing the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from inter- and intradisciplinary perspectives—constitutes the norms, ideologies, beliefs, and practices hallmarked by and within these fields, examined both separately as individual disciplines (e.g., science) and collectively (i.e., STEM). These concepts comprise what is noted as the culture of STEM. Scholarship on STEM education, broadly conceived, discusses the influence and impact of STEM culture across P–20+ education on access, engagement, teaching, and learning. These components are noted through examining student experiences; teachers’ (faculty) engagement, pedagogy, and practice; leadership and administration’s implementation of the aforementioned structures; and the creation and reinforcement of policies that regulate STEM culture. Critical race theoretical approaches to STEM education thus critique how the culture of STEM differentially addresses the needs and desires of various racially minoritized communities in and through STEM disciplines. These critiques are based on the fact that the power to disenfranchise individuals is facilitated by the culture of whiteness embedded within STEM culture, a perspective that is codified and protected by society to favor and privilege White people. CRT in STEM education research tackles the influence and impact of racism and intersectional oppression on racially minoritized individuals in and through STEM by revealing the manifestation and implications of racism and intersectional oppression on racially minoritized individuals’ STEM interactions. CRT in STEM also provides opportunities to reclaim and create space that more appropriately serves racially minoritized individuals through the use of counterstories that center the lived experience of said individuals at the crux of epistemological and ontological understandings, as well as the formation of policies, programs, and other actions. Such conceptions strive to challenge stakeholders within STEM to alter their individual and collective beliefs and perspectives of how and why race is a contending factor for access, engagement, and learning in STEM. These conceptions also strive to challenge stakeholders within STEM to reconfigure STEM structures to redress race-based inequity and oppression.


Theories of Tolerance in Education  

Ben Bindewald

Scholars in diverse democratic societies have theorized tolerance in various ways. Classical liberal tolerance can best be understood as non-interference with forms of behavior or expression one finds objectionable. It has been criticized for being too permissive of hate speech and not demanding enough as a theoretical guide to civic education. Alternatively, robust respect is characterized by open-mindedness and respect for diversity. Critics have suggested that it is too relativistic and overly ambitious as a guide to civic education. Discriminating (in)tolerance suggests that tolerance should only be extended to individuals and groups who support the advancement of egalitarian politics and the interests of historically marginalized groups. It has been criticized for being overly authoritarian and dogmatic. Mutuality emphasizes reciprocity and sustained engagement across difference. Critics argue that it is not revolutionary enough to address past injustices and persistent inequality.


Constructivism in Education  

Charlene Tan and Connie S.L. Ng

In light of the broad, multidimensional, and contestable nature of constructivism, a central debate concerns the object of construction. What do we mean when we say that a learner is constructing something? Three general categories, with overlaps in between, are: the construction of meaning, the construction of knowledge, and the construction of knowledge claims. To construct meaning is to make sense of something by understanding both its parts and overall message. To construct knowledge is to obtain what philosophers traditionally call “justified true belief.” There are three conditions in this formulation of knowledge: belief, truth, and justification. Beliefs are intentional, meaningful, and representational, directing a person to attain truth and avoid error with respect to the very thing that person accepts. As for the notions of truth and justification, there are three major theories of truth, namely the correspondence theory, coherence theory, and pragmatic theory; and seven main types of justification, namely perception, reason, memory, testimony, faith, introspection, and intuition. Finally, to construct a knowledge claim is to indicate that one thinks that one knows something. The crucial difference between knowledge and a knowledge claim is that the latter has not acquired the status of knowledge. There are two main implications for teaching and learning that arise from an epistemological exploration of the concept of constructivism: First, educators need to be clear about what they want their students to construct, and how the latter should go about doing it. Informed by learner profiles and other contingent factors, educators should encourage their students to construct meanings, knowledge, and knowledge claims, individually and collaboratively, throughout their schooling years. Second, educators need to guard against some common misconceptions on constructivism in the schooling context. Constructivism, contrary to popular belief, is compatible with direct instruction, teacher guidance, structured learning, content learning, traditional assessment, and standardized testing. In sum, there are no pedagogical approaches and assessment modes that are necessarily constructivist or anticonstructivist. A variety of teaching methods, resources, and learning environments should therefore be employed to support students in their constructing process.


Positive School Leadership Behaviors  

Joseph Murphy, Karen Seashore Louis, and Mark Smylie

To introduce and define the core behaviors of positive school leadership (PSL), we explore six positively anchored sets of work (supporting, developing relationships, establishing values, acting authentically, modeling, and enabling or empowering) that move us beyond the deeply ingrained negative and deficit roots that have defined schooling for over a century. The exploration of research primarily on positive organizational scholarship (POS) accomplishes this, showing that POS attends to the growth of others and helps grow and reinforce relationships that focus on personalization, trust, and caring. Additionally, PSL produces important outcomes, enhancing the cultural climate in schools in particular; however, it is also important to note that the current structure and culture of schooling create significant barriers to the implementation of PSL.


A Multi-Level Model of Moral Functioning: Integrating Socio-Bio-evolutionary Science, Socio-Constructionism, and Constructivist-Developmental Theory  

Silvia Diazgranados Ferráns and Robert L. Selman

Tensions chronically exist in the research literature among bio-evolutionary scientists, constructivist-developmental psychologists, and socio-constructionist scholars about how to describe, understand, and predict our moral functioning. An analysis of the assumptions of each of these theoretical paradigms, the disciplinary fields that inform their conceptual models, and the empirical evidence they use to sustain their claims reveals the tensions that exist, as different communities of scholars assign different roles to nature and nurture, reason and intuition, and to the private minds of individuals and the social intelligibilities available to them in a given time and place of history. Using simple multilevel structures, it is possible to see that the divisions that exist within these scientific communities can be conceptualized in terms of their use of different levels of analysis, as they each focus on different populations and employ different underlying units of time and space. Bio-evolutionary scientists study humans as species, using slow-paced time units of analysis such as millennia, and their studies focus on the epigenetic dimensions of our moral sense, documenting inter-species variance in moral functioning. Socio-constructionists study humans as members of groups, using moderately paced time units of analysis such as decades and centuries, and their studies focus on cultural variations in what different groups of people consider to be good or bad, according to the social structures and intelligibilities that are available to them in a given time and place of history. Constructivist-developmental psychologists study humans as individuals, using fast-paced time units of analysis such as months and years, and their studies focus on the maturational dimension of our moral sense, documenting within- and between-individuals variation throughout their lifetime. Unfortunately, by focusing on different populations and time units, these communities of scholars produce research findings that highlight certain aspects of our moral functioning while downplaying others. Interestingly, complex multilevel structures can illustrate how different levels of analysis are nested within each other and can demonstrate how different scientific endeavors have been striving to account for different sources of variability in our moral functioning. The use of complex multilevel structures can also allow us to understand our moral functioning from a dynamic, complex, multilevel theoretical perspective, and as the product of (a) genetic variations that occur between and within species, (b) variations in the social structures, discourses, and intelligibilities that are available in the culture and regulate what social groups consider good and bad at different places and times of history, and (c) variations in the personal experiences and opportunities of interaction that individuals have in different environments throughout their lifetime. Researchers need to clarify the epigenetic, historical, and developmental rules of our moral functioning, and the ways in which different dimensions interact with each other.


Taking a Well-Being-Centric Approach to School Reform  

Helen Cahill, Babak Dadvand, and Annie Gowing

The well-being challenges of the 21st century are deeply ethical in nature and require activation of collective as well as individual responsibility for the ways in which others are treated. For this reason, school reform initiatives need to equip young people with a wide range of capacities to engage with the challenges of advancing both the wellness of humanity and that of the planet. There is a robust body of theory and research available to inform school reform efforts that aim to accomplish improved individual and collective well-being. This knowledge base emanates from different paradigms and disciplinary traditions. Brought together, these knowledge sources highlight the importance of ensuring that schools invest efforts toward developing ethical, critical, personal, social, and creative capabilities that enable young people to enact care for self, others, society, and the planet. A transdisciplinary approach that expounds on research and theory from diverse disciplines, including well-being education, critical, feminist, and postmodern traditions, and scholarship on youth voice and participation can help efforts toward well-being-centric school reform. Evidence suggests that research-informed well-being education programs can have positive impacts in terms of improved mental, social, and relational health, contributions to learning, and fostering critical thinking skills. These are the skills that are needed by young people to navigate and respond to ethnical challenges with care, compassion, and a sense of responsibility as a relational ethos. Taken together, these advances in thinking and knowledge, derived from different traditions of scholarship, can be harnessed to inform a “well-being-centric” approach to schooling reform that is responsive to the past, present, and future lives of persons, peoples, and the planet. A well-being-centric approach to school reform should harness developments in education knowledge and thinking generated across diverse disciplines within the past 50 years, since the 1970s. This, in turn, requires disrupting the ways in which the disciplinary structures and assessment regimes of secondary schools work as impediments to the transformative change needed to advance student well-being and learning in these changed and challenging times.


Critical Race Parenting in Education  

Cheryl E. Matias and Shoshanna Bitz

Conceptualized as early as 2006 via ideas of the motherscholar, the concept of Critical Race Parenting (otherwise ParentCrit) was first identified in 2016 in an open access online journal to discuss pedagogical ways parents and children can coconstruct understanding about race, racism, whiteness, and white supremacy. Since then Critical Race Parenting/ParentCrit has become more popularized in academic circles, from peer-reviewed conference presentations to special issues by journals. The rationale behind ParentCrit definitions, theoretical roots, parallels to education, implications to education, scholarship and literature, and controversies are explicated to describe what ParentCrit is and where it came from. To effectively articulate its epistemological roots in the idea of the motherscholar to its relation to Critical Race Theory, one must delve into the purposes, evolution, and implications of ParentCrit in education.


Gender, Anticolonialism, and Education  

Jennifer Logue

Anticolonialism is a revolutionary philosophy, a philosophy of revolution. Simply put, it is the struggle for freedom from slavery, settler colonialism, and imperialism. It is the theory and practice of the decolonization of nation-states, as well as of the decolonization of practices of knowledge production, consumption, dissemination, and the entire enterprise of education. It also works to decolonize minds, bodies, and imaginations. Anticolonialism challenges dominant practices of knowledge (and ignorance) production to highlight the intersection of gender, race, and class in what is known and not known about the past as it plays out in the present in education and beyond. Anticolonial scholarship and activism focus on intersectional accounts of history to investigate class- and gender-based forms of violence in some of the most celebrated nonviolent movements. Highlighting the psychic dimensions of domination and resistance is central to the anticolonial project, which elaborates on the boomerang effects of domination and the perils of privilege. This insight is central to imagining a sustainable world of social solidarity and reciprocity. The success of an anticolonial approach to education lies in creating capacities to critically reflect on colonial discourses, institutional structures, educational policy, practice, and pedagogical strategies. The anticolonial project brings to light the psychic life of domination and resistance, which colludes with flaws in the criminal justice system that work to funnel too many children of color out of school and into juvenile and justice systems. Anticolonial educational strategies begin with an intersectional approach to disrupting the school to prison pipeline—a devastating neocolonial formation. Twenty-first-century anticolonial educators and activists learn from the work of student activists in the Mississippi civil rights movement and their creation of Freedom Schools. The radical conceptions of pedagogy, citizenship, and power developed in Freedom Schools have important implications for thinking about the role of education in building a multiracial/multisexual anticolonial democracy in the 21st century.


Trans Theory and Gender Identity in Education  

Alden Jones

Trans theory is a set of ideas, tools, contestations, divergences, and investments in gender(s) in and beyond the gender binary of male and female as it is understood in Western contexts. Gender identity is, in part, an individual’s gendered sense of self. Both transgender theory and gender identity are implicated by and concerned with education given the relative (in)visibility of transgressive or variant genders. Educational spaces are concerned with gender since they are one of many socializing and normalizing structures that seek to instill binary genders. Trans theory and gender identity are understood in educational spaces as additive to the social norm of binary gender, though both the theory and the concept ultimately elucidate the need for a reexamination of what gender is and what it does, as well as to and for whom.


Gender and Education in Postcolonial Contexts  

Barbara Crossouard and Máiréad Dunne

Education has been a central institution in the installation and legitimation of gender binaries and racialized difference in colonial and postcolonial eras. While the term “postcolonial” can refer to the period after which colonized nations gained their independence, a postcolonial critique also engages with the afterlife of the metaphysics of Western modernity. Notably, the imperial project of Western modernity assumed the superiority of the colonizers and provided the legitimation for the deep injustices of colonization to be framed as a “civilizing mission.” In particular, the processes of colonization imposed a “modern/colonial gender system,” which reconstructed the gender norms of many societies around the world, and which subordinated women by binding them to the domestic sphere. Its “biologic” presumed a heterosexual matrix in ways that were also profoundly racialized. Importantly, education was a critical institution that not only legitimated Western knowledges and values, but also secured women’s regulation and subordination. In postcolonial eras, education was given central importance in ways that have tied it to modern imperatives. For the newly independent postcolonial nation, education was critical in the construction of a national imaginary but this framing has reproduced rather than disrupting colonial gender norms. Harnessing education in support of national development inserted the postcolonial nation in a hierarchy of “developed” and “developing” nations. The focus on development similarly permeated efforts at curricular reform, such that they often reproduced the gendered, racialized, and classed hierarchies of colonial education. What counted as legitimate knowledge remained framed by Western elite institutions and their technologies of power. Importantly, from the moment of their independence, the global reach of multilateral organizations has constantly framed the postcolonial trajectories of “developing” nations and their educational reforms. Although often contradictory, the discourses of such organizations intensified the imperatives of education for national development. This compounded pressures to increase educational access beyond elite groups and to include more females. However, the technologies of power that support these international policy agendas bind such reforms to modern imperatives, so that they have become a critical site for the reinscription of binary understandings of gender. This is also true for contemporary international concerns for “quality” education. This is prosecuted largely through promotion of learner-centered education, a concept that is also infused with Western democratic ideals and values. Interrogation of the “hidden curriculum” further shows that the education in postcolonial contexts remains a key institution through which gender is instantiated in essentialized and binary ways, infused by modern ideals of presumptive heteronormativity. Resisting such binaries requires an understanding of gender as something that we “do,” or that we “perform,” within the contingencies and exigencies of particular social and cultural contexts. In turn, these theoretical understandings call for in-depth qualitative studies that can attend to the particularities of the gender regimes in different educational contexts and other intersecting structures of difference (race, ethnicity, religion, class, sexuality) that are rendered invisible by education’s legitimation of difference as a question of disembodied individual merit and ability.