Salient Complication

Submitted By:
Stephanie Lipkowitz, Albuquerque Academy, Albuquerque, NM

Can Biology Class Reduce Racism? by Amy Harmon
The New York Times, December 7, 2019

To counter the destructive "race-science" of the first half of the twentieth century, many biology teachers continue to avoid any mention of the genetics of race. At both the secondary and post-secondary levels, science teachers have largely left all discussions of race to social science classes, which in turn describe race as a purely cultural construct. Recently, however, some researchers are considering ways of teaching "complex genetics" in order to counter the sticky misperceptions that students have about the relationship between genetics and race. With grants from the National Science Foundation, these researchers have begun to train biology teachers to surface student misperceptions, facilitate the charged discussions that can potentially feel unsafe to students, and deliver content that helps complicate student understanding of the genetics of racial differences. The goal is for students to see the highly intricate web of relationships between a person's genome and their environment as well as the ways that systemic racism contributes to outcomes for all groups. This article could serve as an excellent launch for interdisciplinary work between science and humanities departments. More important, it can provide an inspiration for biology teachers to courageously and directly confront the questions students have about this difficult topic – one which remains stubbornly salient in American culture.