skip to main content

Title: From Basic to Humane Genomics Literacy: How Different Types of Genetics Curricula Could Influence Anti-Essentialist Understandings of Race
Genetic essentialism of race is the belief that racial groups have different underlying genetic essences which cause them to differ physically, cognitively, or behaviorally. Apparently no published studies have explored if belief in genetic essentialism of race among adolescents differs after many weeks of formal instruction about different domains of genetics knowledge. Nor have any studies explored if such differences reflect a coherent change in students’ racial schemas. We use a quasi-experimental design (N = 254 students in 7th-12th grade) to explore these gaps. Over the course of three months, we compared students who learned from a curriculum on multifactorial inheritance and genetic ancestry to students who learned from their business as usual (BAU) genetics curriculum that discussed Mendelian and molecular genetics without any reference to race, multifactorial genetics, or genetic ancestry. Relative to the BAU condition, classrooms that learned from the multifactorial genetics and ancestry curriculum grew significantly more in their knowledge of multifactorial genetics and decreased significantly more in their genetic essentialist perceptions, attributions, and beliefs. From a conceptual change perspective, these findings suggest that classrooms using a curriculum emphasizing genetic complexity are more likely to shift toward a coherent anti-essentialist understanding of racial difference.
Authors:
; ;
Award ID(s):
1660985
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10182697
Journal Name:
Science and Education
ISSN:
2181-0842
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Some genetics educators have recently argued that improving students’ genomics literacy could prevent students from developing erroneous beliefs about social identity, such as the belief that racial groups differ cognitively and behaviorally because of their genes; a belief called genetic essentialism. To date, however, little research has explored if or how a conceptual understanding of genomics protects against the development of genetic essentialism. Using a randomized control trial (RCT) (N = 721, 9th-12th graders), we explore if students with more genomics literacy are more able to conceptually change their genetic essentialist beliefs after engaging in a learning experience designed tomore »refute essentialist thinking. The results of the RCT demonstrated that students with higher genomics literacy (relative to those with lower genomics literacy) exhibited greater reductions in the perception of racial differences and greater reductions in belief in genetic essentialism after learning about patterns of human genetic variation. These results suggest that genetics education can protect students from developing a belief in genetic essentialism when it provides them with opportunities to learn multifactorial genetics and population thinking in conjunction with how these concepts refute essentialist thinking.« less
  2. Conflation of sex and gender is implicated in the development of essentialist thinking, which has been linked to the justification of systems of prejudice in modern society. This exploratory study presents findings from a person randomized control trial conducted with 460 students in 8th–10th grade that investigated the extent to which students conflate sex and gender in their writing about genetics. Students were randomly assigned to one of three short readings that either (1) explained the genetics of sex in plants; (2) explained the genetics of sex in humans; or (3) refuted neuro-genetic essentialism, offering instead a social explanation formore »why women receive fewer PhDs in science, technology, mathematics, and engineering than men. While previous findings from the authors suggest links between the condition students were assigned to and psychological indicators related to essentialist thinking, no work was done to investigate how students’ use of language might implicate cognitive conflation as a possible factor in understanding these results. In this study, student responses to a constructed response writing task given after the reading were analyzed to investigate the use of sex and gender language. Students in all three conditions used both sex and gender language. However, students in the refutational text condition tended to use sex and gender language deliberately in order to explain PhD attainment, while students in the traditional genetics conditions used the terms interchangeably, suggesting subconscious conflation. Students in the genetics of human sex condition were more likely to manifest this conflation than students in the genetics of plant sex condition. Implications for instruction are discussed.« less
  3. Previous research often suggests that people who endorse more essentialist beliefs about social groups are also likely to show increased prejudice towards members of these social groups, and there is even some evidence to suggest that essentialism may lead to prejudice and stereotyping. However, there are several notable exceptions to this pattern in that, for certain social groups (e.g., gay men and lesbians), higher essentialism is actually related to lower prejudice. The current studies further explored the relationship between essentialism and prejudice by examining a novel type of essentialism—transgender essentialism (i.e., essentializing transgender identity), and its relationship to prejudice towardsmore »transgender people. Study 1 (N = 248) tested the viability of transgender essentialism as a construct and examined the association between transgender essentialism and transprejudice, while Studies 2a (N = 315), 2b (N = 343), 3a (N = 310), and 3b (N = 204) tested two casual pathways to explain this relationship. The results consistently showed that the more that people endorse transgender essentialist beliefs, the warmer their feelings towards trans people (relative to cis people) were, echoing past research showing a similar relationship between essentialism and prejudice towards sexual minorities. However, the manipulations of both essentialism (Studies 2a and 2b) and prejudice (Studies 3a and 3b) were largely unsuccessful at changing the desired construct, meaning we were unable to provide direct causal tests. The one exception was a successful manipulation of the universality of trans experiences, but even here this resulted in no change in prejudice. The primary contribution of this work is in robustly demonstrating that greater transgender essentialism is associated with transprejudice.« less
  4. As our nation’s need for engineering professionals grows, a sharp rise in P-12 engineering education programs and related research has taken place (Brophy, Klein, Portsmore, & Rogers, 2008; Purzer, Strobel, & Cardella, 2014). The associated research has focused primarily on students’ perceptions and motivations, teachers’ beliefs and knowledge, and curricula and program success. The existing research has expanded our understanding of new K-12 engineering curriculum development and teacher professional development efforts, but empirical data remain scarce on how racial and ethnic diversity of student population influences teaching methods, course content, and overall teachers’ experiences. In particular, Hynes et al. (2017)more »note in their systematic review of P-12 research that little attention has been paid to teachers’ experiences with respect to racially and ethnically diverse engineering classrooms. The growing attention and resources being committed to diversity and inclusion issues (Lichtenstein, Chen, Smith, & Maldonado, 2014; McKenna, Dalal, Anderson, & Ta, 2018; NRC, 2009) underscore the importance of understanding teachers’ experiences with complementary research-based recommendations for how to implement engineering curricula in racially diverse schools to engage all students. Our work examines the experiences of three high school teachers as they teach an introductory engineering course in geographically and distinctly different racially diverse schools across the nation. The study is situated in the context of a new high school level engineering education initiative called Engineering for Us All (E4USA). The National Science Foundation (NSF) funded initiative was launched in 2018 as a partnership among five universities across the nation to ‘demystify’ engineering for high school students and teachers. The program aims to create an all-inclusive high school level engineering course(s), a professional development platform, and a learning community to support student pathways to higher education institutions. An introductory engineering course was developed and professional development was provided to nine high school teachers to instruct and assess engineering learning during the first year of the project. This study investigates participating teachers’ implementation of the course in high schools across the nation to understand the extent to which their experiences vary as a function of student demographic (race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status) and resource level of the school itself. Analysis of these experiences was undertaken using a collective case-study approach (Creswell, 2013) involving in-depth analysis of a limited number of cases “to focus on fewer "subjects," but more "variables" within each subject” (Campbell & Ahrens, 1998, p. 541). This study will document distinct experiences of high school teachers as they teach the E4USA curriculum. Participants were purposively sampled for the cases in order to gather an information-rich data set (Creswell, 2013). The study focuses on three of the nine teachers participating in the first cohort to implement the E4USA curriculum. Teachers were purposefully selected because of the demographic makeup of their students. The participating teachers teach in Arizona, Maryland and Tennessee with predominantly Hispanic, African-American, and Caucasian student bodies, respectively. To better understand similarities and differences among teaching experiences of these teachers, a rich data set is collected consisting of: 1) semi-structured interviews with teachers at multiple stages during the academic year, 2) reflective journal entries shared by the teachers, and 3) multiple observations of classrooms. The interview data will be analyzed with an inductive approach outlined by Miles, Huberman, and Saldaña (2014). All teachers’ interview transcripts will be coded together to identify common themes across participants. Participants’ reflections will be analyzed similarly, seeking to characterize their experiences. Observation notes will be used to triangulate the findings. Descriptions for each case will be written emphasizing the aspects that relate to the identified themes. Finally, we will look for commonalities and differences across cases. The results section will describe the cases at the individual participant level followed by a cross-case analysis. This study takes into consideration how high school teachers’ experiences could be an important tool to gain insight into engineering education problems at the P-12 level. Each case will provide insights into how student body diversity impacts teachers’ pedagogy and experiences. The cases illustrate “multiple truths” (Arghode, 2012) with regard to high school level engineering teaching and embody diversity from the perspective of high school teachers. We will highlight themes across cases in the context of frameworks that represent teacher experience conceptualizing race, ethnicity, and diversity of students. We will also present salient features from each case that connect to potential recommendations for advancing P-12 engineering education efforts. These findings will impact how diversity support is practiced at the high school level and will demonstrate specific novel curricular and pedagogical approaches in engineering education to advance P-12 mentoring efforts.« less
  5. BACKGROUND Charles Darwin’s  Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex  tackled the two main controversies arising from the Origin of Species:  the evolution of humans from animal ancestors and the evolution of sexual ornaments. Most of the book focuses on the latter, Darwin’s theory of sexual selection. Research since supports his conjecture that songs, perfumes, and intricate dances evolve because they help secure mating partners. Evidence is overwhelming for a primary role of both male and female mate choice in sexual selection—not only through premating courtship but also through intimate interactions during and long after mating. But whatmore »makes one prospective mate more enticing than another? Darwin, shaped by misogyny and sexual prudery, invoked a “taste for the beautiful” without speculating on the origin of the “taste.” How to explain when the “final marriage ceremony” is between two rams? What of oral sex in bats, cloacal rubbing in bonobos, or the sexual spectrum in humans, all observable in Darwin’s time? By explaining desire through the lens of those male traits that caught his eyes and those of his gender and culture, Darwin elided these data in his theory of sexual evolution. Work since Darwin has focused on how traits and preferences coevolve. Preferences can evolve even if attractive signals only predict offspring attractiveness, but most attention has gone to the intuitive but tenuous premise that mating with gorgeous partners yields vigorous offspring. By focusing on those aspects of mating preferences that coevolve with male traits, many of Darwin’s influential followers have followed the same narrow path. The sexual selection debate in the 1980s was framed as “good genes versus runaway”: Do preferences coevolve with traits because traits predict genetic benefits, or simply because they are beautiful? To the broader world this is still the conversation. ADVANCES Even as they evolve toward ever-more-beautiful signals and healthier offspring, mate-choice mechanisms and courter traits are locked in an arms race of coercion and resistance, persuasion and skepticism. Traits favored by sexual selection often do so at the expense of chooser fitness, creating sexual conflict. Choosers then evolve preferences in response to the costs imposed by courters. Often, though, the current traits of courters tell us little about how preferences arise. Sensory systems are often tuned to nonsexual cues like food, favoring mating signals resembling those cues. And preferences can emerge simply from selection on choosing conspecifics. Sexual selection can therefore arise from chooser biases that have nothing to do with ornaments. Choice may occur before mating, as Darwin emphasized, but individuals mate multiple times and bias fertilization and offspring care toward favored partners. Mate choice can thus occur in myriad ways after mating, through behavioral, morphological, and physiological mechanisms. Like other biological traits, mating preferences vary among individuals and species along multiple dimensions. Some of this is likely adaptive, as different individuals will have different optimal mates. Indeed, mate choice may be more about choosing compatible partners than picking the “best” mate in the absolute sense. Compatibility-based choice can drive or reinforce genetic divergence and lead to speciation. The mechanisms underlying the “taste for the beautiful” determine whether mate choice accelerates or inhibits reproductive isolation. If preferences are learned from parents, or covary with ecological differences like the sensory environment, then choice can promote genetic divergence. If everyone shares preferences for attractive ornaments, then choice promotes gene flow between lineages. OUTLOOK Two major trends continue to shift the emphasis away from male “beauty” and toward how and why individuals make sexual choices. The first integrates neuroscience, genomics, and physiology. We need not limit ourselves to the feathers and dances that dazzled Darwin, which gives us a vastly richer picture of mate choice. The second is that despite persistent structural inequities in academia, a broader range of people study a broader range of questions. This new focus confirms Darwin’s insight that mate choice makes a primary contribution to sexual selection, but suggests that sexual selection is often tangential to mate choice. This conclusion challenges a persistent belief with sinister roots, whereby mate choice is all about male ornaments. Under this view, females evolve to prefer handsome males who provide healthy offspring, or alternatively, to express flighty whims for arbitrary traits. But mate-choice mechanisms also evolve for a host of other reasons Understanding mate choice mechanisms is key to understanding how sexual decisions underlie speciation and adaptation to environmental change. New theory and technology allow us to explicitly connect decision-making mechanisms with their evolutionary consequences. A century and a half after Darwin, we can shift our focus to females and males as choosers, rather than the gaudy by-products of mate choice. Mate choice mechanisms across domains of life. Sensory periphery for stimulus detection (yellow), brain for perceptual integration and evaluation (orange), and reproductive structures for postmating choice among pollen or sperm (teal). ILLUSTRATION: KELLIE HOLOSKI/ SCIENCE« less