Racism and the science classroom : towards a critical biology education.
This study explores how students experience oppression and subordination in and through biology education. The exploration is guided by the following questions: how is racism/discrimination played out in my biology classroom; in what way/s are the classroom practices of both the students and the teacher racist/discriminatory; and what reinforces such racist/discriminatory practices and why. Since the critical perspective allows for oppressions, subordinations and discriminatory practice to be named and challenged this then became the perspective within which the study was located. The methodology, guided by the critical perspective, and used to generate the data in this search is therefore a critical ethnography within which a critical self ethnography is also employed. Through foregrounding the oppression of race and racism, this methodology made it possible to generate data on the various oppressions and subordinations that are perpetuated in and through biology education. The data was generated from biology lessons on cell division, human reproduction, genetics and biological determinism in a Grade 11 class. This class had in it 34 fe/male students from three different race groups viz. Indian, Black and Coloured. Ten students who volunteered to be interviewed also contributed to the data generated in this study. At a first level of analysis, the data generated from the lessons and the interviews were written up and presented as factionalised stories. This was then used to provide, at a second level a descriptive cross-case analysis grounded in the data of the stories. This cross-case analysis generated categories of oppression, subordination and discriminatory practice that included race and colour; gender and patriarchy; bodies and sexuality; class, poverty and sexually transmitted diseases; institutional power and hierarchy; religion; and language. These categories of oppression and subordination, although described separately, are mutually inclusive categories. From this description it became possible to name and theorise, at a third level of analysis, oppressions and subordinations within biology education. The theorisations deliberated on issues of race, class, gender, language and power. The naming and challenging of existing oppressions, subordinations and discriminatory practice required that a traditional contemporary biology education be replaced by a critical biology education. This study, in engaging a critical biology education, shows how biology may be taught differently when the agenda is social transformation in efforts towards social justice. Whilst it is accepted that social justice in all forms may never be attained, this study shows possibilities for how that contained within current Life Sciences policy for human rights and social justice, could be realised.