STEM and Social Justice Education

On October 22, 2020, the Women’s and Gender Resource Center and the Inclusivity in STEM planning committee hosted a talk by Visiting Assistant Professor Jamie Teeple (Educational Studies). Prof. Teeple’s talk was entitled Rebooting the sySTEM: Educational Updates for a New Age.

Prof. Teeple suggested that some approaches to STEM education in the 21st century are beginning to focus overtly on ecojustice, anti-racism, and social reconstructionism. He traced the development of five major educational philosophies that have impacted education in the US, including perennialism, progressivism, essentialism, existentialism, and social reconstructionism – these range from a “Great Books” model to a focus on solving social problems with an emphasis on equity and justice.

According to Prof. Teeple, there are three main questions that drive educators’ choices:

  • What is being taught? (content)
  • How is it being taught (pedagogy)
  • Why are you teaching content in that way? (aims)

Prof. Teeple developed some of his own theories and practices about STEM education during his research at a progressive STEM school for 6th-12th grade students from 2013-2018. His research question was: To what extent can STEM be conceptualized in accordance with other educational philosophies (especially existentialism and social reconstructionism)?

Prof. Teeple traced an intellectual lineage or genealogy of some assumptions about STEM education, including arguments that it can be seen as a neoliberal outgrowth of the corporate-state, that students might turn to STEM careers for upward mobility in moments of precarity, and that we need STEM to outdo other countries, among others. He responds to some of this in his 2018 article, Toward a State-Critical STEM Education, in which he discusses “how STEM education is poised to evolve in various directions and determine which of these would most commensurate with egalitarian educational, social, economic, and ecological aims.”

Prof. Teeple ended his presentation by discussing several proposed curriculum units which address power relationships. They include: Seedy Politics, Green Technologies, Working Robots, Bridges to Nowhere, and Drones and Duties. In each of these units, he embeds both scientific content and social justice/equity issues. For example, in the Working Robots unit, Teeple suggests that an educator might build a robot with their students and connect that to a conversation about the roboticization of labor and implications for the future.

A lively discussion followed this engaging, informative, and provocative talk, with rich questions from the students, staff, and faculty in the audience.

Written by Dr. Donna M. Bickford, Director, Women’s and Gender Resource Center

October 23, 2020