Introducing Institutionalized Racism, Privilege and Social Justice in Physics Class
The image above is a dictionary definition of physics. The image below (from twitter) is about a curriculum one physics teacher is teaching in his physics class:
In Part 1 he explains why he teaches Social Justice in his Senior Physics Class:
For the first four years of my high school teaching career, I felt stuck. I care deeply about making the world a better place – duh – but felt that as a science teacher, my opportunities to do so were limited. I was jealous of my colleagues in English and History who got to talk every day in class about society and how it worked and how to be moral and caring and kind, whereas those conversations with students only happened for me outside the classroom. That I was teaching at a private school only made matters worse: my students weren’t learning about their own privilege (academic and, in most cases, economic and racial). I wanted to make my classroom a part of the solution, but wasn’t sure how. What’s a science teacher to do?
Ten years later, I have come somewhat closer to finding an answer. I feel like it’s an answer because I’ve found a way to introduce my students to the ideas of racial and gender privilege, to the idea that our society is far from a meritocracy, and to broaden their conception of who (racially, gender-wise, etc.) does science to include a much broader slice of society; I say somewhat because it’s still very much a work in progress as I fumble my way upwards.
This article is meant as an overview of a six-day curriculum that I’ve developed and use with my senior physics students each year. For each of the days, I’ll give a brief synopsis of what happens in class and note the bigger-picture questions and goals that I hope to address that day. I’ve also included some resources that I use, though there are many more, and some narrative reflection on each day to help add some context. I’ve never had an opportunity like this to share what I do and if anything you read over the next few days is appealing or challenging or interesting or generative, I’d love to talk about it via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Twitter (@RiPhysKin).
TL;DR: As science teachers, we have to take an active role in undoing the bias in our society. Don’t be afraid to try, and don’t wait until you know exactly what to do. Start a conversation, incorporate feedback to improve it the next time, and let me know how it goes.
In Part 2, the Day 3 activity in Physics class is listed with Rifkin’s questions to students and the ‘not so secret agenda’:
The next post will cover days 4 and 5 of this unit, when students explore privilege and the Implicit Association Test.
In Part 2, Day 3, there is a homework assignment explaining white privilege theory (so you can be ready for Days 4 and 5) from two white Seattle residents:
Day 3 Homework: read Peggy Macintosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, read one of the optional choice readings, and write in your journal.
Also: Seattle’s second-most famous rapper, Macklemore, addressed some of these same questions as Macintosh on his first album. For some students, this is a better way in. Here’s the song, ‘White Privilege’, and the lyrics.
If you want to hear Rifkin talk about teaching Social Justice in Physics class on Wednesday, February 18, 2015 · 08:30 PM · Central Time (US & Canada) · 1 hour, you can register at the link and listen via phone: