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Race and physics teaching, and the fair: A call to all physics educators for manuscripts on a rarely discussed topic
1.This may need a little explanation—camping out at the fairgrounds didn't seem to be an option for the girl cousins in our family (even though their exhibits and animals won plenty of prizes), and while there were many people of color on the midway enjoying the rides and fun, I recall very few participating in the livestock exhibits. Perhaps there were exceptions, but most of the people who received the full benefits from this kind of experience were white and male, like me.
2.My recollections of the fair, then, are satisfyingly rich and largely positive, save this one, much like the word “fair” itself can take on many different nuances of meaning. Because it can mean everything from equitable to valid to in-bounds to beautiful to pleasant to middling to agreeable to blonde(!), one occasionally forgets the subtle way that language can serve (as can nostalgia) to preserve the status quo.
4.While the idea of a “colorblind” approach to the world is appealing to some, it doesn't strike me as a very practical way to think about the real world we live in, especially with its legacy of centuries of overt and systemic racism. In any case, there is much evidence to indicate that the adverse effects of a “colorblind” approach versus a “multicultural” approach are substantial. See, for example, Deborah Son Holoien and J. Nicole Shelton, “You deplete me: The cognitive costs of colorblindness on ethnic minorities,” J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 48, 562–565 (2012) and references therein.
That premise being “the presence of minority students and the existence of diversity need to be justified, but meanwhile segregation in physics is tacitly accepted as normal or good,” and as the letter further indicates, one wonders why Roberts didn't ask what unique perspectives white students bring to a physics class or what the benefits of uniform student demographics are. Interestingly, John Asher Johnson, one of the leaders in the field of exoplanet detection, adds this amusing and thoughtful physics-y bit on his blog, http://mahalonottrash.blogspot.com/2015/12/the-subtle-yet-real-racism-of-supreme.html
: “The Justice might as well have asked how unicorns fly and the attorney responded with an explanation of the Bernoulli effect.”
10.Susan C. White, “And the Survey Says…” columns “Minority participation in high school physics,” Phys. Teach. 53, 376 (Sept. 2015) and
11.Dan MacIsaac, “WebSights” columns “Physics, equity, and social justice: Why are there so few black physicists? by Moses Rifken,” Phys. Teach. 53, 447 (Oct. 2015) and this month's column on the Supreme Court discussions on p. 126.
12.For insights into ways in which the conversation on race has been marginalized in past research and some guidance on how to proceed more productively in the future, see Amy Noelle Parks and Mardi Schmeichel, “Obstacles to addressing race and ethnicity in the mathematics education literature,” J. Res. Math. Educ. 43 (3), 238–252 (2012).
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