In the following section, I review the current literature on STEM, equity, and culturally relevant pedagogy by focusing my discussion a review of previous theoretical and empirical research. My purpose here is to historically place this doctoral dissertation in practice in the context of what has been accomplished in the past. Finally, I outline our current conceptual framework, which reflects a modified activity theory. I also explain how we used this modified activity system as a framework to engage both student learners and teachers as learners in order to produce significant gains in STEM-foundational thinking for traditionally underperforming students.
As long as there has been education, from the ancient Egyptians’ library built by Ashurbanipal, the king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (685-627 B.C.E.), to Confucius during the Zhou Dynasty (551-479 B.C.E.), to Hippocrates (c. 460-370 B.C.E.), Socrates (c. 470-399 B.C.E.), and Aristotle (c. 384-322 B.C.E.), there has been debate about how it should be organized, managed, who it should be for, and how knowledge should be disseminated to people (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2011). Through philosophical debates, educational theorists such as John Dewey’s Democracy and Education (1997), Paolo Freire’s Education for Critical Consciousness (2005), Kenneth Howe’s Equality of Educational Opportunity (1993), and W.E.B. DuBois’ “Talented Tenth”: a passionate belief that African Americans need greater access to higher education (DuBois, 2002, pp. 68-72) educators and critics have tried to understand how a system is unable to adequately service all students. A racial gap is apparent when one looks at the achievement of White students compared to the achievement (or rather underachievement) of those marginalized such as African-American and Hispanic students (Schmidt, 2012). What has become known and accepted as the opportunity gap, can unfortunately predict a child’s success in public education based solely on skin color (Carter, 2013). How does one “not merely apply theory, but use it to create equity-oriented and meaningful change in ourselves and the systems we’re in “(Gutierrez, 2010, p. 104)? For some, the answer lies in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. I will identify current academic research of STEM education, Critical Race Theory, racial consciousness in STEM classrooms, and the differing perspectives of what constitutes STEM education. It is my contention that there are some holes in this research, and that combining recommendations from each of these areas will help create equitable structures for students of color supporting these traditionally under-performing students with STEM-foundational thinking. I believe that longer-ranging research is needed in order to better understand the intersectionality of race, STEM foundational thinking, and systemic inequity.