The most controversial, but most important element of achievement and race is Critical Race Theory (CRT). Critical race theory is a way of understanding race relations in the United States. This intellectual movement began in the 1970’s when civil rights lawmakers felt that the 1960’s movement was beginning to slow. CRT scholars analyzed how the legal system influenced this slow pace of racial reform. Primarily, “CRT scholars redefined racism as not the acts of individuals, but the larger, systemic, structural conventions and customs that uphold and sustain oppressive group relationships, status, income, and educational attainment” (Taylor, 2006).
Although this intellectual and political paradigm is multifaceted and complex, it has four basic tenets. First, Racism has a historical context so deeply ingrained, that it is a normal part of American society. The history of the opportunity gap in the United States is often viewed concurrently with the history of the United States. Racial inequalities have been present since the founding of our nation; however, depending on one’s perspective, these divisions may be difficult to see. Conversations about race and achievement often leave out a historical context in favor of discussing other explanations (poverty, community support, educational values). Race is an uncomfortable topic to discuss for many. It is not surprising, then, that an alarmingly high number of students do not know basic African-American history beyond that of slavery.
Next, narratives are used as a form of racial storytelling to deepen one’s understanding of race. Being exposed to multiple and varying perspectives is a powerful experience. “Critical Race Theory scholarship uses narrative—what it calls racial reality—to make visible the distinctive experiences of people of color” (Taylor, 2006). When looking at these racial realities, STEM inequity is made clear. Racial autobiographies are essential if one is to understand how skin color is related to how one is treated in our society.
Interest convergence: the majority racial group will only encourage racial equality for the minority group when it is in the best interest of the majority social group. The current demographics in any STEM program within public education or in STEM careers, indicates that hegemony is the status quo. White and Asian males dominate these fields (Change the Equation, 2015). Although we have officially desegregated schools with Brown v. Board of Education, there are still a high percentage of schools segregated, especially when looking at school programs (e.g.: Advanced Placement, SPED, and STEM). Unfortunately, the “best” education is not always one offered from a racially diverse school. This holds true for traditionally African-American schools as well.
Finally, racism is a permanent aspect of society. Although there have been amazing gains since the civil rights movement, racism has moved from a public event to a systemic (sometimes even subversive) act. Many feel that racism ended with Brown v. Board of Education, but the unseen (or ignored) is oftentimes the most damaging.
Most relevant to this dissertation is how discussing race, specifically within the context to STEM curricula and teachers’ expectations for students of color, can have detrimental effects on a faculty’s cohesiveness. Pacific Educational Group, which partners with educational organizations to “transform beliefs, behaviors, and results” (Pacific Educational Group, 2015) refer to these conversations as “Courageous Conversations” and encourages discussion about race and achievement (using a specified protocol) to come before any culturally responsive pedagogy (Singleton & Linton, 2006). However, many times these conversations lead to unintended implications of racism on the part of individual teachers. Litowitz (1997) mentions “critics also worry that CRT’s emphasis on racism promotes ‘balkanization’ and racial divisiveness.” Teachers recognize the need to differentiate instruction for individual students’ needs; however, once the topic of race is added, people shy away from recognizing that students of different colors learn differently (Cokley, 2003) and are capable of learning 21st century skills such as: (a) critical thinking; (b) collaboration; (c) communication; (d) creativity and innovation; (e) self-direction; (f) making global connections; (g) making local connections; and (h) using technology as a tool for learning. This indicates, and research literature supports, a lack of racial consciousness in STEM classrooms.