Teaching Social Justice: a Research Report on a “Science and Equality” Educational Project

Abstract : By implementing strategies such as the Lisbon Agenda (2000 - 2010) and Europe 2020 (2010-2020), the European Union explicitly puts science education at the heart of economical development, and stresses scientific excellency as a means to economic growth. Social justice is an important stake for these strategies, as women and minorities are underrepresented in science courses and careers. This phenomenon has been documented and described using the “leaky pipeline” metaphor (Blickenstaff, 2005), and although this appellation deserves to be discussed (Cannady, 2014), it is useful to depict the way women and some minorities rarely reach positions of responsibility in science. This continues to be true in France, for instance, where merely 13 % of university professors of mathematics are women (Ministry of Higher-Education and Research, 2015). Women, and students from the working classes or ethnic minorities are indeed particularly marginalized in science in France, where social equity is far below OECD average and has been degrading between 2003 and 2016 (OECD, 2015). In this context, France has aimed to revalorize its science courses and careers in order to make them more attractive and to foster greater inclusion and diversity. In schools, this concern for social justice is reflected in the implementation of projects to promote equality within science. This paper aims to account for one of these projects in order to analyze the effects it can have for students and teachers - in other words, can social justice be taught? Our study focuses on a French program we anonymise as the “Science, Aspirations and Equality Project” (SAEP). SAEP aims to follow a cohort of about one hundred students for four years, from 4thto 7th grade, by involving them in weekly science workshops, in order to foster confidence and interest in science in young girls and boys from the working class. Most of these students are also from minority ethnic backgrounds (Black African, Arab). These workshops are led by science teachers and science mediators from an organisation specializing in science and social justice. By interviewing students at the beginning and at the end of the program and by observing what went on during the workshops, we tried to assess the effects of SAEP, and to reflect on social justice education. Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources Used This study consists in the qualitative analysis of a “science and equality” educational project (“SAEP”) through observations and interviews.  We observed weekly science workshops during four years — 4th to 7th grade; 9 to 13 year-olds — and took detailed notes on interactions between educators and students. We also had the opportunity to attend preparatory and review meetings for the workshops, where teachers and mediators set up sessions. At the end of the 5th and 7th grade, individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with 52 students, with the same students being interviewed two years apart. A few science teachers, mediators and parents were also interviewed. Explored themes included school careers, personal attitudes to science, and perception and assessment of the SAEP project. We assessed whether the project had any effects on science representations and aspirations, and if it had rendered science more inclusive for these students. The empirical material thus recovered is analyzed through Bourdieusian perspective. Our approach draws on “critical” sociological theories, and uses concepts of socialization, habitus (Bourdieu 1979 ; Passeron & Bourdieu 1970) and identity in order to determine how opportunities for identification with science fluctuate during the project, seen as a socializing agent. Alongside feminist researchers such as Judith Butler (1990), we consider that identity is not fixed, but rather fluid and in process, and aim to account for this fluidity with regard to relationships to science. This work also seeks to be counterpoint to recent European studies conducted on the same topic, and especially to the ASPIRE study, a five-year research project on young people’s science aspirations in the United-Kingdom (Archer et al., 2013 & 2016). Although having a very similar topic, our study uses a more local and qualitative approach, thus allowing comparison between countries and between methodologies. Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or Findings Analysis of the 7th grade interviews is still in progress, and the comparative approach has yet to be finalized - the final report from the ASPIRE study was published earlier this year (Archer & DeWitt 2016). However, we can draw conclusions regarding the teaching of social justice in the SAEP project from 5th grade interviews and observations.  The first result is that halfway through the project, all participants feel the effects are mixed. Educators, parents and students are all partly disappointed. They all approve of the project’s goal in theory (making science more inclusive), but further investigation reveals resistance and difficulties which had not been taken into account. We try to explain how organisational factors (the way schools functions for instance) and factors linked with individual trajectories and socializations can impact the project negatively.  A second result concerns the teaching of social justice and equality, and how it is unthought by the project’s stakeholders, who consider that equality will “come along naturally” if intentions are good. Social justice ends up being disembodied from science; it is perceived as falling within the scope of discourse and not of action. We show how this leads to the resurfacing of repressed stereotypes and discriminations against girls and students from Black-African and Arab backgrounds. Avenues of research we would like to explore for this paper include the following: •With regard to young students’ relationships to science, how does France fits into the European context? •From the case study of a “science and equality” educational project, what can we learn about teaching social justice? •France is known for its attachment to a republican universalism which often hinders affirmative action (De Rudder, 2000; Bereni & Lépinard, 2004) - what does it means for “science and equality” and social justice programs?  References Archer, L., & DeWitt, J. (2016). Understanding Young People’s Science Aspirations: How students form ideas about “becoming a scientist.” Routledge. Archer, L., & Moote, J. (Eds.). (2016). ASPIRES 2: Project Spotlight. Year 11 Students’ Views of Careers Education and Work Experience. London: King’s College London. Retrieved from www.kcl.ac.uk/aspires Archer, L., Osborne, J., DeWitt, J., Dillon, J., Wong, B., & Willis, B. (Eds.). (2013). ASPIRES: young people’s science and career aspirations, age 10-14. London: King’s College London. Retrieved from http://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/departments/education/research/aspires/ASPIRES-final-report-December-2013.pdf Blickenstaff, J. C. (2005). Women and science careers: leaky pipeline or gender filter? Gender and Education, 17(4), 369–386. https://doi.org/10.1080/09540250500145072 Bourdieu, P. (1979). La Distinction. Critique sociale du jugement. (“Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste”) Paris: Les Editions de Minuit. Butler, J. (1990). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge. Cannady, M. A., Greenwald, E., & Harris, K. N. (2014). Problematizing the STEM Pipeline Metaphor: Is the STEM Pipeline Metaphor Serving Our Students and the STEM Workforce? Science Education, 98(3), 443–460. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.21108 De Rudder, V., Poiret, C., & Vourc’h, F. (2000). L’inégalité raciste  : L’universalité républicaine à l’épreuve. (“Racial inequality: Republican Universality to the Test”) Paris: Presses universitaires de France. Lépinard, É., & Bereni, L. (2004). La parité ou le mythe d’une exception française. (“Parity or the Myth of a French Exception”) Pouvoirs, (111), 73–85. OECD. (2016), PISA 2015 Results in Focus, OECD Publishing, Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisa-2015-results-in-focus.pdf Passeron, J.-C., & Bourdieu, P. (1970). La Reproduction. Éléments pour une théorie du système d’enseignement. (“ Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture”) Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit. Ministry of Higher-Education and Research, Directorate-General for Human Ressources, analysed by « Women & maths » (Femmes & maths), Retrieved from http://www.femmes-et-maths.fr/?page_id=1504, 2015 
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Clémence Perronnet. Teaching Social Justice: a Research Report on a “Science and Equality” Educational Project. The European Conference on Educational Research, Aug 2017, Copenhague, Denmark. ⟨halshs-01572061⟩



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