Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Radical STEM Teacher Activism: Collaborative Organizing to Sustain Social Justice Pedagogy in STEM Fields

Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Radical STEM Teacher Activism: Collaborative Organizing to Sustain Social Justice Pedagogy in STEM Fields

Article excerpt


Teacher/educator activism (1) has been described as working toward social justice both inside and outside the classroom (Picower, 2012). Inside the classroom, teacher activists use Social Justice Pedagogy in their instructional practices. Social Justice Pedagogy (SJP) is a teaching approach that aims to develop students' academic proficiency and students' sociopolitical consciousness, or conscientizagao (Freire, 1970), to critically analyze and change the world (Apple, Au & Gandlin, 2009; Ayers, 2009; Picower, 2012). SJP has been applied to the fields of STEM education, such as mathematics (e.g. Gutierrez, 2002; Gutstein, 2006; Kokka, 2015, 2017), science (Dimick, 2012), and engineering (Riley, 2003). Outside the classroom, teachers may work within teacher unions (Johnson, 2002; Levine, 2002) or with grassroots organizations (Catone, 2017; Picower, 2012).

Grassroots teacher activism has gained traction as evidenced by organizations such as Teachers 4 Social Justice in San Francisco, Teachers for Social Justice Chicago, Teacher Action Group Philly, Teacher Activist Group Boston, New York Collective of Radical Educators, People's Education Movement, Young People's Project, and the Black Teacher Project. In addition, several conferences and events cater to educator activists such as Free Minds Free People Conference, nationwide Black Lives Matter in Schools week (Dixson, 2017; Mayorga & Picower, 2017; Teaching for Change, n.d.), Teachers 4 Social Justice Conference, Teacher Activist Group Boston Conference, and the Northwest Conference on Teaching for Social Justice. Some of these conferences focus on social justice and STEM education like the Creating Balance in an Unjust World Conference and the Data for Black Lives conference.

Despite the involvement of STEM (2) educators in grassroots teacher activism, most research on teacher activism has focused on teachers who are elementary, English, or social studies teachers. For instance, Montano, Lopez-Torres, DeLissovoy, Pacheco, & Stillman (2002) study of five alumni of UCLA's teacher education program included two elementary teachers and three social studies teachers. Similarly, Collay (2010) studied graduate students in an urban teacher leadership MA program, who taught in elementary schools. (3) Matias and Liou (2015) investigated an urban social studies teacher's enactment of critical race teacher activism. Picower's (2011) study of six urban teachers' participation in a social justice critical inquiry project included four elementary school teachers and one early childhood teacher.

Of those studies about teacher activism that include STEM teachers, Marshall and Anderson's (2009) study of 52 educator activists only included two identified as mathematics or science educators. Picower's (2012) study included one mathematics teacher of the nine participants, and Catone's (2017) study included one mathematics teacher out of four participants. The present study aims to address this gap in the literature to focus on STEM educator activists to learn more about how and why they become involved and how they conceptualize STEM teacher activism (STA (4)).

Study Purpose

This study focuses on four STEM teacher activists who are founding members of a STEM teacher activist organization to investigate the following research questions: (1) What sparked their interest in organizing and activism work? and (2) How do they conceptualize STEM teacher activism (STA)? These questions aim to uncover more about what teacher activism looks like for STEM educators and what sparks, motivates, and sustains STEM educators' engagement in activism. These findings are significant because current opportunity gaps in STEM education and achievement may limit opportunities for girls, students of color, and students from under-resourced communities (National Science Foundation, 2017). Performance in STEM subjects often serve as gatekeepers to grade promotion, college entrance, career options, as well as students' overall academic experience and ability to find joy and community in school. …

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