Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Introduction and Overview

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Introduction and Overview

Article excerpt

Much discussion is occurring within the United States on the topic of competitiveness. In simple terms, the discussion goes something like this: If the United States is to maintain its competitive edge in the world in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), particularly in the face of rising competition from countries such as China, India, and those of the European Union, the nation must maximize the education of its citizens in these fields, and especially the education of groups traditionally underrepresented in them (women and racial/ethnic minorities). After all, women represent close to 60% of all American college and university students (Snyder, Dillow, & Hoffman, 2008), and racial/ethnic minorities already represent close to 1β of the American population and are projected to represent more than 50% by the middle of the 21st century (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004).

At the same time that these discussions are taking place, it is also the case that African Americans (13% of the total population and almost 10% of baccalaureate graduates) are both severely underrepresented among STEM college graduates (National Science Foundation, 2006) and even fewer of them acquire doctoral degrees (Hill, 2006) and assume positions in the STEM research community or on college and university STEM faculties (National Science Foundation, 2003). This disturbing phenomenon exists despite almost 40 years of federal intervention through a variety of legislative actions designed to enhance access and success of African Americans and other underrepresented groups in STEM.

African Americans are almost invisible in some STEM fields at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Furthermore, in some STEM fields, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) graduate more African American baccalaureate degree holders than ALL other institutions in the country combined. For example, in 2004, only 165 African Americans obtained undergraduate degrees in physics (out of a total of over 4,000) - and more than 100 graduated from HBCUs. In a good year, only 15 African Americans or so obtain doctoral degrees in mathematics - and Howard University graduates almost 25% of them. Moreover, HBCUs produce a disproportionately large number of the individuals who do, in fact, obtain STEM baccalaureate degrees and go on to acquire the doctoral degree (Burrelli & Rapoport, 2008).

Most often, "blame the victim" reasons are articulated to explain me African-American STEM underrepresentation problem (e.g., poor high school preparation, insufficient STEM role models, low income, etc.). Rarely has the topic of ineffective pedagogies in STEM been proffered as a reason for underrepresentation and underachievement in STEM. In other words, are our "talk and chalk," "everybody for him/herself," and "memorize and regurgitate all that you can" pedagogies for teaching STEM incompatible with the ways mat many African American men and women (and all men and women) best learn science?

Several alternatives to traditional lecture pedagogies have been advanced in recent decades to enhance student learning outcomes for all students. Most of these models seek to take advantage of a plethora of research that shows that students - all students - seem to learn more and to retain more information in an environment that emphasizes active engagement and that connects classroom learning with prior learning, outside of classroom learning, and learning connected to relevant topics and experiences. Such pedagogies include service learning, cooperative learning, problem-based learning, and learning communities; the latter being the focus of this special edition of The Journal of Negro Education (JNE).

Learning communities have burgeoned as an educational reform in the nation's colleges and universities. More man 500 higher education institutions have implemented learning communities in some form on their campuses (Smith, 2003). …

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