Foreword to Special Issue: Why and How STEM Education Matters in Social Justice Movements

By Kumashiro, Kevin | Educational Foundations, Spring-Summer 2018 | Go to article overview

Foreword to Special Issue: Why and How STEM Education Matters in Social Justice Movements


Kumashiro, Kevin, Educational Foundations


Soon after several years of teaching middle and high school mathematics, I found myself in graduate school, struggling to grapple with critical studies of math education that revealed how the field can and does serve as a gatekeeper in educational institutions, and further, that it plays no less a colonizing role than any other discipline. Math education has long played a pivotal role in colonizing minds, and I eventually came to recognize and write about how my own courses contributed to this process, even while striving to teach math in-action and in-application, math to identify and disentangle and address problems in our lives and communities, and math as a tool for addressing inequity. Math education cannot help but to be paradoxical as it sits at the intersection of perpetuating injustices even while serving as a tool to challenge such injustices, and so too with the other fields of STEM education (and, for that matter, with any field of education).

In this political moment, such paradoxes are becoming magnified as the STEM fields are simultaneously exalted and demonized: STEM is increasingly privileged and funded for, supposedly, strengthening our global competitiveness economically, militarily, etc., while simultaneously criticized and dismissed for, supposedly, manufacturing crises and protest around what some claim to be untrue, such as climate change. Science itself is under attack, especially when scientists and scientific organizations publish findings that challenge the dominance of so-called "free-market" capitalism and neoliberalism, American exceptionalism and imperialism, white supremacy, and hetero-patriarchy. That is, science is perhaps most viciously attacked when it betrays itself and refutes its own legacies of perpetuating or at least complying with neoliberalism, imperialism, etc. For these reasons, teaching and studying STEM alongside critical studies that trouble the very things being taught are all the move vital for our democracy to continue to evolve and strengthen. STEM education has much to contribute to social-justice education, and vice versa.

The connection between STEM education and social-justice education was front-and-center at the 7th International Conference on Education and Social Justice, held December 1-3, 2017 in Honolulu, Hawai'i. The conference brought together scholars and educators from across Hawai'i, the United States, and the world to share research and resources and to build networks and other collectives for advancing equity and justice in education. The range of cultural/political contexts and conceptual/transformative frameworks in the dozens of scholarly presentations provided fertile ground for discomforting conversations and collaborative theorizing, spanning a range of disciplinary and institutional spaces, and interwoven with perspectives and examples of local educators and scholars and students whose voices helped to ground our work in the here and now of the gathering. …

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