Around the turn of the 20th century, U.S. educators widely considered certain populations less educated, less healthy and unprepared to be true American citizens. If asked, most might argue those practices have disappeared as social norms have changed—particularly given that many reforms today focus on equity and diversity. A University of Kansas researcher has published a study showing how the very efforts to make science relevant to diverse populations inadvertently create new divisions by relying on educational practices with unexamined colonial histories.

The Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS, are being implemented in U.S. schools with the goal of improving science relevant to the lives of diverse student populations. This aligns with broader reforms to link science education to real-world problems such as the obesity epidemic by having students from marginalized groups analyze data on their daily habits and advocate for healthier choices in their homes and communities. The standards recommend that teachers connect science to students’ everyday lives through methods like discussing the dangers of high-fructose corn syrup in order to motivate students from nondominant racial and ethnic groups. While the goal of improving science education for all students is admirable, Kirchgasler said, the reforms reflect a tendency to formulate educational and health disparities in psychological terms by assuming some children and families lack the knowledge or motivation to make informed, responsible choices. Societal explanations such as unequal access to health care, income inequality, food deserts and others tend to be overlooked.

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