Does Social Constructionist Curricula Both Decrease Essentialist and Increase Nominalist Beliefs About Race?

Abstract

Increasingly, educators in the biological and social sciences teach about the concept of race from a social constructionist perspective. Scholarship on race pedagogy suggests that to fully appreciate the complexity of race, students must be able to both deconstruct multiple false beliefs about the fixed nature of race (i.e., racial essentialism) and be able to articulate the sociopolitical development of race (i.e., racial nominalism). In this study, a “knowledge in pieces” theory provides a framework for examining students’ learning about multiple beliefs about race. Participants (N = 116) were recruited online and were randomly assigned to watch either a video about the social construction of race or a video about stereotypes. Participants completed multidimensional measures of racial essentialism and racial nominalism before and after watching the videos. As predicted, participants in the social construction video condition showed significantly greater decreases in genotypic and behavioral racial essentialism but surprisingly showed moderate increases in phenotypic essentialism, relative to changes among participants in the stereotype video condition. Moderation analyses explored how changes in racial essentialism were concurrent with changes in racial nominalism, and whether these concurrences depended on which video participants were exposed to; for example, in the social construction video condition only, decreases in genotypic and behavioral essentialism concurred with increases in sociopolitical nominalism. Findings are discussed in light of pedagogical and curricular strategies for teaching the social construction of race.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    During data collection, an error was discovered in the online survey for the racial nominalism items assessed at time 2; one Likert scale option (“6”) was accidentally excluded from the survey. This error was detected midway through data collection and was fixed. Data collected prior to fixing the error was thus scaled and transformed and retained in the current analysis. Scaling was achieved by calculating the ratio of the participant’s actual response total to the possible response total for each nominalist subscale (for the erroneous response sets) and the using this ratio to derive a score for the full (correct) response sets. An analyses of variance revealed no significant difference for racial nominalist scores (after transformation) among participants with initially erred response sets and those with correct response sets (F(1, 114) = .33; p = .57).

  2. 2.

    Links to the video on the social construction of race: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8MS6zubIaQ&list=PL1rEBv3RSc4FM8Y5Y6M90sH92_1xO0TsE and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UZS8Wb4S5k

  3. 3.

    Link to the video on stereotypes:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9UTjA4jRro

  4. 4.

    Moderation findings were verified with two mixed linear models, one for each nominalism outcome. In each model, level one examined within person change and included time wave, time-varying predictors (racial essentialist beliefs), and the outcome variable (i.e., either humanistic or sociopolitical). All time-varying predictors (i.e., racial essentialist beliefs) were fixed and were time 1 (pretest) centered by setting time 1 values as 0 and time 2 (posttest) values as the deviation score between time 2 and time 1. For the sociopolitical nominalism model only, sociopolitical nominalism time 1 scores were also included as a level 1 predictor to control for baseline differences. For both models, condition (i.e., exposure to the social construction of race video = 1; exposure to the stereotypes video = 0) was examined as a between person level 2 predictor. In order to examine if relationships between levels of change in racial essentialist and racial nominalist outcomes depended on condition, interaction terms between condition and deviation scores were also included. Time wave was time 2 centered (time 1 = − 1 and time 2 = 0) to create a time lag between time 1 predictors on the outcome variables. For the humanistic nominalism outcome, the only significant predictor of change in humanistic nominalism was the interaction of condition and change in phenotypic essentialism (ß = .45; SE = .18; p = .02). For the sociopolitical nominalism outcome, significant predictors of change in sociopolitical nominalism were as follows: change in genotypic essentialism (ß = −.75; SE = .10; p < .01), change in behavioral essentialism (ß = −.36; SE = .13; p < .01), change in phenotypic essentialism (ß = .15; SE = .08; p = .05), the interaction of condition and genotypic essentialism (ß = .99; SE = .20; p < .01), and the interaction of condition and behavioral essentialism (ß = .62; SE = .21; p < .01).

  5. 5.

    https://www.pbs.org/race/002_SortingPeople/002_00-home.htm

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Appendix

Appendix

Racial essentialism (Tawa 2017) Speciation 1. Of all the races, Whites/Europeans are furthest along in terms of evolutionary progress from our primate ancestors.
2. Each racial group has their own Adam and Eve or their own original ancestral parents.
3. Just like plants have subspecies, the human race can be subdivided into subspecies (e.g., Blacks, Asians, Whites).
4. Different races originated independently of one another, for example, the Black race began in Africa, and the White race began in Europe.
Genotypic 1. During an autopsy, the race of a person can be determined by examining bone structure.
2. You cannot determine a person’s race simply by looking at their DNA structure ®.
3. Races can be identified by genetic patterns.
4. Racial groups not only have different skin colors but also have different bone structures, muscle fibers, and genetic foundations.
Phenotypic 1.Race is about how people look on the outside (e.g., skin color, hair texture).
2. Race groups are formed based on similar physical traits such as skin color or hair texture.
3. Race is based on physical appearance.
4. Race can be determined by looking at someone’s phenotypic characteristics (e.g., skin color and hair texture).
Behavioral 1. Different races have different behavioral tendencies, for example, some races are louder and more outspoken than others.
2. People of the same race share similar behavioral characteristics (e.g., the tendency to speak loudly or quietly) that they do not share with people of different races.
3. Some racial groups value education more than other racial groups.
4. Racial groups (e.g., Blacks, Asians, Whites) are too broad to say that members share behavioral tendencies such as speaking loudly or quietly ®.
Racial nominalism (Tawa & Montoya, 2019) Humanistic 1. Scientifically speaking, all human beings, regardless of their race, are descendants of a single maternal ancestor (Mitochondrial Eve).
2. All members of all racial groups are members of the same human family.
3. We all share the same ancestors that originated in Africa.
4. People with ancestors near the equator often have darker skin because their ancestors had a greater need for melanin to protect them from the sun.
5. Human beings originated in Africa and changes in physical appearance (e.g., skin color) occurred as they migrated into different climates.
Sociopolitical 1. Race was a social concept invented to rationalize slavery in the USA.
2. Race is a way to create divisions between people in order to create a hierarchical order.
3. Race was not created in order to oppress people ®.
4. White people did not create the idea of race as a way to rationalize slavery ®.
5. Although race is not real, biologically speaking, race still influences how people are treated in society.
6. The concept of race was created by White people for the purpose of maintaining power and privilege.
  1. ® reverse scored item

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Tawa, J. Does Social Constructionist Curricula Both Decrease Essentialist and Increase Nominalist Beliefs About Race?. Sci & Educ 29, 1513–1540 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-020-00125-7

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