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Abstract Title: Critical Theory as a Research Framework for Addressing Injustice in Physics Education
Abstract: While chemistry, mathematics, and biology have made consistent progress toward gender equity, advancements in equity for physics have largely stagnated over the last thirty years. Far less attention has focused on the representation of Communities of Color in physics than on gender inequities, and there is little indication of systemic progress in this area. Most studies in Physics Education Research are not designed to address the role of gender/sexism, race/racism, class/classism, and disability/ableism in student learning and attitudinal development. Most studies in Physics Education Research are also conducted at research-intensive, primarily White institutions. Adopting theoretical frameworks explicitly created to address these inequities may provide physics educators and physics education researchers the perspective required to begin improving equity in physics. Critical Theories, such as Critical Race Theory, are one set of theories that focus on the role of power in the lived experiences of students and educators. As such, Critical Theories support research that looks at inequities in power between and within institutions and classrooms to inform the systemic power structures that drive inequities. Critical Theories stand in stark contrast to the objective, distant, and cold scientific stance central to physics because Critical Theories have an open and activist agenda. Critical Theorists seek not simply to enumerate inequities but to address those inequities. This session will include talks from scholars on their use of Critical Theory to address racism, sexism, and ableism in physics instruction with both qualitative and quantitative studies. We invite participants to question the underpinning ideologies in their own research and to consider the systemic power dynamics at their own institution that support or harm the success of students from marginalized groups.
Abstract Type: Talk Symposium
Session Time: Parallel Sessions Cluster II
Room: Cascade A

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: Jayson Nissen
U. Maine
Co-Author(s)
and Co-Presenter(s)
Ben Van Dusen, Katemari Rosa, Jackie Chini, and Adrienne Traxler

Symposium Specific Information

Moderator: Jayson Nissen
Presentation 1 Title: Equity in College Physics Student Learning: a Critical Quantitative Intersectionality Investigation
Presentation 1 Authors: Ben Van Dusen & Jayson Nissen
Presentation 1 Abstract: We investigated the intersectional nature of race/racism and gender/sexism in broad scale inequities in physics student learning using a critical quantitative intersectionality framework. To provide transparency and create a nuanced picture of learning, we problematized the measurement of equity by using two competing operationalizations of equity: Equity of Individuality and Equality of Learning. These two models led to conflicting conclusions. The analyses used hierarchical linear models to examine student's conceptual learning as measured by gains in scores on research-based assessments administered as pretests and posttests. The data came from the Learning About STEM Student Outcomes' (LASSO) national database and included data from 13,857 students in 187 first-semester college physics courses. Findings showed differences in student gains across gender and race. Large gender differences existed for White and Hispanic students but not for Asian, Black, and Pacific Islander students. The models predicted larger gains for students in collaborative learning than in lecture-based courses. We discuss the implications of these mixed findings and identify areas for future research using critical quantitative perspectives in education research.
Presentation 2 Title: Asking different questions: Critical Theory lessons for physics education
Presentation 2 Authors: Adrienne Traxler
Presentation 2 Abstract: The work of Critical Race Theory (CRT) has been taken up and expanded in various fields including education. One key CRT theme is racism as "normal science," the idea that it is ordinary and embedded in society. Another is interest convergence, the idea that advances in civil rights only happen when they also favor white people. I will argue that both of these themes can be observed in many physics departments today. They are also influential in physics education research. I will discuss examples using tenets from two related Critical Theory areas: Critical Disability Studies and DisCrit (Dis/Ability Critical Race Studies). Because racism and related power structures are so embedded in our academic institutions, it takes equally powerful tools to frame research studies that disrupt rather than support these hierarchies. Critical Theory is one place to find these tools.
Presentation 3 Title: Research, practice, and activism: when Critical Race Theory meets the classroom
Presentation 3 Authors: Katemari Rosa
Presentation 3 Abstract: I have been researching Physics Education through the lenses of Critical Race Theory and Methodology, teaching undergraduate courses for physics majors, and working with graduate students in a Science Education program. At the same time, I gather with anti-racist grassroots groups and people trying to fight systemic inequalities in Brazil. In this presentation, I will discuss how CRT intertwines my research, teaching practices, and activism. Besides, I argue that CRT perspectives can be helpful to decolonize academia. The discussion is an invitation for us to think, collectively, about what does it mean (or what it looks like) to be a CRT researcher in physics education.
Presentation 4 Title: Exploring Assumptions of Dis/Ability in Physics Education
Presentation 4 Authors: Jacquelyn J. Chini and Erin M. Scanlon
Presentation 4 Abstract: One goal of many physics education researchers is to broaden the participation in the physics community. However, even socially just and radical teaching perspectives often center "an inherently able-bodied (or as we would term ableist) soldier: a guerrilla fighter physiologically and psychologically tooled up for action" (Goodley, Lawthorm, Liddiard & Runswick Cole, 2017). Our research agenda explores the impacts of ableism along several dimensions of physics participation, including instructional and mentoring practices. I will discuss how we use critical frameworks to: 1) question how we categorize impairments and situate disability as an individual problem of the "disabled person" versus barriers constructed through organizational attitudes, processes and practices; 2) inform our inclusion of research team members; and 3) connect research and practice.