Sunday, September 16, 2018

tl;dr: High School Biology Classes Are Now Politically Indoctrinating Students And Teaching Them Falsehoods, And That's A Good Thing

I couldn't even finish this it was so angrifying.
   Instead of indoctrinating students with the PC falsehood that races aren't natural kinds, you might at least just tell them that it's complicated and controversial and leave it at that. In fact, that'd be the best thing to tell 'em given the state of the contemporary disagreement.
   Here's a question from a test discussed in the piece:
5. True or False: When several traits are combined they can be used to distinguish one racial group from another.
We're told:
...on several questions—including number five—the students split nearly 50-50. “They’re guessing,” Strode says. (For the record, the answer he says he was looking for on number five was “False.”)
That may have been the answer he was "looking for," but it isn't the correct answer. The article complains that high school teachers used to avoid the topic, and praises them for moving back to addressing it...but it'd be better not to discuss it at all than to indoctrinate students with politically-motivated falsehoods...or at last not-known-to-be-truths. And as for the students guessing: too bad the teacher isn't guessing. If he were, he'd have a 50-50 chance himself. Instead, he's using a method that'll produce more wrong answers than right ones...and passing that along to his students. Much better to guess than to allow your views to be determined by the PC answer.
   Strode’s exercise is an anomaly. Most American biology textbooks and curricula don’t discuss race at all — nor do they grapple with the biology of sexual orientation or gender, for that matter. To some, these omissions seem appropriate. Early 20th-century biology textbooks, after all, were replete with ignorant racial and gender stereotyping and classifications purporting to be scientific—and some even extolled the virtues of racial purity. It would be hard to find such discussions in today’s biology classrooms and supporting materials.
   But to a growing number of academics, that’s a problem, and the omissions represent glaring intellectual lacunae—a sort of sanitized approach to biology that ignores the political and cultural veins that have historically run through it. After all, the history of racial, sexual, and gender classification is very much a story of scientific debate. And biological concepts—and misperceptions—continue to exert profound influence on national conversations about diversity and human difference.
   With these realities in mind, some educators, scientists, and sociologists are working to bring such discussions back into American biology classrooms and textbooks. Along the way, they’re criticizing common models of teaching—and raising questions about what, exactly, responsible biology teaching looks like during an age of resurgent scientific racism, bitter political struggles, and shifting notions of identity.*
Translation: it's good that biology classes are now indoctrinating students with the politically correct orthodoxy instead of ignoring the whole fucking mess and sticking to science...flawed as it may currently be. The consensus on race has, unfortunately, swung toward some kind of nominalism / "social constructionism." It's a mistake--so far as I can tell--but science makes mistakes. (And, of course, I might be wrong.) And it's a politically-motivated mistake, which makes it more annoying. But this, too shall pass. We can't eliminate all errors from science education. But at least we could keep the damn politics out of it.
   What really sets me off about this stuff is the ignorance and obvious error and damn Lysenkoism...combined with the unctuous pieties about getting science "back on track!" Jebus! It's enough to make the pope cuss.

*Also this PC use of 'identity' makes me crazy.


Anonymous Critical Spirits said...

Long winded post commencing in 3...2...1:

It is my understanding that in the "metaphysics of race" (yep that's a thing) there are three typical stances that one can take:

1) Race is biologically real
2) Race is socially real
3) Race is not real

Now, I am not quite sure what it means for something be real in a domain-specific sense like in 1 & 2. The concept of reality might be reducible to some other notion, but I normally take the predicate 'is real' to be a monadic one.

Allegedly, it is more complicated than this. I am told (by non-biologists, so take this with a grain of salt) that biological theories that posit race as an entity fare no better in terms of predictive power than ones that do not posit it. Furthermore, nonracial traits typically associated with particular races do not track as well as previously thought. There is also a worry about how "projectible" they are (which might hamper the "races are natural kinds" thesis).

I think the rub in the article you posted is that these issues are far from uncontroversial, but they are being presented to impressionable young minds as though it is just "settled science" that race is not a biological category. Furthermore, they neglect to mention that biologists aren't the ones settling the question of whether or not race is biologically real; that's a job for philosophers of science and metaphysicians.

Also, for reasons well-documented on this blog, the notions of 'social-construction' and 'social reality' are so goddamn unclear that discourse involving the notions are almost guaranteed to devolve into instances of philosophers talking past each other.

My stance is this: i) race is real, ii) it is real in virtue of observable property clusters (e.g. skin color, slight-- but sometimes noticeable-- facial features, etc.), iii) it can be used to make fruitful predictions (consider the trope where a white man whose (white) wife gives birth to a mixed race child to which he infers that she has been cheating on him), iv) it is generally morally unimportant, and v) it need not be a natural kind in order to be real.

There are many error-theorists about race who think we ought to dispense with "race talk" because racial categories do not refer, but these folks typically amount to saying that "we should just use different words to pick out the phenomena that most people pick out by asserting racial categories."

I don't know what would settle these issues, but the fact that it is surprisingly up in the air means that we shouldn't fan trendy biological theories as settled science.

Finally, there is an interesting paper by Joshua Glasgow and Jonathan Woodward defending a "basic realism" about race. They basically argue that race need not be domain specific in order for it to be real. It's a pretty cool paper. Here's a link:

3:13 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Yeah, we're on the same page here...except I'm skeptical about your (v)...

Thanks for the link--will check out.

7:13 AM  
Anonymous Critical Spirits said...

I might be using 'natural kind' in a funny, nonstandard way...

It does seem to me that entities typically considered to be archetypes of natural kinds, e.g. fermions, genetic sequences, stars, etc. are much more "tightly coiled" than races, but if we just wish to say that nature produces races (after all, humans don't produce the property clusters associated with races), and we can make *some* predictions on the basis of the category, then I might relax my commitment to v).

Is this how you understand natural kinds?

2:28 PM  

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