Swimming Against the Tide

Swimming Against the Tide: African American Girls and Science Education

Sandra L. Hanson
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Swimming Against the Tide
    Book Description:

    "They looked at us like we were not supposed to be scientists," says one young African American girl, describing one openly hostile reaction she encountered in the classroom. In this significant study, Sandra Hanson explains that although many young minority girls are interested in science, the racism and sexism in the field discourage them from pursuing it after high school. Those girls that remain highly motivated to continue studying science must "swim against the tide."

    Hanson examines the experiences of African American girls in science education using multiple methods of quantitative and qualitative research, including a web survey and vignette techniques. She understands the complex interaction between race and gender in the science domain and, using a multicultural and feminist framework of analysis, addresses the role of agency and resistance that encourages and sustains interest in science in African American families and communities.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-623-0
    Subjects: Sociology, General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Introduction: Understanding Young African American Women’s Experiences in Science
    (pp. 1-6)

    The study of elites has historically been an important part of socialscience theory and research. Elites have been described as those occupying powerful and influential positions in government, corporations, and the military. These elites share interests and attitudes, and have networks that work to encourage and include some but discourage and exclude others (Domhoff, 1983; Mills, 1956; Zweigenhaft and Domhoff, 1998). In a technologically advanced, postmodern, global society, the status, power, shared interests, and powerful networks of those in science suggest that they must be considered as members of the new elite. One of the most distinguishing features of the...

  5. 2 The Conceptual Framework: A Critical-Feminist Approach
    (pp. 7-11)

    The conceptual framework used here acknowledges the patriarchal nature of the science system and the power of gender and race structures in creating and limiting opportunities for individuals. However, it is multicultural in its view of gender. It also avoids a deterministic, victim approach to looking at the experiences of young African American women in science education. I use a critical-feminist framework that acknowledges the dialectic between structure and agency.¹ In the pages below, I elaborate on the assumptions of the feminist framework and critical approach used here. I also argue the need for a particular multicultural feminist framework. Thus,...

  6. 3 Young African American Women’s Experiences in Science: “Science Is Like Opening a Present from Your Favorite Aunt. You Just Can’t Wait to Open It Because You Know There Is Something Wonderful and Unique Inside.”
    (pp. 12-42)

    Before describing the factors in young African American women’s lives that encourage and discourage them in science, it is important to describe these young women’s science experiences involving attitudes toward science, course-taking in science, and science achievement. The quandary that this book addresses involves an interest and involvement in science among young African American women that exists in spite of the fact that their gender and skin color might be expected to put them in double jeopardy in the white male science culture. In the following pages, I first present some background from the literature on the topic of race...

  7. 4 Influences—Teachers and Schools: “They Looked at Us Like We Weren’t Supposed to Be Scientists.”
    (pp. 43-71)

    The anomaly that is addressed in this volume centers on the positive attitudes toward science that many young African American women express in the context of a science environment that is not welcoming. In this chapter, I look at the literature on education systems (and especially science education systems) in the United States and the way that race and gender come into play. I also present analyses from the NELS and Knowledge Networks data that provide insights into the role of schools and teachers in young African American women’s science experiences.

    The focus on education as a means to escape...

  8. 5 Influences—Family and Community: “My Mother Never Minded Me Using Her Kitchen Utensils to Dig Up Insects and Worms to Explore.”
    (pp. 72-93)

    My analyses of school systems suggests that young African American women often get little encouragement in science from the adults that they encounter there. Schools systems involve race and gender structures that are particularly cogent in the elite science system. Nevertheless, I have discovered a high level of interest and involvement in science among young African American women. I turn now to an examination of a potential source of agency for these young women—the African American family and community. Research has suggested that African American subcultures provide young women with a unique set of resources—resources that might be...

  9. 6 Influences—Peers: “I Know Plenty of Girls at My School [Who] Love Science.”
    (pp. 94-120)

    There is only a limited amount of literature available on peer effects for young African American women in the science domain. In the discussion below, I briefl y review the literature on the importance of peers for education (and science education) achievement. I then review literature on gender, race, and peer experiences in education (and science education). This literature (together with a consideration of oppositional and other theories on race, sex, and peer processes in education systems) helps us understand general peer effects and the peer culture that African American women experience. It also sheds insight on the ways in...

  10. 7 Conclusions: “Science Is Not About Which Race Likes It Better, It Is About Doing What You Like.”
    (pp. 121-128)

    Women and minorities have increased their representation in science education and occupations (Hanson et al., 2004; National Science Foundation, 2004). However, the culture of science continues to be white and male. It is often hostile to women and minorities (Catalyst, Inc., 1992; Harding, 1986; Rossiter, 1982; National Science Foundation, 2000; Pearson et al., 1999; Ramirez and Wotipka, 2001).

    Research on women in science has proliferated, but the focus is often on differences between men and women with little attention to subgroups of women. It is a mistake to think of women as an undifferentiated group. In fact, preliminary research has...

  11. Appendix A: Tables
    (pp. 129-176)
  12. Appendix B: Detail on Knowledge Networks Sampling
    (pp. 177-180)
  13. Appendix C: Text for Vignettes
    (pp. 181-182)
  14. Appendix D: Selected Questions from Knowledge Networks Survey
    (pp. 183-184)
  15. Appendix E: Detail on NELS Sampling and Data
    (pp. 185-186)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 187-188)
  17. References
    (pp. 189-206)
  18. Index
    (pp. 207-213)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 214-214)