Theses Doctoral

The Role of Children’s Racial Identity and Its Impact on Their Science Education

McDonald, Lisa M.

Racial identity plays an important role in the development of children’s narratives. In the structure of the classroom, there is a disconnect for students between home and school. The structure of the classroom consists of the social relationships that children have with their peers and teachers. The structure of the classroom also includes how the classroom is set up for learning, such as the curriculum. Racial identity is also a valuable aspect in the construction of knowledge as children learn science. Racial identity is not often addressed with young children and science. Young children need to be able to see themselves in science regardless of their own race or ethnicity. Critical race theory (CRT) was used to examine and situate the context of race with children’s identity. Sociocultural theory was used to describe their process of learning. The participants of this study included 10 children in grades 3 through 5 who attended a diverse urban school located in New York City and their parents (10 parents). A qualitative approach was used to allow both children and parents to share their perspectives on their experience with science and difficult topics that pertain to race and/or skin color. The research designed was mixed methodologies to draw from narrative inquiry and then quantitative methods were used in the design of the Likert-surveys. Qualitative findings address the intersections of race, community, and school for elementary children as they navigate their racial and science identities. The context of race and racial identity was apparent for all 10 participants. Each participant had experience with the social context of race and had expressed feelings about race through dialogue at home and/or at school. This indicates that the role of family socialization regarding conversations about race and skin tone influences children. By examining the racial identity development of children, this study provides science educators with perspectives on how to gauge students’ learning of science and their accessibility to science. The conceptualizations of scientists varied based on the children’s experiences and stereotypical images of science. Overall the findings indicate how family and school are situated in one’s community of practice. The influences of both family and school contribute to one’s identity and how they see the world from a racially and scientifically. Notions of race and science were not dependent on each other. The next steps include examining more in-depth racial socialization of families, the positionality of teachers, and the role of school-university partnerships in science identity development.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Thesis Advisors
Mensah, Felicia
Mahfood, Denise
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
February 27, 2020