Science Professor calls for “Queer Theory” teaching in elementary schools

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Exploring how “queer theory can be a useful tool for re-imagining elementary science education and elementary science teacher preparation,” Kristin Gunckel, an Associate Professor, Teaching, Learning & Sociocultural Studies at The University of Arizona, wishes to bring “sexuality into the elementary science classroom.”

Suggesting that current elementary school children are suffering from “heteronormative” and “limited” classroom lessons, Gunckel says queer theory and sexuality-infused curriculum should be introduced.

She presented her ideas during a March 23 lecture hosted by the public university’s Institute for LGBT studies.

Speaking on Gunckel’s behalf, a U of A spokesman told The College Fix that “social scientists use queer theory to urge others to look differently at norms they have never questioned, and that Gunckel used her talk to suggest a way of looking differently at science education.”

A web page for the lecture lists three areas Gunckel wants to focus on.

  1. Adding [a] strand for the “Feeling for the Organism” into the Next Generation Science Standards
  2. Inviting sexuality into the elementary science classroom, and
  3. Disrupting preservice elementary teachers’ science teacher identities.

Chris Sigurdson, Vice President for Communications at the U of A, said the lecture wasn’t about teaching elementary children sexuality in the classroom.  He called the webpage a “promotional blurb.”  He says Gunckel “believes starting with questions yields better learning and student engagement than describing experiments and listing results.”

“Queering Science for All: Probing Queer Theory in Science Education” was a 2009 academic paper Gunckel published in the Journal of Curriculum Theorizing.  The paper describes queer theory as “making the normal queer.”

“Because queer theory is about disrupting normative processes, it is also about disrupting definitions and categories,” she writes in the paper. “Queer theory examines how the social construction of sexuality is normalized so that heterosexuality is portrayed as the only normal and natural form of being human.”

Addressing what she says are “misconceptions that homosexuality does not occur in nature” and sex is only for reproduction, she offers that teachers should be open to young minds curious about sex and nature.  “Queering science education means turning the science classroom into a space that fosters curiosity.”  She gives the following example:

…imagine the elementary classroom studying life cycles using an open jar of flightless fruit flies rather than pictures of the stages for the fruit fly life cycle. The teacher and students become co-learners (Malewski, 2001) as wonderings are offered and plans made to explore what happens as the fruit flies mate, lay eggs, die, and new fruit flies hatch. Questions are asked about the sex of the fruit flies and mating behaviors. The teacher treats these questions openly, not rushing to hide or make judgments about what should be seen. Curiosity and passion are awakened, possibilities are explored. Students inquire not just into life cycles but also into the ways that science comes to understand the world. Together, students and teachers have the opportunity to explore and question the hows and whys of that understanding as they explore their fruit flies.

Gunckel accuses schools in general of being “highly homophobic and heterosexists institutions.”  She says Queer theory aims to bring equality and acceptance into education.

“Queering science education means exploding binary gender and sexuality constructions, collapsing heteronormativity, and opening spaces within science education for the marginalized identities,” Gunckel wrote.

She says “queering” would expand the view of sexuality available to students via a curriculum that includes images of people with various sexual orientations and family compositions.  Those inclusions may, in part, address “misconceptions that homosexuality does not occur in nature and that the only purpose for sex is reproduction.”

She believes this will allow underrepresented students to see themselves and their families.  “In elementary school, it means not hiding sexuality from children,” Gunckel surmises.

The College Fix reports that Gunckel declined to speak with them about her theories.

H/T: The College Fix

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