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From Basic to Humane Genomics Literacy

How Different Types of Genetics Curricula Could Influence Anti-Essentialist Understandings of Race

  • SI: genetics and identity
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Abstract

Genetic essentialism of race is the belief that racial groups have different underlying genetic essences which cause them to differ physically, cognitively, or behaviorally. Apparently, no published studies have explored if belief in genetic essentialism of race among adolescents differs after many weeks of formal instruction about different domains of genetics knowledge. Nor have any studies explored if such differences reflect a coherent change in students’ racial beliefs. We use a quasi-experimental design (N = 254 students in 7th–12th grade) to explore these gaps. Over the course of 3 months, we compared students who learned from a curriculum on multifactorial inheritance and genetic ancestry to students who learned from their business as usual (BAU) genetics curriculum that discussed Mendelian and molecular genetics without any reference to race, multifactorial genetics, or genetic ancestry. Relative to the BAU condition, classrooms that learned from the multifactorial genetics and ancestry curriculum grew significantly more in their knowledge of multifactorial genetics and decreased significantly more in their genetic essentialist perceptions, attributions, and beliefs. From a conceptual change perspective, these findings suggest that classrooms using a curriculum emphasizing genetic complexity are more likely to shift toward a coherent anti-essentialist understanding of racial difference.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to acknowledge Brae Salazar and Alex Duncan for their support in entering survey items into Qualtrics and for their efforts in the curriculum writing. We would like to acknowledge Awais Syed for his feedback on this manuscript.

Funding

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1660985. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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Authors

Contributions

This entire study, including the studied curriculum materials, were conceptualized and designed by Dr. Brian M. Donovan, who is the principal investigator (PI) of this research project. PI Donovan conducted all statistical analyses for this manuscript and wrote the first draft of this manuscript. Monica Weindling co-conceptualized the intervention curriculum and assisted with curriculum writing. She assisted Dr. Donovan during the data collection for this study, the interpretation of its data, and the explanations for the results. She edited subsequent drafts of the manuscript. Dr. Dennis Lee assisted with the explanation of the data and contributed to editing the subsequent drafts of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Brian M. Donovan.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Donovan, B.M., Weindling, M. & Lee, D. From Basic to Humane Genomics Literacy. Sci & Educ 29, 1479–1511 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-020-00171-1

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