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Rethinking Bodies of Learners Through STEM Education

Part of the Advances in STEM Education book series (ASTEME)

Abstract

In the context of public discourse, STEM education is often coupled with its utilitarian value for economic growth and productivity. Under such discourse, learners are reduced at best to human capital, focusing on the production of economic value. Sen (World Development 25(12), 1959–1961, 1997) contrasted human capital with what he termed as human capability, which is “the ability of human beings to lead lives they have reason to value and to enhance the substantive choices they have” (p. 1959). What images of STEM education can we visualize if we place human capabilities at the center? Rather than treating learners as human capital or disembodied entities, we attempt to shed light on learner bodies. Drawing from the integral theoretical perspective of sociocultural theory with queer theory and critical race theory, we conceptualize learner bodies as the locus of negotiating the norm, emotions, and desires, and view them as fundamentally cultural and historical. Utilizing the counter-storytelling practices framed by critical race theory, we introduce the stories of two learners, May and Karim. May’s story tells us how the informal mathematics knowledge she embodied came to be subjugated through formal school curriculum and pedagogy. Karim’s story illustrates how his body queered normative mathematical representation and that facilitated a shift in his positional identity and participation in mathematics learning. The stories of learners with a fuller account of their cultural and historical bodies can help interrogate the underlying assumptions surrounding the current mathematics education. Reconceptualizing learner bodies prompts us to examine how we can mobilize the traditional boundaries of STEM education.

Keywords

  • Learner bodies
  • Human capital and human capabilities
  • Sociocultural theory
  • Critical epistemologies (queer theory and critical race theory)
  • Equity in mathematics/STEM education

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Acknowledgements

We would like to appreciate all the participants in the studies described in this chapter. A special thank-you goes out to the participants we called Karim and May. We also thank Dr. Lesley Dookie, Dr. Ayush Gupta, Dr. Pratim Sengupta, and Dr. Marie-Claire Shanahan for their comments and feedback on an earlier version of this manuscript. One of the studies described here was funded by the Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research [12J02927]. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding agency.

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Correspondence to Miwa Aoki Takeuchi .

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Takeuchi, M.A., Dadkhahfard, S. (2019). Rethinking Bodies of Learners Through STEM Education. In: Sengupta, P., Shanahan, MC., Kim, B. (eds) Critical, Transdisciplinary and Embodied Approaches in STEM Education. Advances in STEM Education. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-29489-2_11

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-29489-2_11

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