"Nor does the pursuit of scientific knowledge exist completely apart from the social dynamics, attitudes and cultures of those who seek answers. Science is inextricably linked with our shared humanity and distinct experiences.... Instead of stating 'force equals mass times acceleration' and moving on, a good instructor will ply her students with real-life examples of how the application of force to a mass produces acceleration. Students must create relatable examples that allow them to practice and perfect their use of these tools before expanding them out into the larger, untested world."
In the NYT, Jedidah C. Isler (an astronomy and astrophysics postdoctoral fellow) attempts to answer the Chief Justice's questions "What unique perspective does a minority student bring to a physics class?" and "I’m just wondering what the benefits of diversity are in that situation?"
The questions came up in the oral argument in the Fisher case against the University of Texas which uses race as a factor in admissions decisions. Existing case law allows intentional race discrimination when it is necessary to serve a compelling government interest, and the compelling interest has been understood in terms of the educational benefit, such as making "classroom discussion... livelier, more spirited, and simply more enlightening and interesting." What kind of discussion in a physics class would be improved because of the racial diversity of the students?
That's a challenging question, and Isler accepted the challenge. What is Isler talking about when she cites "real-life examples" and "relatable examples" illustrating principles of physics and having some greater dimension because of the racial diversity in the classroom? Too bad she didn't give a real-life, relatable example of the kind of real-life, relatable examples she was talking about. Is Isler thinking of teachers who "ply" their students with story problems involving "the application of force to a mass produces acceleration" that takes place in an urban environment? In my head, that plays out like a "South Park" scene. Some white teacher is motivated by the presence of black students to infuse physics with details she imagines "relate" to their "real lives"? It would be absurdly patronizing and stereotyping!