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Whiteness as Property in Science Teacher Education

by Felicia Moore Mensah & Iesha Jackson - 2018

Background/Context: The disparity between the race and ethnicity of teachers and students is expected to increase as our nation and classrooms continue to become more racially, ethnically, linguistically, and economically diverse. It is extremely important to think about not only the educational needs of such a diverse student population within schools but also who will teach these students. However, when looking at subject-matter specificity for the retention of Teachers of Color, such as science teachers, the picture becomes extremely serious when we understand teachers’ paths into and out of science and teaching.

Purpose: The purpose of the study is to analyze the experiences of preservice Teachers of Color (PTOC) enrolled in an elementary science methods course as they gain access to science as White property. Our analysis provides evidence that PTOC can break the perpetual cycle of alienation, exclusion, and inequity in science when they are given opportunities to engage in science as learners and teachers. In addition, we also offer insights regarding the role science teacher educators may play in preparing teachers and especially TOC for urban schools.

Setting/Research Design: The context of this study was a graduate-level preservice elementary science methods course at a large urban university in New York City. Multiple data sources included pre-post surveys, semester observation journals, final course papers, and a post-course questionnaire. Utilizing constructivist grounded during the initial phase of analysis and themes from critical race theory (CRT), our unique voices of color and positionalities allowed us to interpret the data from a CRT perspective and arrive at findings relevant to making science inclusive to PTOC.

Conclusions/Recommendations: In order to push the field of science teacher education toward social justice issues of access, opportunity, and enjoyment, efforts must focus on increasing representation of Teachers of Color in science education. The transformation of science teacher education to grant equitable learning experiences for Teachers of Color is needed. Further research on the experiences of science Teachers of Color, as well as Faculty of Color and their relationship with students, is highly encouraged. Both teacher preparation and science education must be open to interrogate and reveal structural forms of race, racism, and power that manifest through curriculum, structure, and pedagogy that cause alienation and exclusion for Teachers of Color. Therefore, we encourage science teacher educators to examine their own course curriculum, structure, and pedagogy through self-study and reflection. Overall practices in teacher preparation must empower rather than impede progress toward important goals of CRT, and this may be achieved through building stronger relationships with PTOC and Faculty of Color across teacher preparation courses in support of these goals.


The disparity between the race and ethnicity of teachers and students is expected to increase as our nation and classrooms continue to become more racially, ethnically, linguistically, and economically diverse. For instance, overall public school enrollments are projected to continue to increase over the next few years for Blacks, Hispanics, Asian/Pacific Islanders, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and students of two or more races, while student enrollment is projected to be lower for Whites (Hussar & Bailey, 2011); in other words, public school enrollment of students of color will surpass enrollment of White children by 2023. Grace Kena et al. (2014) report that between fall 2012 and fall 2023, the enrollments of Hispanics and Asians/Pacific Islanders are expected to increase by 30% and 5%, respectively, and Black students will make up 15% of public school enrollment. From these numbers, it is extremely important to think about not only the educational needs of such a diverse student population within schools but also who will teach these students.

Principally, we need to pay attention to teacher diversity as many researchers are concerned with the preparation of Teachers of Color1 and their educational needs (Cheruvu, Souto-Manning, Lencl, & Chin-Calubaquib, 2015; Gist, 2014; Mensah, 2016). Many Teachers of Color have a desire to teach in diverse, urban, and multicultural school settings (Gist, 2014); yet, understanding the ways in which preservice teachers engage in the process of becoming multicultural educators is important (Achinstein, Ogawa, Sexton, & Freitas, 2010). Programs that include a multicultural approach to preservice teacher education (see Ladson-Billings, 1999) seldom focus exclusively on the preparation of Teachers of Color; thus, research on this particular segment of the profession is very limited.2 Research has indicated that preservice Teachers of Color (PTOC) often experience isolation and marginalization in their preparation programs (Brown, 2014; Cheruvu et al., 2015). Such factors can be exacerbated once these educators enter schools and classrooms. In a comprehensive review of the literature on retention and turnover of new Teachers of Color, Betty Achinstein et al. (2010) found many factors contributing to a high national turnover rate for these teachers, such as working in schools stressed with conditions related to financial, social, and cultural capital; teaching in hard-to-staff urban schools with high numbers of students from low-income, highly racially and culturally diverse communities; and staffing issues regarding teacher quality, humanistic commitments, professional development, and multicultural capital in schools. Overall, Achinstein et al. offer a broad scope of teacher education retention issues.

However, when looking at subject-matter specificity (Mensah, 2009) for the retention of Teachers of Color, such as science teachers, the picture becomes extremely serious when we understand teachers’ paths into and out of science and teaching. First, the candidate pool for science teachers is diminished when factoring in attrition rates for college science majors and graduation. The low teacher applicant pool is due in large part to the decreasing numbers of students of color who major in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and computer science (STEM-CS) and then graduate with these degrees. Chen (2013) reported that many students who enter college as STEM candidates left STEM several years later by either changing majors or leaving college without completing a degree or certificate. A total of 48% of bachelor’s degree students and 69% of associate’s degree students who entered STEM fields between 2003 and 2009 had left these fields by spring 2009. Moreover, about twice as many Asian as White, Black, or Hispanic students enter STEM fields; nevertheless, completion rates are lowest for Black and Hispanic students, with only 16% of those in each of these groups who enter STEM fields earning bachelor’s degrees in these areas, compared to about 30% of the Asian and White students (Chen, 2013). For various reasons, a significant proportion of students who initially intend to study STEM-CS fields abandon them several years later, and studies have frequently found that women, underrepresented minorities, first-generation students, and those from low-income backgrounds leave STEM fields at higher rates than their counterparts (Anderson & Kim, 2006; Hill, Corbett, & Rose, 2010). If students do not complete requirements for completion of STEM-CS degrees, this significantly decreases opportunities to enter teaching as a career option for these fields.

Moreover, the majority of college graduates of color are not entering teaching as a profession. In fact, Black and Latin@ teachers represent only about 14.6% of the teaching workforce, and in some schools, there is not a single Teacher of Color in the building (Bireda & Chait, 2011). Ulrich Boser (2014) calculated a teacher diversity index, ranking states on the percentage point difference between teachers and students of color. For example, New York has an index score of 27. This figure is calculated by subtracting the percentage of Teachers of Color in the state from the percentage of students of color in the state. More than 20 states have a diversity gap of 25 percentage points or more between the diversity of their teacher and student populations.

When Teachers of Color are in schools and classrooms, positive relationships can develop and science learning is enriched. For example, Felicia Moore (2008) found that the relationships African American secondary science teachers build with students of color (African American and Latin@) enhance students’ learning experiences in the science classroom and beyond. Likewise, academic and social supports are heightened with Teachers of Color in classrooms and the school community (Ladson-Billings, 2009; Milner, 2006). With the declining number of Teachers of Color, who bring resources and perspectives that often match those of the diverse population of students in public schools, their development is worthy of study for recruitment, retention, and professional development (Dilworth, 2012; Gist, 2014; Madkins, 2011). Additional research is required particularly in the preparation of PTOC within content-specific areas, such as science (Mensah, 2016), where this literature base is virtually nonexistent.3

Traditional methods of preparing science teachers are not overtly culturally relevant for students of color (Mensah, 2011a). Science as a subject area and culture is rooted in positivist thinking that restricts ways of knowing to a Western conception of knowledge. Pedagogically, this means that science learning environments are typically teacher-centered and lecture-based, and curriculum and content are generally devoid of multiple perspectives. Science education scholars have critiqued this view of science as Modern Western Science or Eurocentric (Mutegi, 2011; Rodriguez, 1997) due to its domination over other knowledge frames and practices. Other ways of knowing and doing science are viewed through a deficit lens, or not considered science. Furthermore, William Stanley and Nancy Brickhouse (2001) argued that Eurocentric notions of science expose “students from non-Western cultural backgrounds to the superiority of Western scientific methods and knowledge" and by doing so expose "the epistemological deficiencies of their own culture’s scientific ideas” (p. 38) as the definition of “good science education” (p. 38). Thus, anyone approaching the teaching and learning of science must contend with this traditional dominant Western view, as "good science education" (p. 38) and then confront an ideology of Whiteness applied to science. The challenge is overcoming views of science as a privilege and benefit for some and exclusionary for others. Likewise, teacher educators must understand the ways in which access to content and knowledge are either granted or denied and question how teacher education supports the status quo in many regards by not critiquing teacher education curriculum, knowledge, or pedagogy to make them more relevant to students and Teachers of Color (Apple, 2000; Mensah, 2011a, 2016; Milner, 2006).

Therefore, two means to begin addressing issues of recruitment, retention, and professional development of science Teachers of Color include placing emphasis on teacher education curriculum and pedagogy and developing approaches to understand the experiences of PTOC in science education. The experiences of PTOC in science are customarily not considered from a pedagogical perspective in science teacher education. Therefore, this study analyzes the experiences of seven PTOC in a graduate-level elementary science methods course. Critical race theory, or CRT, is utilized as the theoretical framework, where the centrality of experiential knowledge and the unique voice of color establish a basis for research with PTOC in science and teacher preparation. In addition, we borrow from CRT the tenet of Whiteness as property as a lens to provide a historical racial analysis of the experiences of the seven PTOC. They discuss the saliency of race and racism in terms of their past school experiences in science and their current experiences in their teacher preparation program. The study highlights the ways in which PTOC gain access to science learning and teaching. In the section that follows, the theoretical framework of CRT is described as well as the notion of “science as White property” which is derived from Whiteness as property, one of several key concepts of CRT.


Teacher preparation and science education continue to suffer from a lack of deep theoretical grounding in examining issues of diversity, race, and racism (Ball & Tyson, 2011; Mutegi, 2011 Parsons, 2014). Educators continue to be educated and educate others in ways that ignore systemic racial inequities and their own role in perpetuating those inequities (Ladson-Billings, 2004). Theoretical approaches to issues of race and racism in teacher education position the field to subscribe to unspoken norms of Whiteness (Duesterberg, 1999; Sleeter, 2001), while neglecting the experiences of Teachers of Color and the impact race and racism have on teacher education and their professional development as teachers. As these views permeate teacher preparation, science education is also indicted. More attention is needed to address issues of race and racism in science teacher education as well. CRT offers one approach for seeking deeper theoretical understanding in the preparation of science Teachers of Color.


CRT is rooted in the scholarship of legal scholars in the 1970s and builds upon insights from critical legal studies and radical feminism (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012) as well as Marxism, the analysis of internal colonialism, feminism, and cultural nationalism (Zamudio, Russell, Rios, & Bridgeman, 2010). CRT’s starting point can be traced to the early work of Derrick Bell and Alan Freeman, “both of whom were deeply distressed over the slow pace of racial reform in the United States” (Delgado & Stefancic, 2000, p. xvi). Laurence Parker and Marvin Lynn (2002) noted that by the 1980s, CRT scholars argued for “a complete reinterpretation of civil rights law with regards to its ineffectiveness in addressing racial injustices, particular institutional racism and structural racism in the political economy” (p. 9). From its early conceptualization in the law, CRT contains an activist dimension as well. Scholars apply the theory to understand how society organizes itself along racial lines and hierarchies, which can function indiscernibly (L. Bell & Roberts, 2010), and make appeals for transforming society for the better (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012).

Though there have been many “spin-off movements” of CRT (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012) and broad fields that utilize CRT, many critical race scholars subscribe to several tenets, principles, and themes as defining characteristics of CRT, some of which are noted in Table 1.

Table 1. Overview of Critical Race Theory Themes


Solórzano (1997)

Zamudio, Russell, Rios and Bridgeman (2010)

Delgado and Stefancic (2012)

Theme 1

The centrality and intersectionality of race and racism

Critique of colorblindness


Theme 2

The challenge to dominant ideology

Critique of liberalism

Interest convergence or material determinism

Theme 3

The commitment to social justice

Whiteness as property

Social construction or differential racialization

Theme 4

The centrality of experiential knowledge

Interest convergence

Intersectionality and antiessentialism

Theme 5

The interdisciplinary perspective


Unique voice of color or counterstories

To grasp a better understanding of these themes of CRT, Margaret Zamudio et al. (2010) articulated a set of “concepts” or “tools of CRT” that help to build the theory. Their views of CRT concepts provide a sharper focus of issues within education from microlevel to macrolevel policies that affect schooling. Similarly, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic (2012) offer additional analysis of CRT concepts and themes, also in Table 1. Thus, it is evident that CRT has themes, concepts, tools, and language that overlap; still, CRT relates the permanence of racism in our society (D. A. Bell, 1992; Lawrence, 1987), addresses an understanding of educational inequality, and seeks to identify potential solutions to address these inequalities. Furthermore, CRT is grounded in interdisciplinary roots aimed at studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. Zamudio et al. (2010) summarize CRT as race matters, history matters, voice matters, interpretation matters, praxis matters; and praxis matters because “it is not enough to simply produce knowledge, but to dedicate this work to the struggle for social justice” (p. 6). CRT is intended to transform education to better serve the needs of all students, and we argue the same for PTOC. Many of the major themes and some tools of CRT are mentioned throughout the study and more prominently in the Discussion. For example, we present the experiences of seven PTOC enrolled in a science teacher education course. Their experiences are told as counterstories and highlight their unique voices and experiential knowledge. In addition, Whiteness as property, a key theme of CRT, is applied as the secondary theoretical framework to contextualize participants’ experiences in science.

Whiteness as Property

The concept of “Whiteness as property” asserts that there are tangible aspects of life that White people claim as their own; hence, they are positioned to allow and deny access because of their claims to property. Ian Haney-López (2006) asserts that Whiteness became a racialized system supported by the ideology of property and material benefits to those holders of property. With Whiteness comes property. The property interests of Whiteness to White people’s claims to land and labor is described by Cheryl Harris (1995) in the following way:

Race and property were thus conflated by establishing a form of property contingent on race: only blacks were subjugated as slaves and treated as property. Similarly, the conquest, removal, and extermination of Native American life and culture were ratified by conferring and acknowledging the property rights of whites in Native American land. Only white possession and occupation of land was validated and therefore privileged as a basis for property rights. (p. 278)

Moreover, Harris (1993) explains, “The law has accorded ‘holders’ of whiteness the same privileges and benefits accorded holders of other types of property” (p. 1731). This meant that holders of property, in the sense of having privileges and benefits, also had the right to exclude others. Having multiple levels on which claims to property function—such as the right of possession, the right to use, the right to disposition, the right to transfer, as well as the right of use and enjoyment, and the right of exclusion. These notions to claims of property are essential qualities associated with property rights and how Whiteness as property functions (Harris, 1993). In sum, “the fundamental precept of whiteness—the core of its value—is its exclusivity” (p. 1789). When Whiteness has more value in relation to other races and as long as it maintains its exclusive privileges, it maintains privilege and the benefit of property and rights.

Over time, property has come to be associated with other abstract concepts, such as time, creativity, and benefits of education (Harris, 1993). For instance, Gloria Ladson-Billings and William Tate (1995) apply this notion of property to education. They note how curriculum privileges ways of knowing, which is rooted in Whiteness and how the property taxes of affluent neighborhoods in comparison to taxes of poor neighbors create an inequity in school funding and human capital. Ladson-Billings and Tate explain the original notion of the property function of Whiteness in education for exclusion was that Black children were denied an education, and through time, there has been “the creation and maintenance of separate but equal schools” as well as “the idea of white flight, vouchers, public funding of private schools, and schools of choice” (p. 60) to maintain exclusiveness to education. Further, they explain that “[w]ithin schools, absolute right to exclude is demonstrated by resegregation via tracking” (p. 60), and in these tracked schools, certain students are offered access to high-quality teaching, rich curriculum, and well-qualified teachers; other students are offered a lesser education and no access to a high-quality education or teachers deeply knowledgeable in content and pedagogy. Therefore, “through the myriad policies and practices that restrict the access of students of color to high-quality curricula, and to safe and well-equipped schools, school districts have served to reify this notion of Whiteness as property whereby the rights to possession, use and enjoyment, and disposition have been enjoyed almost exclusively by Whites” (DeCuir & Dixson, 2004, p. 28). Subini Annamma (2015) states, “Whiteness as property has historically and continues to function as a tool to confer social benefits, from the intangible to the material, on those who possess it and to punish those who do not” (p. 298). Thus, any educational practices that continue to restrict or deny access for students of color, or Teachers of Color, can be analyzed through the lens of Whiteness as property. Borrowing from these ideas, we coined the phrase “science as White property” as a tool for looking at the educational experiences of PTOC in this study. This idea of science as White property is important to consider as Teachers of Color navigate both science education and teacher preparation in mostly White teacher education programs (Sleeter, 2001), with the exception of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions that prepare the majority of Teachers of Color (Dilworth, 2012).


Traditional Eurocentric, positivist teachings of science reify a White, male ownership of science. The lack of representation of scientists of color and the overrepresentation of White middle-class male scientists reflects a culture of power (Barton & Yang, 2000) that is consistent with Whiteness as property. Science as White property limits the teaching and learning of science as a right for students of color or other marginalized groups, such as women, students of poverty, and students in low-resourced urban and rural areas. However, the right to use and enjoyment of science—what science looks like, who engages in science, and what science is for—historically has meant a disregarded and exclusionary view of science where women and people of color with their indigenous knowledge, and cultural frames of reference do not have a right to use science or enjoy it. Consequently, marginalized groups were excluded from science, not allowed to make contributions, or not recognized for their contributions. When science is accessible to some and not to others, it creates exclusivity and division that is analogous to the property function of Whiteness. This is science as White property. For example, Edward Shizha (2007) describes science as having its own culture, which he defined as “a culture for the privileged, hence a closed culture which is not open to everybody” (p. 305). Subsequently, science often seems foreign, or like another world (Costa, 1995), to the vast majority of students who have been denied access and opportunity to learn science (Tate, 2001). Still, when science is made accessible, the pedagogy, curriculum, and content often discourage students of color from enjoying the subject (Brand, Glasson, & Green, 2006). This is often the result of pedagogical practices that still maintain the White status quo and culture of power of Western Modern Science; thus, when science is taught in these ways, science maintains its culture of power as inclusive for some and exclusionary for most. In other words, science as White property is a right for possession, disposition, use and enjoyment for some and not for all. We argue these notions carry over into science teacher education as well.

Science Teacher Education as White property

CRT in teacher education can be used to “theorize and examine the ways in which race and racism impact on the structures, processes and discourses within a teacher education context” (Solórzano & Yosso, 2001, p. 3). For instance, teacher preparation programs are most often designed to meet the needs of White female middle-class teachers (Cheruvu et al., 2015), while Teachers of Color are often left out of policies, procedures, planning, courses, curriculum, and instruction of content. In a study by Jane Agee (2004), the researcher explained that “the teacher education texts used in the course made recommendations for using diverse texts or teaching diverse students based on the assumption that preservice teachers are White” (p. 749). It is common to emphasize the preparation of White teachers for teaching, as Christine Sleeter (2001) referred to this “overwhelming presence of Whiteness” (p. 101) as a predominant view and policy of teacher education. This notion communicates that teacher education is the property of Whiteness and PTOC are excluded or not given much attention in their preparation as teachers.

Thus, this notion of teacher education as White property extends and helps to theorize the experiences of PTOC in science education also. In science education, preservice teachers draw from their experience of negative images of learning science (Mensah, 2011b). The image of the scientist as a smart nonemotional White male wearing glasses and a white laboratory coat has an effect on recruiting a certain type of person and discouraging others from doing science or wanting to become scientists or science teachers (Parsons, 1997; Shizha, 2007). The stereotypical image of the science teacher continues to influence how teacher candidates enter science teacher education and how they are prepared as science teachers (Mensah, 2011b). Moreover, in science teacher education, Teachers of Color have to contend with numerous issues, with many of these stemming from their science education history, where they felt excluded or marginalized from learning science (Mensah, 2016; Rivera Maulucci, 2013). As a result, Teachers of Color live within a perpetual cycle of alienation, exclusion, and inequity. The cycle starts first with not having the opportunity for use and enjoyment of learning science as PK–12 learners, viewing science as White property, and then finding themselves in teacher education programs as White property. Access and right to ownership of science teaching and learning become virtually impossible. Follow this scenario:

First, as students of color during their PK–12 schooling, they were alienated from learning science, or did not have rich science learning experiences in school. In many urban elementary classrooms, science was not taught, and many elementary school teachers were taught by teachers who did not hold science as a priority, had weak science content knowledge and limited science professional development themselves. Their teachers demoted science learning to completing worksheets (Appleton, 2003), making science uninteresting and unnecessarily challenging. When science was taught, typically starting in middle school and high school, the teacher was a mid to older aged White male, and the learning environment was not engaging, the science content was boring and irrelevant, and the pedagogy was predominantly lecture-style (Mensah, 2011b). As students of color in these school settings continue their education, eventually they graduate from high school with a science education that has not prepared them for the necessary skills and knowledge base to be critical consumers of science; they are not college-ready for science or science-related careers. They do not enter college as STEM-CS majors nor desire to become science teachers.

Now as elementary teacher education candidates, they are being prepared to teach in underresourced, racially, linguistically, and ethnically diverse school settings. In many cases, these schools are similar to the schools they attended. Here, in their cooperating teacher classrooms, science is taught sporadically if at all (Spillane, Diamond, Walker, Halverson, & Jita 2001; Tate, 2001). They want to teach in urban PK–12 settings as teachers because they understand inequities in access to learning, mostly from personal experience. They want to teach science and see it as important for students to learn, as they did not have rich science learning experiences themselves as young learners. Yet, their school placements do not hold science has a high priority subject area (Gunning & Mensah, 2010; Spillane et al., 2001). In many instances, these schools suffer from the institutional and sociohistorical difficulties of enacting reform-based science (Carlone, Haun-Frank, & Kimmel, 2010), and contending with oppressive/regressive (Rodriguez, 2010) and disempowering school policies (Mensah, 2010) that prevent science teaching and learning from happening. Their students continue their school trajectory, a second generation of underprepared science learners.

This second generation of students is now in college. They realize they are not college-ready for science and are underrepresented in STEM-CS college majors and other science-related fields. Reflecting on their experiences, they note their teachers did not prepare them for science learning, and they opted out of advanced placement mathematics and science course work in high school. Most of them have forgotten the little science they did learn in high school, while others avoided taking any upper level college science. They elected to take humanities and other fields, hoping to be far removed from any association with science, mathematics, or closely related fields. Without a strong science background, they are intimidated by science, just as their teachers were in school. They enter a teacher education program, carrying with them a legacy of science learning neglect passed along from their teachers’ teachers, and are now charged with teaching a third generation of learners. Now, in their classrooms as teachers, they are less than casually committed to teaching science to their students (Berg & Mensah, 2014). And the cycle continues to the next generation. Having a strong science background would have set these teachers, and their students, on a path leading to science-related careers and opportunities. Instead, as the cycle continues, another generation of students suffer. They have fallen short of an opportunity to participate in our now science-connected, technologically savvy, innovatively engineered, mathematically minded, computer-focused modern world. We have lost yet another generation of potentially motivated STEM-CS majors and teachers.

In this scenario covering three to four generations of little to no science teaching and learning, we can surmise the current state of affairs, where the trajectory of school science learning produces and re-produces opportunity and achievement gaps from elementary school (Kohlhaas, Lin, & Chu, 2010) and continues into the professional level and beyond (Berg & Mensah, 2014). In addition to the inaccessibility of science throughout the scenario, there is a racial analysis that “presumes that racism has contributed to all contemporary manifestations of group advantage and disadvantage” (Matsuda, Lawrence, Delgado, & Crenshaw, 1993, p. 6) that also shows up in the inequitable access to science. For the Teachers of Color who are exemplars of this scenario, there is a perpetual cycle of alienation, exclusion, and inequity as it relates to science as White property. Not having a quality science education continues over many generations, thus decreasing the number of students interested in science, or STEM-CS, and potentially taking on these areas in college as majors and careers. This perpetual cycle of non-science education for students of color is a serious threat to educational equity, access, and opportunity that is kept alive over several generations. Overshadowing this view is attention to how institutional factors perpetuate race and racism, maintain inequity for students of color, and deny them science as White property, particularly in underserved, high-poverty settings. If the cycle is not broken, then Teachers of Color are unjustly positioned such that claims to science as White property are not realized for them or their students. They may not possess it, seek claim to it, nor benefit from the privileges, benefits, or use and enjoyment that science holds for them. This exclusion impacts future generations of science learners and the myriad benefits that a science education holds for them and their futures.


CRT is intended to transform education to better serve the needs of all students. As PTOC enter science teacher education, their needs as learners must be addressed as well. This aligns with Tate’s (2001) notion that science is a civil right, in that both students and their teachers are deserving of access to a high-quality science education and access, use and enjoyment of science in their lives. The body of literature thus far in science education and CRT does not adequately attend to the experiences of PTOC in science teacher education. A CRT approach in science teacher education involves a commitment to “culturally informed pedagogies” (Ladson-Billings, 2014, p. 83) in the preparation of science Teachers of Color and a responsibility to meet the broader goal of a more diverse representation of teachers and students of color in science. Likewise, CRT is needed to transform science teacher education to better serve the needs of all preservice teachers so they in turn may serve the needs of all students. A CRT perspective in education sees race, racism, and power as central to understanding inequality and seeks to advance a deeper understanding and analysis of educational inequity in science teacher education. Therefore, the purpose of the study was to analyze the experiences of seven PTOC enrolled in an elementary science methods course as they gain access to science as White property. The research questions were: How does a multicultural science education course help PTOC gain access to “science as White property”? What role did the instructor play in assisting the PTOC to gain “science as White property”?


This study took place in a graduate-level preservice elementary science methods course at a large urban university in New York City (NYC). The methods course was designed to orient preservice teachers to multicultural science teacher education and to offer practical application of science teaching in urban elementary classrooms through microteaching (Gunning & Mensah, 2010). The first author was the primary instructor and designer of the course, and the second author was the course assistant. We both served as researchers for the study for two semesters, spring and summer 2011. To the extent that “all social research is a form of participant observation, because we cannot study the social world without being part of it” (Atkinson & Hammersley, 1994, p. 249), we acknowledge that our positionalities within the setting as well as our epistemologies as researchers influenced the framework utilized in the study. Furthermore, our roles as instructors shaped the construction of and pedagogical decisions made in the course.


The elementary science methods course was designed around an interdisciplinary focus of science and literacy for two semesters (spring and summer) in the preparation of culturally relevant elementary science teachers (Ladson-Billings, 2009; Mensah 2011a). The spring course met for 16 weeks, once per week for 2 hours and 40 minutes. The summer session course met for 6 weeks, twice per week for 3 hours and 30 minutes. The curriculum, structure, and pedagogy of the methods course focused on active engagement where preservice teachers (PSTs) sat in table groups and learned in a collaborative inclusive classroom learning environment. They participated in small and large group laboratory activities, discussions of course readings, and teaching presentations. We also used technology, such as PhET simulations and the NASA website, for resources to enhance engagement and science content knowledge. In addition, the course covered a range of content topics covered in the NYC Scope and Sequence elementary school curriculum, yet we made culturally relevant and interdisciplinary connections frequently. Because the course utilized a critical and engaged pedagogy, we were seen as facilitators and active participants as well. We sat among the PSTs in table groups, circulated and participated in discussions and activities with the PSTs, and encouraged the PSTs to learn with and from each other. Both classes engaged the PSTs in learning about theory and practice, developing science content knowledge and pedagogy, and focusing on both teacher and student learning of science.

Taught as a field-based methods course, there were two partnership schools in East Harlem where the PSTs were placed during the semester. The schools (K–5) were predominantly African American and Latin@ and had been partnership schools for more than 6 years. A major assignment for the course was the development, teaching, and reflection of an integrated science and literacy lesson for microteaching in the partnership schools. The PSTs in both semesters wrote observation journals, interacted with young learners, and completed other field-based assignments (Gunning & Mensah, 2010). For the spring course, PSTs were assigned to a classroom for microteaching and taught science lessons between weeks 10–14 of the 16-week course. Due to the brevity of the summer course, which was only 6 weeks, it was arranged with permission from the principal and classroom teachers that all PSTs were placed in classrooms as paired coteachers. During the summer they completed observations in their assigned partner school classrooms, and everyone on one selected day (Science Day) attended the school and taught their science lesson.


At the end of the two sessions, the PTOC from the spring and summer courses were sent an invitation to participate in a Teachers of Color Research Project. Seven PTOC—three African American females (Dionne, Michele, & Renee), one Black/Nigerian American female (Umina), one Latina (Ileana), one Caribbean Chinese female (Ari), and one Latino (Bernardo)—agreed to participate in the project.4 The PTOC ranged in age from 22–28 years. Except for Ari and Umina, who had taken the course the previous spring semester, the other five PTOC were from the summer session. With agreement and acceptance into the study, the seven PTOC signed a consent form and submitted course artifacts (pre-post surveys, semester observation journals, and final course paper) as the primary data sources for the study. In addition, they were invited to participate in a 5-day summer science institute for science teacher professional development (PD), which was held on campus. Some PD sessions were also held across the street at the main campus of the university, with access to the chemistry department’s laboratory and other resources during the summer institute. Three of the PTOC (Dionne, Michele, and Umina) participated in the 5-day summer science institute. The summer science institute was the culmination of monthly PD sessions with mostly White inservice elementary teachers from several partnership schools from a surrounding urban school district. For the PTOC, it was the culmination of their participation and extension of the science methods course for additional access, resources, and engagement in science learning (i.e., content and practices).

Four of the PTOC (Dionne, Michele, Umina, and Ari) participated in an informal group conversation. This was done a few weeks after the completion of the post-course questionnaire (explained in the Data Analysis section). The conversation was not recorded, though researcher notes were taken. This informal conversation was to get additional feedback from the PTOC on their participation in the study and the summer science institute and to follow up with them about midpoint of the fall semester of their teacher preparation program. Table 2 provides an overview of the primary data sources collected for this study. A brief description or key categories of the kinds of questions we asked and topics covered for discussion are noted in the table as well.

Table 2. Overview of Data Sources

Primary Data Sources

Description and Summary of Questions Asked

Pre-Post Survey

Surveys include demographic data, experiences teaching and teaching science, and questions about images of science, and identity as a teacher and science teacher.

Semester Journals

Semester journals include reflecting on observations in urban elementary science classrooms and working with diverse students, observing student-student interactions in the school, the classroom, and learning science. Journals include reflections from conducting brief student interviews about science interests and teacher interviews about science teaching and professional development.

Final Course Paper

Final paper includes reflecting on learning and teaching science during the course, within urban elementary classrooms, and sharing overall professional growth as elementary science teachers. Discussions also include assessing student learning based upon microteaching and comments on future learning and teaching of science.

Post-Course Questionnaire

Questionnaire includes discussions from initial interpretations, with questions specifically addressing prior science learning experiences, multicultural science teaching, expanding understanding of science, images of scientists, positionality of the professor, and science teaching goals.


Utilizing constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2006) during the initial phase of analysis, the semester observation journals and final course papers of the seven PTOC were read line by line and coded for emergent themes. The line-by-line coding process helped to reduce bias (Charmaz, 2006) and provided a foundation for understanding participants’ experiences. Their responses were read using an in vivo, iterative approach (Charmaz, 2006) where initial codes were drawn from the language used by the PTOC to capture their experiences and their unique voice of color. After the initial coding process, all in vivo codes were discussed and analyzed for patterns. Patterns, with conceptual definitions garnered from a constant comparative method (Charmaz, 2006), were used to create a coding document to ensure interrater reliability during subsequent coding. Each author analyzed course documents individually using the coding document and discussed emergent themes collaboratively. While the coding document was used across data types for triangulation, we also added new codes and revised the document as necessary based on the additional dimensions of experience captured in different data sources.

Based upon the emerging insights from our data analysis process and secondary data,5 we constructed a post-course questionnaire to obtain additional information and clarification about what we were finding. With the post-course questionnaire serving as a form of member checking as well (Guba & Lincoln, 1989), the seven PTOC were contacted via email and asked to complete the post-course questionnaire as an additional primary data source. They completed the post-course questionnaire and returned it approximately 3 to 6 months after the summer science institute. The post-course questionnaires were analyzed using the same coding document constructed from previous data. We coded this data source as we did the semester observation journals and final course papers, and refined our emerging themes from preexisting patterns of data. From the analysis of the primary data and our knowledge of CRT literature, there was evidence for notions of “science as White property” to be fruitful in describing the experiences of the PTOC in science teacher education. Connections to Whiteness as property were seen in all narrative accounts, collected work, conversations about experiences in the science methods course, and PD sessions. Table 3 offers a sample of transcription coding from three primary data sources—semester observation journals, final course papers, and post-course questionnaire. This coding document showed how we arrived at consensus from writing descriptive memos, developing emergent categories, comparing interpretations across data sources, and eventually coming to the establishment of the themes for the study.

Table 3. Sample Transcription Coding from Various Data Sources


Data Source

Emergent Category

The class discussion was my favorite aspect of the class. The discussion forced me to think about science in a multicultural aspect in which at some point sounded like an oxymoron to me being that minorities’ especially African American females are so underrepresented.

Semester journal entry

Course: discussions, science as multicultural; forced thinking

With all the learning that took place during this semester, I see myself identifying as a science teacher. Teaching science is not as impossible as I imagined it would be and there are tremendous resources available through NASA, NSES, state standards, colleagues and even the internet that make teaching science for any new teacher a less stressful situation.

Final course paper

Course: resources and identity

I felt that my classroom experience might have been different if this course was taught by a white male professor because with [Professor] teaching the class, I had a teacher I was able to relate to. My science teachers in high school and college were white males and [Professor] did not fit into the image of the stereotypical scientist I was accustomed to and this made me a lot of comfortable during the semester.

Post-course questionnaire

Past experiences: positionality of professors

My previous experiences as a science learner growing up, the image I had of a scientist was that of white men with “nerdy” looking glasses dressed up in lab coats.

Post-course questionnaire

Past experiences: traditional image of scientist

[Professor’s] class expanded my definition of who can be scientists because she defied the odds of what I had in mind and taught in a way that made everyone feel valued and upheld the belief that anyone can be a scientist.

Post-course questionnaire

Science methods: positionality of professor

As a student, I would consider my experiences and relationship with science as disconnected. I felt that science was “boring” and too serious.

Post-course questionnaire

Past experiences: disconnected, boring

My thinking about science and science teaching have changed in that I learned that teaching science through a multicultural lens creates richer learning experiences for the students. Students are able to see themselves as scientists and engage and connect with the concepts in more meaningful ways. It helps shift away from traditional ways of teaching science that are teacher centered.

Post-course questionnaire

Change in views

Science as multicultural and not traditional

This class pushed my thinking. It pushed me to think differently about science and in doing so it made me excited about science. Teachers often hate to teach science because they do not feel like they have a connection to it and this class made me see my connection through showing me the lack of connection that was shown in my previous experience with science and my commitment to change things for students that look like me.

Post-course questionnaire

Course: thinking different, change in view, connection to science; push thinking

Our ongoing informal conversations with the PTOC and each other added to the credibility and trustworthiness of the findings and our approach of triangulation and interpretation (Charmaz, 2006). In addition, theoretical and methodological triangulation was useful in the process of analysis and interpretation (Guba & Lincoln, 1989). The concept of Whiteness as property offered a robust way of viewing the data. As a theoretical and methodological tool, meaning-making was guided by the “social realities and lived experiences” of the seven PTOC in this study (Howard, 2008, p. 969). Their understandings steered the process of data collection and analysis, and deepened our knowledge of their personal experiences in education and their access to science as White property. Furthermore, as African American female researchers, both of us were able to discuss the findings with each other and have conversations with the PTOC through shared experiences in science and science teacher education. As researchers, we could relate our personal narratives to the experiences of the PTOC, yet see how differently positioned we were in comparison to them and to each other. Thus, all our unique voices of color and positionalities allowed us to interpret the data from a CRT perspective as based upon our experiential knowledge and personal experiences as Women of Color researchers. Our perspective also spoke to other tools of CRT, such as social construction or differential racialization due to having experiences in common, and giving attention to antiessentialism from the centrality and intersectionality of race and racism from varying positionalities for ourselves and the participants in the study (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012; Parsons & Mensah, 2010). Therefore, our positionalities emerged as an important discovery, which is described in greater detail in the findings and implications of the study.


We reflect the language of CRT by presenting and discussing the two major themes: first, illustrating significant shifts in attitudes toward claiming science as White property; and second, discussing the role of professor positionality in serving as a mediator for the PTOC in gaining access to science as White property. These themes reflect the theoretical and methodological lenses used in the study as a starting point for a discussion of CRT in science teacher education. We support these findings through counterstorytelling, a CRT methodology (Howard, 2008; Solórzano & Yosso, 2002), by sharing the unique voices of color of the seven PTOC and their opportunity to gain science as White property in science teacher education.


Drawing from the work of Ladson-Billings and Tate (1995) and Harris (1993) to analyze the experiences of the seven PTOC in this study, there was a significant shift in attitudes toward science as an example of Whiteness as property. A CRT analysis helped to explain the disconnect the PTOC experienced as learners of science. The comments from the PTOC revealed their incoming feelings or relationship with science as they entered the science methods course. They had not found science to be inviting or inclusive during their education, namely from high school to college. They also entered questioning whether science was a field in which they belonged and did not see the relevancy of science in their lives. For example, Michele expressed the following about her school experiences:

When I was younger I went to a school where I was the only minority and I often felt I did not have a voice… In terms of science, science has not really influenced any part of my life. I have always looked at science as a requirement and not as an enjoyment. (Michele, Pre-survey, 05/24/11)

Michele’s realization of her lack of enjoyment in science caused her to question her place in science, and she only saw science as fulfilling a school requirement. She often spoke about not having a “voice” in science class and the content being “unfamiliar” to her. She also described science learning as not having any influence on her life and not being “enjoyable.” She stated: “Prior to taking science methods, I was unsure if I had a place in the field of science because I did not find it enjoyable” (Post-course questionnaire, 01/20/12). She summed up her feelings about learning science:

I have been grappling with ways to find my own culture of power in the field of science education in order for me to have a voice and a stance. I did not think that I fit into the realm of science because it was unfamiliar to me and I remember my science experiences being uneventful. (Michele, Final course paper, 07/01/11)

From having a very positive microteaching experience and participating in the summer science institute, Michele’s views of science shifted over time. Her past experiences in science were not engaging, but as she thought about her race as a student and teacher, her positionality as a Black science teacher became stronger. She felt science was not only for her but also for all students to experience and enjoy. Science was a privilege that all her students should have:

As a student of color and a teacher of color, I feel it’s important for students of all backgrounds to have a shared experience with science. (Michele, Post-course questionnaire, 01/20/12)

The experience of shifting perspectives of science teaching and learning and claiming science as White property was shared by other PTOC in the study. For instance, several participants highlighted the importance of pedagogy as a means to question the taken-for-granted assumptions of science teaching and learning as traditional. As part of the course design and pedagogy, individual culture and background knowledge of students became tools for exploring and understanding science as White property and how students gain access to it. In one example, Bernardo shared how the structure of the course and the class discussions in particular about science and science teaching compelled him to think about connections between student culture and science learning in different ways. A broader view of science for Bernardo meant that science could be connected to the daily experiences of students and that inquiry—asking questions and challenging others’ perspectives—was allowable in science learning. These ideas and approaches to science education were new to him. This was not how he had experienced science because his science teacher held all the knowledge and passed it on to students, similar to the banking concept of education of Paulo Freire (1970). In his experience, students would passively learn content from the teacher. Toward the end of the course, Bernardo reflected on the design and structure of the course as helping him to see science in more meaningful, personal, and engaging ways:

The discussions in class have made me think about how important it is to incorporate students’ previous knowledge, multiple perspectives, language, culture, and interest, and the way information is presented to students… I have learned…that science is about connecting things to students’ daily lives and interests. (Bernardo, Semester observation journal, 06/16/11)

Bernardo’s experiences speak to the notion that science can connect to students’ cultures and diverse perspectives. In many ways, Bernardo’s initial view of science as objective and disconnected from the experiences of the learner was reconceptualized. Questioning and inviting student culture into the curriculum made a difference in student engagement with science. Bernardo added: “It is important that I show students that they can ask questions and challenge each other’s ideas” (Semester observation journal, 06/16/11), and that students could engage in science and not just accept ideas, whether from the teacher or peers, without discussion and critique.

Similar to Bernardo, for Renee, the student-centered structure of the methods course and class discussions were a catalyst for transforming her thinking about access to science for marginalized groups of people. Her interactions in the course became a way of opening up science that was inclusive and accessible to students of color. These views allowed her to claim science as White property and possibly contribute to increasing underrepresented or marginalized groups in science. Renee commented, “If I educate students the way I learned science this semester, then maybe we would have more people of color in the field” (Post-survey, 06/30/11).

The structure, pedagogy, and underlying philosophy of the methods course included challenging dominant perspectives of who science is for and how it can be taught. After completing her microteaching lesson that integrated science and art, Dionne wrote: “It was at that moment that I realized that I am, in fact, a scientist” (Post-survey, 06/30/11). Having the opportunity to do microteaching gave Dionne a bit of experience teaching science, and this assisted her in identifying herself as a scientist. Dionne was able to claim an identity in science that she did not have previously. She noted on the pre-survey, given on the first day of class, a view quite contrary to her newfound science identity at the end of the course:

I don’t see myself as a science teacher right now because I do not feel like I am equipped yet with the knowledge of content and execution/activities related to the content. It is not because I don’t fit the “bill” of a “science teacher” that I feel unqualified, but merely my lack of experience and knowledge of science that brings me to this conclusion. (Dionne, Pre-survey, 05/24/2011)

Thus, the PTOC who participated in this study began to see themselves as science teachers and were able to claim science as White property for themselves by the end of the course. As an example, Ileana reflected on her experiences in the methods course. Similar to Michele, Ileana’s shifting perspective was not viewing science in its “traditional sense” but realizing that science is “enjoyable,” and like Bernardo, believing science can be relevant to students. Ileana developed some comfort with science teaching and learning. Comparable to the others, her experiences from the course were different from her early experiences in science:

I think I was very uncomfortable with the idea [teaching science] because of my own relationship with science growing up. However, I was able to learn a lot of ways in which science can be enjoyable and rich of content for students to relate and engage with. In addition, I realized that science encompasses a lot of different things outside of the traditional sense of the words that should be taught to students. (Ileana, Post-survey, 06/30/11)

Hence, CRT allowed us to analyze how the PTOC struggled to claim science as White property.

Claiming science as White property or taking on the identity of a science teacher or scientist was challenging due to their previous science education experiences. They had experienced science as “uneventful” and “uncomfortable,” and viewed science as disconnected from their personal experiences. Their prior science curriculum and pedagogy did not address their questions or interests, and they felt science was not “for them.” This is evidence of the culture and power of science that was presented in its “traditional” approach, making it inaccessible to them as learners, leaving them feeling disconnected and voiceless. Contrary to this, gaining science as White property made them “excited about science.” As an example, Ileana stated, “This course has helped me identify more with being a science teacher” (Ileana, Post-survey, 06/30/11). Similarly, Renee commented about the change in perspective she gained:

This class pushed my thinking. It pushed me to think differently about science and in doing so it made me excited about science. Teachers often hate to teach science because they do not feel like they have a connection to it, and this class made me see my connection through showing me the lack of connection that was shown in my previous experience with science and my commitment to change things for students that look like me. (Renee, Post-course questionnaire, 10/03/11)

Traditionally, science as White property for the PTOC did not allow them to enjoy science or develop a relationship with science. In their view, they did not have a “voice” nor did they think science could be connected to their culture and daily lives. However, to gain science as White property in a science methods course, the content, pedagogy, and structure have to be inclusive and welcoming of who they are. The PTOC were given opportunities to be science teachers and scientists through microteaching and other activities in the course. In these ways, they made personal connections to science and replaced negative past experiences with new and exciting ways to see themselves, as well as their students, in science. Thus, science teacher education has to invite the PTOC’s participation and open possibilities to connect their identities to science in meaningful ways (Mensah, 2016) so that they gain access and the right to use and enjoy science as White property. The shift in perspective in essence was supported by a mediator who invited and supported the PTOC in developing more positive experiences in science, thus breaking the cycle of alienation, exclusion, and inequity in science teaching and learning.


A second theme that connects to the curriculum, structure, and pedagogy of the elementary science methods course in allowing PTOC to claim science as White property was the positionality of the professor. Positionality considers intersecting social variables, such as gender, race, class, ethnicity, and religion, among others (Moore, 2008). These social variables are multiple systems of oppression, with race fundamentally connected to them all. The intersectionality of these variables became evident in conversations and writings the PTOC produced. The course, designed and taught by an African American female (first author) who identifies as a scientist, incorporated a multicultural interdisciplinary approach to teaching science that was unlike any science course or teacher preparation course the participants had previously taken. She was formerly a high school science teacher and had worked in industry as a microbiologist/chemist before coming into education. She also worked in a hospital laboratory and psychology laboratory during graduate school, and a genetics laboratory during undergraduate school as a biology major. She had been teaching the science methods course for more than seven years at the institution and was a tenured faculty member at the time the study was conducted. The second author, also an African American female, was a doctoral student in urban education at the time of the study. Though she did not have a background in science education, she served as a course assistant in the science methods course in the spring and summer sessions. She was also an Urban Fellow selected by the first author and placed in one of the partnership schools where the PTOC completed observations and microteaching. She assisted during laboratory activities in the university classroom, participated in class discussions, and worked with PSTs in the field placement.

As science instructors at the graduate school level, the arbitrary boundaries that some students associated with science education had been constructed through dominant narratives of science and science teaching. This reflected the Whiteness as property concept for science learning and teacher preparation curriculum, as mentioned in the first theme; moreover, it connected to this second theme in questioning taken-for-granted views of science and scientist: who can do science, who is a scientist, and what a scientist looks like. This invited an intersectionality perspective of CRT (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012), given that the instructor and teaching assistant of the course were both African American women; thus, race and gender, among other intersecting variables, were salient to this theme for the PTOC and the researchers, and more so for the PTOC in gaining science as White property for use and enjoyment.

One way to address race and intersectionality pedagogically and personally in the course and in the preparation of PTOC was to include discussions and readings on culturally relevant teaching, multicultural science education, and readings by researchers of color, which also included articles published by the first author. For example, Renee stated, “That is why I appreciate the articles that we do read in class while still incorporating multicultural connections to science and this is the framework that we should bring into the classroom” (Renee, Semester observation journal, 06/28/11). In addition, the African American female science professor was seen as a role model of who can do science. Thus, the positionality of the professor was important in broadening views of scientists, engaging in pedagogies for preparing Teachers of Color, and modeling for the PTOC how they too can make personal connections to science. From classroom observations and discussions, the first author shared personal experiences as a science teacher and scientist. For example, she often recounted experiences of how she connected to science as a young girl growing up in North Carolina, as a laboratory technician in a major manufacturing company, and as a former high school science teacher who taught multiple sciences. She often cited examples from being in the elementary partnership schools, working with other teachers in these schools, such as providing PD and interacting with young learners. She also did coteaching and interjected examples or made clarifications for content knowledge and offered numerous pedagogical strategies when in the university setting and field classrooms with the PSTs. Furthermore, the positionality of the professor allowed the PTOC to have someone they could “relate to” and who could help them also connect with science in personal and meaningful ways. She was the scientist and science teacher in the elementary classroom, the university classroom, and in the summer science institute. Umina wrote how the professor’s positionality was not “the stereotypical scientist” of her past instructors of science:

I felt that my classroom experience might have been different if this course was taught by a White male professor because with Professor Mensah teaching the class, I had a teacher I was able to relate to. My science teachers in high school and college were White males and Professor Mensah did not fit into the image of the stereotypical scientist I was accustomed to and this made me a lot more comfortable during the semester. (Umina, Post-course survey, 01/20/12)

By her very presence, the professor demonstrated that science was accessible and was a right for the PTOCs’ use and enjoyment. She enacted a critical reflexivity (Bettez, Aguilar-Valdez, Carlone, & Cooper, 2011) where her positionality stood alongside those of the PTOC and their positionalities for individual, collaborative, and collective learning of science.

It was important for the PTOC to have access and opportunity to learn science for themselves. They were given the privilege and power to do this through their microteaching experiences, with the hope of passing this along to future learners. All seven PTOC had expressed a desire to teach in urban schools; thus, the course with a field-based component provided an authentic context for teaching and learning science in an urban context—with children of diverse racial, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds and with children very much like the PTOC. There were ample opportunities for the PTOC to personally engage with science as learners and to develop an identity as a science teacher. For example, Ari remarked:

Yes, I see myself as a science teacher. From this course, I began to feel a bit more confident in teaching science. The resources that were in my reach, the collaboration of my [peers], the hands-on experiences of implementing science lessons in a real classroom, the feedback from fellow peers, [the elementary teacher], and Professor Mensah have given me encouragement that teaching science can be done and continuously improved. (Ari, Post-survey, 05/11/2011)

Engaging in a multicultural approach to science education with an African American professor helped the PTOC see themselves as scientists, and the approach and presence of the professor affirmed that the PTOC had a place, voice, and access to science as White property. By learning from their professor’s experiences, background, and knowledge in science, the PTOC noted that science as White property was accessible and claimable. Michele indicated the following:

By having Professor Mensah as a professor this summer I was able to find my voice and place in science education because of her personal pedagogy to the field. If a White professor had taken the same approach …, but I would have already assumed that this would be boring for me, similar to some of my [past] science education experiences. (Michele, Post-course questionnaire, 01/20/12)

Umina and Ari also shared similar views of realizing their science learning and teaching experiences would have been different if the professor was White; however, Ari was reminded of how extraordinary it was to have had a professor of color. She stated:

The only other African American teacher I had was a math teacher in high school; he taught geometry/trigonometry. If the science methods class was taught by a White male professor, it would only resemble what I have been used to in school. Having a teacher of a similar ethnicity to me did challenge my previous schooling experiences. (Ari, Post-course questionnaire, 10/03/2011)

The presence of an African American female science educator in the classroom was both affirming and disaffirming for one of the PTOC. Renee, for example, provided a counterstory of pride, interspersed with unease in having an African American female professor in science. The position that the professor held at her predominately White elite institution was also reflected in Renee’s counterstory. She was realizing the saliency of race in science and the presence of institutional racism and power in higher education. Thus, the positionality of the professor represented a reality that should be acknowledged yet not taken for granted:

Although I think it is important to bring these multicultural connections [course readings and teaching experiences] into science, it is also imperative to explain societal views of people of color in science. For example, Professor Mensah an African American female from the south is our science professor and breaking many barriers in science and at [the university]. I was happy (more like proud) that this was the case but then nervous at the same time because when my colleagues [White peers] read articles every week about minorities being underrepresented and see the exact opposite everyday (by Professor Mensah proving statistics wrong), I am afraid they would believe the “well if she can do it” theory. Then on the other hand I am glad that they [White peers] see this because sometimes teachers have low expectations for children of color and water down the curriculum because they feel like those students [our emphasis] will not understand. (Renee, Semester observation journal, 06/28/11)

Renee’s perspectives brought up many notions related to race, racism, and power connected to intersectionality and meritocracy, which are important concepts to consider for teacher preparation and higher education. All these constructs complicate the way race and racism, gender, and even geography of her African American female southern tenured science education professor brought to science and her role as a teacher educator. Renee, articulating this complexity, also stated the need for her White teacher education peers to have a science professor of color to dispel low expectations, thinking that African American students, or girls, cannot excel in science, and not to presume that their professor’s positionality and location were commonplace. Though the seven PTOC were able to see themselves as scientists and relished the opportunity to learn from and with a female science professor of color, Michele nonetheless was critical of the field: “This class showed me how much the field of science education has progressed, but how much work still needs to be done” (Renee, Final survey, 06/20/11).


Reflecting the language of CRT, we present and discuss two major themes from this study—illustrating significant shifts in attitudes toward claiming science as White property, and discussing the role of professor positionality in serving as a mediator for gaining access to science as White property. These themes reflect the theoretical lens and methodological tools used in the study as starting points for a discussion of CRT in science teacher education. Two tools of CRT, namely Whiteness as property (Harris, 1995) and counterstorytelling (Howard, 2008; Solórzano & Yosso, 2002) are useful in privileging the voices of the seven PTOC regarding their past school experiences in science and teacher education. These tools of CRT add a richer theoretical analysis for understanding generational inequities in science education that have to be broken in order for Teachers of Color to have access to science learning and teaching. In one way, the study addresses a concern that CRT is undertheorized in education (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995) and in teacher education (Milner, 2007), and brings to the forefront CRT and Whiteness as property in science teacher education. Borrowing from the CRT’s tenet Whiteness as property, “science as White property” is theorized in this study as a way to make explicit seven PTOC and their past experiences in science and current experiences in science teacher education. In another way, we argue for an emphasis on the importance of curriculum, structure, and pedagogy that lead to broader access and rights to science as White property, enabling PTOC to view science as their property for use and enjoyment, which they can pass on to their students.


The findings show a significant shift in attitudes of the PTOC toward science as an example of science as White property. In a CRT framing, property rights of science are exclusively the property of Whiteness, or traditionally the White middle-class male. The lack of representation of scientists of color and the overrepresentation of White middle-class male scientists and White teachers reflect a culture of power (Barton & Yang, 2000) that is consistent with Whiteness as property. For example, traditional Eurocentric positivist teachings of science reify a White male middle-class ownership of science, and this idea is represented as science as White property, where some use and enjoy the benefits of science, while others are excluded and alienated from full participation. In this study, these ideas are evident because all the PTOC mention having only White male science teachers during their educational career, or in a couple instances only one Teacher of Color in mathematics but not science, from elementary to undergraduate education. Science for these PTOC is not accessible to them in any meaningful or authentic way. They take the idea that science is not for them, or people of color, or women, and they see no one to dispel this image. Therefore, this idea of science as White property is important to consider as Teachers of Color navigate both science education and teacher preparation in mostly White teacher education programs (Sleeter, 2001).


The curriculum, structure, pedagogy, and underlying philosophy of the elementary science methods course were deliberate in challenging dominant perspectives of what science is, who science is for, and how science is taught (Gunning & Mensah, 2010). The course structure and pedagogy enabled PTOC to access science learning and the science curriculum in a manner that facilitated a shift in perspective, allowing the PTOC to claim science as White property. Specifically, the course curriculum included multicultural approaches to teaching and learning science and transformed the seven PTOCs’ thinking about the accessibility of science and their place, voice, and rights of use and enjoyment as learners and teachers. Consequently, the seven PTOC saw themselves as belonging in the field, and they were encouraged to develop their own identity as scientists and teachers of science. This affirmation of viewing themselves as scientists and finding a place in science highlights the importance of naming one’s reality, transforming one’s views, constructing knowledge for oneself, and moving toward more equitable learning experiences, which are key themes of CRT (Solórzano & Yosso, 2002). The PTOC experienced science from their unique positionality and consequently possessed science as White property. This is an important step for preparing Teachers of Color particularly for science education at the elementary school level. These teachers set the foundational interest of science education in the early years for young learners in schools. With an interest in and excitement for science teaching, they are on course to break the perpetual cycle of alienation, exclusion, and inequity that moves from one generation to the next, or from elementary school to graduate school.


The seven PTOC in this study came to recognize how traditional science education, the culture of science, and the view of Western Modern Science in reference to its curriculum, structure, and pedagogy functioned to alienate them from the subject. As Harris (1995) argued, “Only white possession and occupation of land [or in this case science] was validated and therefore privileged as a basis for property rights” (p. 278). For the PTOC, science was a subject that was reserved not for their possession and occupation. Science did not welcome them in, and in fact the PTOC did not claim a positive relationship with science at all as part of their educational trajectory from elementary to graduate school. The PTOC could not possess science, nor could they experience the privilege of acquiring science knowledge in ways that hold use, enjoyment, and power.

Therefore, the traditional dominant images of the scientist and science teaching and learning must be challenged in order to break the perpetual cycle of alienation, exclusion, and inequity, as in the scenario presented earlier. Essential in challenging science as White property for PTOC is an explicit attempt to enact a transformative curriculum for science teacher education (Banks, 1989; Mensah, Brown, Titu, Rozowa, Sivarai, & Heydari, 2018). In this way, PTOC see themselves as belonging and having a voice in science. From a CRT perspective, access and opportunities for engaging in science allow students of color to claim science as “their” property. But to accomplish this, the curriculum must be relevant, the structure must be flexible, and the pedagogy must be engaging, deliberate, and framed around transforming science teacher education to meet their needs of PTOC. A curriculum, structure, and pedagogy created in this way disrupts the notion of science as White property as only for others and not for them.

The PTOC also began to realize the property value of science, hoping to teach science to future students of color in the ways they learned and experienced it in their science methods course. They recognized the importance of science education for themselves and other students of color. This is a necessary step in breaking the cycle as well. The planning and teaching of integrated science and literacy lessons and their presence in elementary classrooms as science Teachers of Color go a long way toward breaking the perpetual cycle of alienation, exclusion, and inequity in elementary science education. As science TOC in elementary classrooms, they allow their students access to science as White property through their microteaching, while also serving as exemplars in diversifying the image of the science teacher in diverse classroom settings (Mensah, 2009).


It is quite evident how large a role the positionality of the professor, particularly someone whom the PTOC could relate to, plays in allowing them to gain science as White property. The fact that the PTOC enroll in a science methods course taught by an African American female science educator is not to be understated. Participants experience their professor of color’s pedagogy and positionality which opens up their science learning and teaching experiences in new ways. Science is not seen through the eyes, experiences, and image of a solitary White male scientist in a white laboratory coat, the oft mentioned stereotypical image of the scientist (Mensah, 2011b). In fact, their African American female science professor from the south wears a light blue lab coat, the color of her undergraduate alma mater. For the summer science institute, the PTOC, along with the inservice teachers, wear light blue lab coats also. Because the professor has property rights and ownership of science in her own regard, she is able to pass this along to her PTOC, while welcoming them to science through the view of a multicultural, interdisciplinary, and critical science education perspective (Mensah, 2011a).


CRT positions race and racism as a condition of American society that “is so enmeshed in the fabric of our social order, it appears both normal and natural to people in this culture” (Ladson-Billings, 2004, p. 53). Consequently, it may seem obvious to overlook and not give attention to the experiences of PTOC in their preparation as teachers, particularly when teacher education programs are majorly and overwhelming White, female, and middle-class (Sleeter, 2001). However, embedded within this current study is an overall commitment to social justice and ending subordination and inequities for PTOC in science teacher education. Science as White property serves as an important construct to consider when looking at PTOC and their past experiences in science and current experiences in science teacher education. Sensitivity toward race and racial analysis in science teacher education requires a deeper reflection on science and the preparation of science Teachers of Color. Although there are many possibilities for preparing teachers for diversity, very little research reflects the preparation of Teachers of Color in science (see Endnote 3). Thus, further research on the experiences of Teachers of Color in teacher preparation programs, as well as Faculty of Color and their relationships with students of color in general, is highly encouraged. An intersectional lens on the collective experiences of both students and Faculty of Color may offer additional insights into the transformation of teacher preparation programs to address not only issues of race but also institutional racism in higher education.

Moreover, this study has implications for the kinds of experiences PTOC need in order to transform their views of science and self to permit their access and claims to science as their property. For instance, due to their educational experiences, both teacher educators and science teacher educators must be open to interrogating and revealing structural forms of race, racism, and power that manifest through curriculum, structure, and pedagogy that cause alienation and exclusion for PTOC in their educational history. Recognition of how racial inequities travel alongside educational trajectories for Teachers of Color, and how generational and educational inequities impact teaching practices must be underscored in order for teacher educators to transform teacher preparation programs toward reaching goals of social justice. To this end, additional research with larger samples of PTOC experiencing multicultural approaches in their science education would further substantiate the ability of powerful critical transformative pedagogy to counter the impact of alienation, exclusion, and inequity that has contributed to their marginalization as science learners. Future studies of science as White property should also consider additional approaches in science education that provide content knowledge and development of teaching practices for PTOC in ways previously denied yet creatively restructured for broadening participation in science. Related to the structure of the methods courses, the PTOC have opportunities to teach science through microteaching and Science Day in diverse classroom settings similar to places they desire to teach (Mensah, 2016). Thus, teacher preparation faculty may develop supportive and strong school-university partnerships in diverse settings to foster early experiences in classrooms for PTOC.

When we uncover the myriad ways that race, racism, and power continue to marginalize and alienate people of color in teacher education, a careful examination of not only how we prepare PSTs but also who prepares them is another question to consider. Faculty of Color in higher education and teacher preparation are very much needed (Kayes, 2006). Additional research that explores the ways in which Faculty of Color translate their cultural, social, navigational, and resistant capital (see Yosso, 2005) in preparing teachers for urban and rural schools can elucidate ways to enhance a commitment to social justice in teacher education. Hence, the findings relate the important role the race (among other variables) of the instructor plays in providing access to science as White property and ensuring Teachers of Color in science feel welcomed and included as science learners and teachers. Studies that look at the experiences of Faculty of Color and the intersectionality of their biography, approaches to teaching, and relationships with students may offer fruitful ways of reforming teacher education and addressing the needs of all teacher education candidates.

Matsuda et al. (1993) describe CRT as “work that involves both action and reflection. It is informed by active struggle and in turn informs that struggle” (p. 3). With this in mind, the transformation of science teacher education begins with a focused struggle to address ways of broadening participation in science for all students. By broadening access to science as White property for PTOC as students first, we expose race, racism, and power in science, presuming “racism has contributed to all contemporary manifestations of group advantage and disadvantage” (p. 6). For their science education in particular, we need “a vision of education that challenge[s] the fundamental structure of [science] that reproduced the same inequitable social hierarchies that existed in society” (Tate, Ladson-Billings, & Grant, 1993, p. 267), and within science classrooms for marginalized groups. This speaks to broadening science curriculum, pedagogy, and structures that do not reify the dominant, White male view of science or White female view of teacher education; rather, we adopt views of science and teacher education that are inclusive of multiple perspectives, knowledge frames, and approaches to teaching science and preparing teacher candidates. Therefore, we encourage science teacher educators to examine their own course curriculum, structure, and pedagogy through self-study and reflection. Overall practices in teacher preparation must empower rather than impede progress toward important goals of CRT, and this may be achieved through building stronger relationships with PTOC and Faculty of Color across teacher preparation courses in support of these goals.

Finally, Ladson-Billings (2004) communicates that “adopting and adapting CRT as a framework for educational equity means that we will have to expose racism in education and propose radical solutions for addressing it” (p. 64). Because “teacher education programs are faced with the arduous task of preparing teachers to provide optimal learning opportunities for all students in public schools” (Milner, 2006, p. 370), then it is imperative that we challenge curriculum, structure, and pedagogy to address the preparation of all teachers; this unavoidably means a focus on preparing PTOC. Science teacher educators should consider the past learning experiences of PTOC and work actively to transform science for inclusion and not exclusion. We have the opportunity to work toward “eliminating racial oppression as part of the broader goal of ending all forms of oppression” (Matsudo et al., 1993, p. 6) when we actively transform our teacher education curriculum, structure, and pedagogy for the preparation of all our teacher candidates, and our PTOC in particular.


1. “Teachers of Color” is capitalized intentionally throughout the paper. Here we challenge dominant forms of writing and speak to empowerment for this group as a form of racial and social justice and for us as “Women of Color” and “Faculty of Color” researchers. We suggest the same for “Students of Color” though not used in this study, with an emphasis of research highlighting this group.

2. Using similar search methods as Brown (2014), we searched the Web of Knowledge and Education Full Text databases using the terms “preservice teachers of color” and “teacher candidates of color” to locate relevant literature. This yielded 155 items across multiple content areas. When “science,” then “science education,” and then “science teacher education” were added to the search for “preservice teachers of color” and “teacher candidates of color,” these searches yielded 74, then 19, and then 7 items, respectively.

3. We did a similar search in Wilson OnmiFile with “preservice teachers student teachers” which yielded 168 items, yet when “science education” and “science teacher education” were entered, these searches yielded 4 and 0, respectively. Like Brown (2014), we conducted a review of teacher education and science education handbooks, namely Studying Teacher Education (Cochran-Smith & Zeichner, 2005), Handbook of Research on Teacher Education (Cochran-Smith, Feiman-Nemser, McIntyre, and Demers, 2008), Preparing Teachers for a Changing World: What Teachers Should Learn and be Able to Do (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2011), Studying Diversity in Teacher Education (Ball & Tyson, 2011), and Handbook of Research on Science Education, vol. 2 (Lederman & Abell, 2014). Only one handbook, Cochran-Smith et al. (2008) has one chapter on PTOC in teacher education (Chapter 33). None of the handbooks have a chapter on PTOC in science teacher education.

4. All proper names in the study are pseudonyms, and participants self-identified their racial/ethnic categories on a pre-survey.

5. The field notes, comprised of class discussions, informal conversations, classroom observations of microteaching, and notes from the PD program, were reviewed, discussed, and used to enhance interpretation of data. It was mainly through our collective conversations that these secondary data sources proved instrumental for remembrances of details, clarification of data analyses, and reflections as researchers.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 1, 2018, p. 1-38
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21958, Date Accessed: 8/6/2020 9:49:22 AM

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About the Author
  • Felicia Mensah
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    FELICIA MOORE MENSAH is professor of science education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her primary research interest is science teacher education with emphasis on diversity, equity, and teacher identity. Two recent publications, positional identity as a framework to studying science teacher identity, highlights the experiences of teachers of color in science education, and in the journal Physical Review Special Topics: Physics Education Research, focuses on the educational pathways of Black women physicists and their life stories, which was coauthored with a former doctoral student.
  • Iesha Jackson
    University of Nevada, Las Vegas
    E-mail Author
    IESHA JACKSON is an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She received her Ed.D. in Curriculum and Teaching from Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research centers on examining methods to improve educational outcomes for students of color in urban schools. In order to address this, her work is situated in four main areas: student voice, culturally relevant and sustaining pedagogies, teacher education, and equity-based, macro-level education policies.
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