The call1 went out in December 2018 for articles on “Sex, gender, and physics, and the introductory physics classroom,” seemingly an eternity ago. Amid the heady celebrations of Dr. Donna Strickland’s Nobel Prize for chirped pulse amplification and the more sober reflections on the report on Sexual Harassment of Women from the National Academy of Sciences, we hoped that we could help facilitate a second chorus of enlightenment, advice, guidance, and information on this subject to complement the earlier collection on “Race and Physics Teaching”2 for physics teachers in the trenches. And what a glorious response came forth! More than 30 manuscripts were submitted, emanating from brilliant and creative scholars and teachers, covering the subject from numerous perspectives. We look forward to sharing this collection with you throughout the rest of this year; items in the collection will be identified by the pink thumbnail image of a student leading a classroom discussion seen above. Let us know what aspects of this second collection affect you most, which verses, melodies, harmonies, refrains, and dissonances resonate with your classroom practice most vividly, especially these days, when many of our voices are so isolated. In the meantime, we wanted to convey to you a little more of our own individual paths to this point as editors in the paragraphs that follow. We would also like to take this opportunity to thank the many people who made this possible, including the authors and the volunteer referees who reviewed the manuscripts, and especially you, the readers and supporters of TPT … it is an honor to be part of this community.
Geraldine L. Cochran and Gary D. White
Co-Editors for the Special Collection on “Sex, Gender, and Physics Teaching”
Reflections from Geraldine
I’ve been isolating at home now due to COVID-19 for nearly two months, and for nearly two months I’ve been trying to find the right words to put into this editorial. I’m still not sure that I have words that are meaningful to share in this time of anxiety, stress, and grief. The words I have been telling myself each day are: “Keep going, if you can, and continue something you already started.” Some days I can’t and I show myself grace in this time of low productivity. Some days I can; and on those days I’ve continued the work on projects that are meaningful to me.
This themed issue has been one of those projects. Reflecting back on the themed issue on “Race and Physics Teaching,” I find it interesting that Gary and I discussed call-and-response. In the video abstract for our previous editorial,3 I discussed some of the things I learned about call-and-response songs from my father, including the history of chain gangs. What I didn’t mention in that video abstract is that the original chain gangs comprised wrongly incarcerated African Americans suffering under slave labor during the post-Civil War era. I also did not mention that enslaved Africans in the United States used call-and-response as a way to communicate with and teach their children. Call-and-response has been an important part of oral tradition throughout the African diaspora. I mention these things now because this form of music and component of oral tradition was used to survive oppression and claim power in a seemingly powerless situation. At the moment, I feel powerless to address the numerous challenges and suffering taking place as a result of the global pandemic. However, I have found solace in working on this project because for me it is a continuation of call-and-response with one of the communities that is important to me: the community of physics educators.
In the previous editorial,3 I mentioned a goal of creating a space for discipline-based STEM education researchers to discuss equity and ways to address inequities in our fields. In summer of 2019, that goal came to fruition4 and I am excited to see that some of the participants at that conference responded to Gary’s call and submitted manuscripts to this themed issue on “Sex, Gender, and Physics Teaching.” I am also thrilled to see that some of the contributing manuscripts include narratives of students from groups marginalized or minoritized in physics. Narratives and storytelling are a powerful teaching method that relies on lived experience.
So while I don’t have any great words for this editorial, to the contributing authors and to the teachers, researchers, administrators, and scientists that read this themed issue of The Physics Teacher, I share the words that have sustained me during this time, “Keep going, if you can, and continue in something that is meaningful to you.”
Reflections from Gary
Seven years ago I embarked upon this incredibly gratifying adventure with The Physics Teacher, hinting then,5 even before I had any real idea what it would entail, that I hoped new conversations about equity issues in physics teaching would come to TPT. Now, writing from my basement in the midst of everyone’s COVID self-isolation has made me extra-reflective, and appreciative, and led me to this: while I have enjoyed much about serving as editor for TPT in the intervening years, the highlight was undoubtedly working with Geraldine Cochran on the production of the special collection on “Race and Physics Teaching” in the fall of 2017. It was eye-opening for me to learn from her about these issues, and to learn from the writers of the articles in the “race” collection, to see the breadth of their creativity, and to begin to envision how I could implement some of their ideas in my own classroom. I will always be immensely grateful—thank you!
And so, I am not the same teacher I was in 2013. Steeped in the privilege of being a White, cis-hetero man, I have not always been able to appreciate many of the ways that the culture of physics has amplified (and continues to amplify) my trajectory, often at the expense of others not sharing my demographic particulars. While I have a long way to go, I tend to characterize the change this way: my teaching used to prioritize the “content” above all else, while now I would say that I try much harder to prioritize the student and her/his/their learning. I largely credit the authors of the papers in the race collection with helping me to see that I needed to change. I’m not sure that I am a better physics teacher now than I was then, but I do believe that I am a better teacher.
In many ways though, I feel that the change was serendipitous, largely brought about because I was immersed in the production of the collection. I will confess that I might not have noticed the collection at all if I had not been in the trenches trying to put it together. I might not have found time to read the articles, much less consider how to implement their lessons, nor to attend the numerous sessions, conferences, and workshops on equity and related issues at AAPT meetings and beyond, except that I was intent on working with Geraldine to publish the collection. So, don’t be like me; don’t wait until you change jobs a few times before you can see how to change your mindset. You don’t have to wait until a midlife crisis develops or until the next pandemic arises to prioritize the student, even above the content. You can start today!
I was so thrilled when Dr. Cochran agreed to be co-editor for this new collection on “Sex, Gender, and Physics Teaching”—the potential for another highlight is in the air! Her contributions and contacts have brought so many new influential and thoughtful professionals to write for TPT readers about this subject that not only is this May issue of TPT chock-full of great articles, we will be filling the pages throughout much of fall 2020 with related material. I hope that you find much that inspires your own teaching.
We are very eager to share this collection of articles with you, many of which were written in response to the earlier call for papers on “Sex, Gender, and Physics Teaching.” In this issue of The Physics Teacher we highlight 12 papers from the collection, starting with those that feature students’ voices—Sofia, Ikram, Leia, Paulette, Olivia—to provide fresh perspectives from deep inside the physics classroom experience. Next, we hear from experts with practical experience about classroom modifications that show promise in addressing gender inequities, analysis of textbook imagery, and ways in which structures outside the classroom and lessons from research can address current and historical inequities in our field. This is followed by articles that take a global view of inequities in physics and offer perspectives about changing the culture and institutions of physics … and there is much more to come! So, stay tuned!