A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

The war on science continues

This study explored the gendered nature of STEM higher education institution through a feminist critical discourse analysis of STEM course syllabi from a Midwest research university. I explored STEM syllabi to understand how linguistic features such as stance and interdiscursivity are used in the syllabus and how language and discourses used in the syllabus replicate the masculine nature of STEM education. Findings suggest that the discourses identified in the syllabi reinforce traditional STEM academic roles, and that power and gender in the STEM syllabi are revealed through exploration of the themes of knowledge, learning, and the teaching and learning environment created by the language used in the syllabus. These findings inform and extend understanding of the STEM syllabus and the STEM higher education institution and lead to recommendations about how to make the STEM syllabus more inclusive for women.
No foolin'. People get degrees for stuff like this, complete with the pseudo-scientific jib-jab intended to make it seem as if the conclusions were dispassionately arrived at. But does anyone suppose the "researcher" approached the subject with no expectation of what the "findings" would be? 
Of course, the author is not in university, but in the universities School of Education, which hardly counts as such. (/snark) 
Initial exploration of the STEM syllabi in this study did not reveal overt references to gender, such as through the use of gendered pronouns. However, upon deeper review, language used in the syllabi reflects institutionalized STEM teaching practices and views about knowledge that are inherently discriminatory to women and minorities by promoting a view of knowledge as static and unchanging, a view of teaching that promotes the idea of a passive student, and by promoting a chilly climate that marginalizes women.
IOW, there was no actual sexism in the course syllabi, so we have to read "deeper" in order to discover it, because the author dang-well knows it got to be there.
Instead of promoting the idea that knowledge is constructed by the student and dynamic, subject to change as it would in a more feminist view of knowledge, the syllabi reinforce the larger male-dominant view of knowledge as one that students acquire and use make [sic] the correct decision.
The idea that objectivity and scientific rigor are somehow beyond the women (and minorities, we are assured) is the most insulting and sexist comment TOF sees in the paper! How the student constructs the knowledge of, say, topological function spaces or particle dynamics is left as an exercise to the reader. Well, if there's no such thing as objective truth, then Nelly bar the door.
What's next? Creationists get to construct their own truths about biology?  Pfui, sez TOF.


  1. How about more practical things, like constructing the knowledge of whether lye is healthy to drink in large quantities or how many blows to the head with a hammer will eliminate a headache?

    Also, and I hesitate to mention this, but the author said, "knowledge is constructed by the student and dynamic and subject to change" describes "a *more* feminist view of knowledge" (emphasis mine). What do you suppose a *fully* feminist view of knowledge would be, if this is only a step along the way to it?

  2. So, a more woman-centered approach to scientific knowledge would be, what, make it up as you go along? That may explain the relative success of male-oriented approaches to science.

  3. "Stance" is a real linguistic concept, though not a very useful one; "interdiscursivity" is more of a sociological one and given the name "Foucault" shows up in the first paragraph of its Wikipedia entry its value is, of course, deeply suspect. However, even in terms of such qualified legitimacy, this "researcher" does not actually appear to really be using the terms for any purpose other than to announce "I know these terms". ("Generally, saying 'edifice' instead of 'building' doesn't tell your reader anything more about the building; it tells your reader that you know the word 'edifice.'"—How Not to Write a Novel)

    And how is the idea of a passive student discriminatory to minorities, when one of the biggest challenges in teaching many minorities is their cultural preference for passivity, in education? Many sub-Saharan African immigrant children have a known difficulty in Western education stemming from their reluctance to bother their teacher with questions when they don't understand something, because it's seen as a disrespectful interruption.