Transforming science education through research-driven innovation

Education Week Features BSCS’s Research on Humane Genetics

March 27, 2019

Genetics Lessons Can Spark Racism in Students. This Change Can Prevent It.

By: Sarah D. Sparks

Discussing human diseases is a common way to engage middle and high school students in genetics. But a series of experiments suggests how teachers approach the discussion could either break down or reinforce students’ racial biases.

Many middle and high school biology units highlight inheritable diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs, and sickle-cell anemia—which disproportionately affect those of European, Ashkanazi Jewish, and African descent, respectively—as case studies of genetic influences. Students can trace these diseases using the traditional Mendelian punnet square, making them easier to analyze than say, breast cancer, which can also be inherited but which involves significantly more genes and environmental influences.

But that simplicity has a downside.

In a series of studies, researchers led by Brian Donovan of BSCS Science Learning found that it leads students to overestimate how much human beings actually differ genetically Students whose biology classes associated specific diseases with race were significantly more likely to consider people of different races to be more genetically different, and to use genetics to explain differences in academic achievement between students of different races…

Read the full article on