Research shows that when students learn from a standard biology curriculum about racial differences in genetic disease prevalence it can unintentionally increase genetic biases that are related to racist misconceptions.
If biology education is a context where these biases develop unintentionally, then it should also be a place where they are challenged intentionally.Donovan, Et Al., 2018
After learning about this research and being inspired by this amazing New York Times article on Donovan’s work, our team was excited to begin incorporating these concepts right into our content. (Want to learn more about anti-racist education? Check out our webinar on Culturally Responsive & Antiracist Science Teaching.)
For our first specific deep-dive into anti-racist concepts, we decided to start by focusing on a genetic disease that disproportionally impacts people of African, as well as Central and South American descent: sickle cell anemia. According to the CDC, there are 73.1 cases per 1,000 black newborns, and 6.9 cases per 1,000 Hispanic newborns. By contrast, the disease’s prevalence among white newborns is just 3 cases per 1,000. As such, it is not unlikely that students will have–or know someone who has–this disorder.
This storyline replaces our old “Mutations” storyline, and fully addresses multiple standards around genetics and mutations, while also addressing misconceptions around race and these diseases.
Arthur joined the track team recently, but had to quit abruptly due to sudden pains in his joints. He wants to figure out what might be causing these pains and finds out that he is a carrier for sickle cell, which runs in his biological family. Arthur comes to terms with his diagnosis while learning more about why sickle cell has persisted in human beings for thousands of years when the disease itself is so harmful.
Teachers can get access to the Teacher Guide here.
To combat stereotypes about these types of diseases, we delve into the science behind several hereditary disorders, including thalassemia, Southeast Asian Ovalocytosis, and cystic fibrosis. With this storyline, we aim to show that a genetic propensity for certain illnesses can be explained by the prevalence of other, more deadly diseases that are localized in a certain area. For instance, data indicates that sickle cell anemia developed over thousands of years as an evolutionary response to the threat of malaria. Check out this interactive map to see how sickle cell (and other, similar blood disorders) correlate in this way!