Revolutionary STEM Education

Critical-Reality Pedagogy and Social Justice in STEM for Black Males

by Jeremiah J. Sims (Author)
©2018 Textbook CCXII, 30 Pages
Series: Educational Psychology, Volume 36


Revolutionary STEM Education: Critical-Reality Pedagogy and Social Justice in STEM for Black Males by Jeremiah J. Sims, an educator, researcher, and administrator from Richmond, California, is calling for a revolutionary, paradigm shift in the STEM education of and for Black boys. STEM education has been reliant on axioms and purported facts that for far too long have been delivered in a banking or absorption model that is, arguably, anti-critical. Unsurprisingly, this pedagogical approach to STEM education has failed large segments of students; and, this is especially true of African American males. Revolutionary STEM Education highlights, chronicles, and investigates the potential inroads and vistas of a Saturday Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program, Male Aptitudes Nurtured for Unlimited Potential (MAN UP), which was designed to foster interest and competence in STEM by middle school Black boys. This program was impelled by a critical-reality based pedagogical approach, which was formulated to arrive at socio-academic synergy, that is, a thoughtful conjoining of students’ real life concerns, joys, ways of being, and socio-cultural identities and the curricular material covered in the courses offered at MAN UP.
Sims’ lived-experiences as an inner-city, low-income Black male are interspersed throughout Revolutionary STEM Education; however, the heartbeat of this book is, undoubtedly, the stories of the positive transformation that the MAN UP scholars experienced while becoming more competent in STEM, developing positive STEM identities, and learning to use their STEM knowledge for social justice.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise For Revolutionary STEM Education
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • Preface
  • Overview of this book
  • Acknowledgements
  • Do it for the culture
  • Chapter 1: Male aptitudes nurtured for unlimited potential
  • Why am I fighting to live if I’m just living to fight? Internalization on imminent Black death
  • Canaries in the coalmine: Black males and STEM education
  • Reimagining what it means to MAN UP
  • Real recognize real: Operationalizing critical-reality pedagogy
  • Identifying the real issue: It’s not just about achievement
  • Chapter 1 review: Considerations and questions
  • References
  • Chapter 2: Cutting straight the truth: Interrogating White supremacist-based racism’s role in perceptions of Black maleness
  • Behind the mask: Uncovering whiteness
  • Playing with house money: Whiteness commoditized
  • The construction of “Whiteness” vis-à-vis “Blackness”
  • Psychological consequences of othering, ideological inculcation and cultural misidentification
  • It’s not just about White privilege: Whiteness must be abolished
  • The transmogrification of Black Males: Thugs and threats
  • The 21st century urban colonized
  • The archenemy of hope: The nihilistic threat
  • The other and “otherness”
  • Black ghettoes: Our “Other” America
  • Going viral in the 19th century: The minstrel show
  • Nihilistic threat illustrated in Black literature
  • I am my brother’s keeper: Fratricidal violence in the Black community
  • Innocence lost: The adultification of Black males
  • Chapter 2 review: Considerations and questions
  • References
  • Chapter 3: Standing in the gap: Black boys and STEM
  • Where we at, though? Black males’ conspicuous absence in STEM spaces
  • Criminal minds? The criminalization of Black males
  • Where I come from, this approach is called keeping it 100
  • Identifying the educational gap in STEM
  • Pedagogy that oppresses: Exclusionary nature of traditional STEM education
  • Minding the opportunity gap
  • Real talk: Demystifying stereotype threat
  • Getting it right: STEM education can and should center criticality
  • Shifting the paradigm: Critical-reality pedagogy in STEM education
  • Ring the alarm: Social justice and STEM education
  • We are what we speak: Dissin’ Black English and the correlation between language skills and scholastic expectations
  • Flipping the script: Connecting cultural-linguistic identities and STEM competencies
  • Bridge building over troubled waters: Connecting STEM learning and social justice
  • Greater than hope: Insisting on high expectations for Black boys
  • The consequence of low expectations
  • Out with the old: (Re)Conceptualizing rigor
  • Does this approach work: Data analysis procedures
  • Shakers, makers, and takers
  • Reevaluating competency: Identification and socially just applications of STEM
  • Chapter 3 review: Considerations and questions
  • References
  • Chapter 4: Changing the game: The role of critical contextualization and socio-academic synergy in developing STEM identities
  • Critical contextualization explicated
  • Emerging critical contextualization
  • Evidence of emergent critical contextualization of STEM
  • Manning UP: Shifts in students’ STEM identities
  • Remixing identity: Developing identification with STEM
  • We have lift-off: Shakers, makers, and takers
  • Cases studies: From a taker to shaker and from makers to shakers
  • Context matters: Further connecting STEM identities in the courses
  • Chapter 4 review: Considerations and questions
  • References
  • Chapter 5: Showing out: Developing competencies in STEM and beyond
  • “It was easier for me to learn here because I felt like what I said mattered”
  • Achieving socio-academic synergy: Yearend Post-Satisfaction Survey (YPSS)
  • We can do math, too: Yearend focus group interviews
  • Decoding success: Computer science course concept inventory
  • Our voices matter: The rhetorical analysis of manhood
  • Chapter 5 review: Considerations and questions
  • References
  • Chapter 6: STEM for good: Creating socio-academic synergy for the development of socially just applications of STEM
  • Equity by design
  • Socio-academic synergy: Cultivating and curating an educationally nutritive atmosphere
  • Doing for self: Positive shifts in self-efficacy
  • Putting the tools to work: Examples of socially just applications of STEM
  • Chapter 6 review: Considerations and questions
  • References
  • Chapter 7: Love conquers fear: The efficacy of critical-reality pedagogy at MAN UP
  • Paradigm shifting approach to STEM education
  • Why the critical contextualization of STEM mattered
  • Time to switch it up: Focus on relationship building
  • Real talk: Focusing on students’ real lives in and out of school
  • Chapter 7 review: Considerations and questions
  • References
  • Chapter 8: It takes a village: Highlighting the indispensability and strength of the three-fold cord
  • What’s love got to do with it: Two contrasting tales of parental advocacy Justin and Judah
  • U-N-I-T-Y: Working against racial isolation for our scholars
  • Chapter 8 review: Considerations and questions
  • References
  • Chapter 9: The revolution will be digitized
  • All power to the people: Cultivating student voice through critical-reality pedagogy
  • Expect the unexpected: The importance of high standards for Black boys
  • In conclusion: Please, allow me to keep it 100 with you
  • References
  • Final consideration (Epilogue)
  • Running the race: A level playing field is not enough
  • This is not just meaningful work, it’s life and death
  • References
  • Appendix A: Pre/post identification survey
  • Appendix B: Manhood survey and rhetorical analysis concept inventory
  • Appendix C: MAN UP yearend program satisfaction survey (YPSS)
  • Appendix D: Teacher interview questions
  • Appendix E: Yearend focus group and individual interview prompts
  • Index
  • Series Index

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I remember my response to my high school English teacher like it was yesterday, though this conversation is more than two decades old. Ms. Horrigan asked me if I planned to go to college—which was an entirely reasonable question as she taught my 12th grade English class. I responded, only semi-jokingly, that I hadn’t planned on attending college because, well, the life-expectancy for Black males in my city was only twenty-one years of age. So, I told her that, following my high school graduation, I planned to just take life one day at a time because, clearly, growing up in Richmond, California did not hold the promise of another day for me or any other young man that grew up like me. Admittedly, I was the class clown, so I fully expected Ms. Horrigan to simply laugh this statement off—but, instead, I remember the sheer anguish—instantiated by her suddenly crestfallen countenance. I tried to reassure her that I was only joking. But, she saw something that I could not apprehend at the time: she saw that I was resigned to my fate. Because, like the majority of the students that animate this book, I grew up in urban-poverty, with a single-mother who had to function as both my mother and my father. I grew up in a city that during my high school years, in the early 1990’s, boasted the highest murder rate per capita in the United States. I grew up in Section 8 Housing. The ever-present threat of intentional and or unintentional (cases of mistaken identity) fratricidal violence informed my every step from the ← xiii | xiv → age of twelve until my early twenties. It formed in me something that, from time to time even today rears its ugly head: Persistent Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I was only 17 when this conversation took place, but I was already carrying around a lifetime of trauma, disappointment, abandonment, and pain. I was normally jovial in Ms. Horrigan’s class; and, even though I was sometimes borderline disruptive, I knew that I was one of her favorite students. She was someone whose care for her students caused her to be innovative. She was what I aspire to be: a caring, nutritive, critical pedagogue—long before I had any idea that that those modifiers could be strung together to form an identity. Here she was a middle-aged (possibly older) European American women, teaching in the hood (albeit at a top high school) simply out of love. She’d made a small fortune—enough to own, outright, two houses in the Bay Area—selling 501 jeans to tourists all over Northern California. She did not need to teach; however, she loved to teach. And, she did it in a way that was and still is paradigm-shifting for me.

Throughout my K12 experience, I repeatedly got in trouble for being a “class clown”. What I know now, that I couldn’t have known then, was that my flippant attitude was a defense mechanism that allowed me to laugh despite pain, and to chuckle in the face of a constant, deeply-internalized fear of failure. When I got to Ms. Horrigan’s class, I was still class clown. But in her class, I never got in trouble for it. Instead, she carved out the last 5 to 7 minutes of class, at least once per week, to invite me to do stand-up comedy during school hours. This was diametrically opposed to anything I’d ever experienced before. In every other instance my wit carried sanctions. But, instead of castigating me, Ms. Horrigan invited what was at the time the leading aspect of my identity kit into the meaning making process that was her 12th grade English class. As a result, I excelled in her class; as a result, I wanted to become an English teacher. She changed my life academically; and, it is not an overstatement to say that she quite possible contributed to saving my life. She gave me hope. That is what critical educators do. Sadly, I was never able to share this with her.

This, of course, is beginning to read in a way that is commensurate with the staid narrative. This meta-narrative, instantiated by movies like Dangerous Minds and or the Blindside—celebrates a benevolent white educator’s (or caretaker in the latter example) willingness to go native and function as a messianic figure that helps poor students of color find their voices and realize their erstwhile unknown or misrecognized potential. And, while the characters in my personal play are consistent with this narrative, something altogether different was taking place. Ms. Horrigan did not help me find my voice; clearly, I already had one that I used with self-appointed impunity. I know this because prior to her class my voice ← xiv | xv → got me in trouble quite often. Instead of viewing me as deficient or in need of a savior, however, Ms. Horrigan allowed me to be exactly who I was, while still holding me to high expectations. More than that, she encouraged me to do well as myself, not as some false persona that required me to repudiate and or abdicate the socio-cultural identity that I was painstakingly developing. The pedagogical dexterity that she displayed provided me with an entry point, for the first time in long time, into my own academic trajectory and ultimately my own academic success. More simply put: she worked alongside me, not for me; and, certainly not against me. Ms. Horrigan was keeping it one-hundred (percent); that is to say, she was her authentic self, which encouraged and empowered her students to be, at least in some small measure, authentic in return. This is a theme that I will return to throughout this book, the idea of keeping it 100. If we, as educators, ever want to create spaces for our students to learn as their authentic selves, we have to be authentic as well. In fact, like Ms. Horrigan, we have to take the lead. Ms. Horrigan was an exemplar because she had a genuine care and concern, perhaps even love, for us.

The argument can be made that Ms. Horrigan, well before the term had been coined, was engaging in a form of critical-reality pedagogy precisely because she allowed and, frankly, even invited me to bring elements of my lived experiences into her 12 grade English class. And while my experiences at that point were localized and somewhat narrow, those experience represented who I was as a person. She made me feel that my personhood was so integral in the constitution and meaning making of her course. I began to engage in here class as started by preparing for my 5 to 7 minute routines; soon, I was fully engaged in her class and my engagement was no longer limited to my “comedy” skits. Holistically, I began to feel as though I had a place in that course. This is what reality critical-reality pedagogy does—it invites students to be who they are without asking them to repudiate their cultural affinities or cultural identity’s. To be clear, this is only one component of a critical-reality pedagogical approach. But, it is a requisite component. There also needs to be a laser-focus on creating opportunities for students to disambiguate, deconstruct, and ultimately redress societal injustice using whatever material is covered in a given course of study.

Nevertheless, inviting traditionally-marginalized students to work through course material that is predicated on their interests, concerns, and ways of being is indispensable to this approach; and, in this book I argue, it is indispensable to student empowerment as well. There is an analog to be made between keeping it 100 and enacting critical-reality pedagogy because both concepts require educators to eschew the trappings of the banking model of education by presenting their authentic selves in their educational spaces so that students will know ← xv | xvi → that there is space for them to be reciprocally authentic. We know a lot about Ms. Horrigan’s life. We knew that she wanted kids but, unfortunately, had none of her own. We heard her stories of vulnerability and stories of triumph. Like Ms. Horrigan, we, educators, have to be willing to be authentic and come with our whole selves so that they can create an environment where students can be exactly who they are and still be view as young people full of promise and potential. This pedagogical orientation is diametrically opposed to the stultifying banking model of education wherein educators insist on maintaining their authority while either misrecognizing or failing to recognize the expertise that students also bring to the fore. Student expertise is not limited to just knowledge of self, which is undoubtedly important, nor is it limited to knowledge of their immediate localized environment, though this, too, is certainly included. In order to understand what it is that students know, and how it is that they want to engage, we have to give them every opportunity to demonstrate what they know to us and to themselves. This is what Ms. Horrigan did; and, this is what I strive to do as well. For me, this is being authentic, this is keeping it 100; and, when this approach is conjoined with a focus on redressing social injustice and social inequity, it is an application of critical-reality pedagogy. Ms. Horrigan, though she could not possibly have been aware of this terminology, was a caring, committed educator. My guidance counselor in junior high, however, was not. Ms. Horrigan was the exception; this man, sadly, was the rule.

“No one cares what you do in junior high, Jeremiah; you’ll eventually be socially passed.” My middle school guidance counselor (who would later become principal) spoke these words to me. I know that some of the young men that I have been blessed to work with have had similarly dismissive conversations with adults entrusted to guide them on their educational journeys. I wonder how many more experienced this but were reticent to speak up. If my memory serves, I was once again in trouble for talking out of turn in class. This was a common theme during my first year in middle school as I worked diligently to carve out a “cool” identity for myself. I will not soon forget this moment, however, because it is when I began to see both school and myself differently. This counselor had given me license to free myself from academic struggle, which I did not know at the time, was analogous to freeing myself from academic growth. This was especially true where math was concerned. After excelling in elementary school, middle school brought struggles that I was ill prepared for, none more so than in math. I was stuck and never got unstuck because according to my counselor, I didn’t have to.

Sadly, this story is all too familiar for many young, low-income, urban Black males, and especially so in STEM. Moreover, often we, or our parents, or our ← xvi | xvii → culture are blamed for our struggles in STEM. In truth, structural and institutionalized racism in educational policy and practice is to blame. Structural and institutionalized racism in educational policy and practice result in stultifying low expectations for perhaps the most educationally marginalized group in this country, Black males. Rhetoric around persistent educational struggles of Black males foists the locus of failure on us; and in so doing, this very same rhetoric exculpates the racist structures and institutions that function to ensure inequitable educational opportunities for Black males (and other traditionally marginalized students). Fortunately, as an adult I had people in my life who encouraged and assisted me in pushing forward with my education. However, this is not always the case for young men that grew up like me: poor, Black, and enmeshed within a violent, unrelenting environment.

I was saved by love, by the love of my Savior, by the love of my hard-working single mother, by the love of teachers like Mrs. Searles and Ms. Horrigan, by the love of my church, and when I needed it most, by the love of the women who would become my partner in love and in life. Though my environment was in many ways loveless, somehow, I still felt love and that love saved me. Far too many young men that grow up like me do not get to experience the holistic love that I was blessed to receive. I am not okay with this “reality”; I never will be. No one should be. In time, I was presented with the opportunity to create a program that would begin to address and hopefully, in some small measure, ameliorate this saddening reality by creating a STEM focused academic program for Black boys that was predicated on love. Despite the reticence that my own math-phobia induced in me, I felt I had no choice but to move forward in developing a STEM focused program for predominately low-income, urban Black males: Male Aptitudes Nurtured for Unlimited Potential (MAN UP).

Overview of this book


ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XXX, 212 pp., 1 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Jeremiah J. Sims (Author)

Jeremiah J. Sims, Director of Equity for the College of San Mateo, was born in Oakland and raised in Richmond, California. As a result of his own life experiences, Jeremiah has devoted his career to the pursuit and ultimate realization of educational equity for hyper-marginalized students. Jeremiah is an alumni of the University of California, Berkeley where he earned a B.A. in rhetoric, with honors, as well as an M.A. and Ph.D. in education. Jeremiah has contributed to research that details the efficacy of a critical-reality pedagogical approach to STEM education as well as education, writ large.


Title: Revolutionary STEM Education