Senior Capstone Spotlight: Saket Malhotra

What is the topic of your capstone? 

I’m studying anti-racist science education and am trying to find both a solid definition for that while also creating a literature review that talks about best practices for anti racist science education. I’m also creating my own curriculum for based on an AP Physics unit on circuits.

The main portion of my project looks at how electrical processes of different rural communities in the United States, kind of like why the electrification process for different rural communities can be costly for companies and why companies will not go into place faster broadband there. What’s the physics behind this? How can we create alternative solutions to make electricity more accessible to those areas? But also through this lesson, we will learn how electricity and broadband and these kinds of things, when they are under private control, don’t benefit everyone. Like the fact that basic physics is stopping people from getting electricity is really bad. It is ultimately not a failure of physics, but a failure of capitalism, and how that whole system has been set up. And students are going to learn about public goods, and how those can be an alternate way of just servicing the needs of everyone. My project is basically structured as a long literature review paired with a creative project in the form of a curriculum.

What motivated you to pursue this project? 

I came up with this project because I found that there’s very little STEM curriculum out there that really meets the needs of what an anti-racist educator would want. What I mean by that is – an anti-racist educator is someone who’s hoping to teach their students to become organizers, teach their students to dismantle systems of power that already exist in the US and in the world. And specifically, ways to counteract those systems to kind of create a more just society – all that sort of stuff. I think that this is something that needs to be evident in every single class. Because just having anti-racism being taught in, for example, English and history classrooms, is a disservice for students who want to pursue careers or expand their knowledge in the STEM field. Also, science itself is not a neutral subject – science has been used in so many different contexts that are not neutral, like nuclear testing in the West, and how it primarily harmed communities of color. Science is not a neutral subject, so it’s really important to talk about it in a non neutral way. 

What has been your main takeaway from this project? 

One thing I’ve found is that most anti-racist science curricula centers around environmental science – but not all students take those classes, and other types of science can also be made anti-racist. And that’s why my curriculum that I’m making is centered around physics, because anti-racist physics is not necessarily intuitive. I am currently working on developing this stage of the project.

I also learned a lot about multicultural versus anti-racist education. Through Hosang’s Anti-Racist pedagogy class in the spring of my sophomore year, Dora and I worked with this teacher named Erica Watson, a science teacher in Groton, Connecticut and tried to make a science curriculum for her. But that was difficult because there was so little online. The work out there that is called anti-racist science curriculum is mostly about physicists of color. And it can be important for students to learn and to honor these physicists’ contributions to science and to learn that not all physicists are not all white. But I don’t think that’s an awfully effective way to bring students of color into physics, because it also kind of highlights that if you are a scientist of color, “oh, you can succeed, but you probably won’t be recognized unless someone does something special.” Ultimately, I don’t think it teaches anything about systems of power.

I think that way of teaching is more about multicultural education. So an example of anti-racist education would be teaching science topics through things that are specific to the community. I read a study on a class that had predominantly Mexican students and a lot of their families worked in like auto shops, and that kind of stuff. So they’re pretty familiar with those processes. They learn things like the ideal gas laws, relationships between pressure, volume and temperature, through the tires that their friends and families work with. They start to understand tire pressure and its relationship to volume of the tire, that kind of stuff, connecting it to like their home life, but it’s not really anti racist. I don’t count that as anti racist science education because it doesn’ address significant power imbalances in the community.

What do you hope this project accomplishes? 

Science education teaches students how to use science principles – anti-racist science education teaches students to use these principles to create a more just society. One potential example of that is teaching students about the water cycle and water laws, and the rules on how water traverses through the ecosystem. Getting students to come to understand how pollutants can get into the water stream and stay there for a really long time, and how that can really hurt people. If people are dumping into the same lakes and water bodies that we ultimately drink water from, for example. So students can use that lesson to like make claims arguing why maybe, a pond in their community for example, needs to be cleaned up. Because now they’re learning that eventually that same water that is in the pond, the same water that someone is like dumping trash into, is getting like it’s going into their bodies and they’re drinking it. At some point, they learn how to use those scientific principles as arguments for goals that lead to a better society.