Well, here we go again. Unsurprisingly, the University of California at Berkeley has revamped its biology curriculum, turning courses in three departments into propaganda mills as well as vehicles for learning biology. This initiative was announced by Berkeley itself at the website below (click to read).
Here’s some of the announcement, showing that the revamping was at the request of the graduate diversity council of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. Note that the courses are in three departments, and have large enrollments.
Ten large-enrollment courses in the Departments of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM), Integrative Biology, and Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology were substantially revamped over the summer to better incorporate inclusive and anti-racist approaches to course design and teaching practices.
Using the recently developed toolkit “Advancing Inclusion and Anti-Racism in the College Classroom: A rubric and resource guide for instructors,” graduate assistants with course background or pedagogy expertise were paired with instructors to develop specific and actionable plans for course improvement in future semesters. Revised courses include:
- NUSCTX 166: Nutrition in the Community
- NUSCTX 104AC: Food, Culture, and the Environment
- ESPM 50AC: Introduction to Culture and Natural Resource Management
- ENERES 160/ESPM 176: Climate Justice
- ESPM C115C: Fish Ecology
- ESPM C115A/IB C171: Freshwater Ecology
- ESPM C114: Wildlife Ecology
- BIO 1B: Introduction to Biology: Evolution/Ecology/Plant Diversity
- ESPM C46: Climate Change and the Future of California
- IB 35AC: Human Biological Variation
. . .”Our teaching practices, especially in large introductory classes that can act as gatekeepers, have a multiplicative impact on our students’ lives—for good, or for bad,” wrote the team that authored the toolkit. “As instructors, we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to move toward anti-racist teaching practices.”
Do these people really know how to improve the students’ lives? Shouldn’t that be by teaching them biology, not by brainwashing them? And who gave them the right to decide to “improve student lives” this way? It goes on:
The tool was developed in June 2020 after the ESPM Graduate Diversity Council called on department leadership to take anti-racist actions to address ways in which systemic anti-Black racism has permeated academia. In response, ESPM faculty and students collaborated with the UC Berkeley Center for Teaching and Learning to develop the resource as a way to foster inclusivity for Black students and other students of color in ESPM.
. . .Specific course modifications implemented include language and tone changes in syllabus, especially around basic needs and accessibility; greater inclusion of decolonial, justice-centered, and Indigenous perspectives in course materials; deeper community engagement in assignments; and adoption of community guidelines. The changes are currently being implemented, according to Blonder, and are already having an impact on student learning.
The efforts were supported by approximately $50,000 in funding from Rausser College of Natural Resources, ESPM, the Berkeley Food Institute, the Berkeley Life Sciences Faculty Diversity Initiative, and a Berkeley Discovery Initiative grant to the Department of Integrative Biology.
Read the full report for a list of instructor participants, graduate student bios, and a summary of the effort’s short-term outcomes.
If you look at the “full report”, you’ll see how the instructors—both faculty and grad-students—are tweaking the courses. Here are a few excerpts from the grad-student bios showing you the political direction of the courses:
a.) Rasmus Nielsen and I are developing a course, IB 35AC – Human Variation, which will discuss the role that genetics and societal norms play on human variation and identity. My main aim is to decolonize how we understand and teach human genetics by fostering inclusive and collaborative environments in the classroom and beyond. In addition, I hope to help expand biology to the global south by breaking down language barriers and ultimately reconstructing academia.
b.) I hope to work in wetland and shoreline habitat restoration within social contexts, planning and designing for environmental justice and social equity issues.
c.) I love teaching (even more than research! shhh), particularly with methods rooted in contemplative and nonviolent pedagogy, disability justice, and alternative grading structures (e.g. specification grading or labor-based grading). [JAC: I’m not sure what “nonviolent pedagogy” is, as I’ve never since an instructor strike a student.]
d.) I aim to enhance the nutrition care process of vulnerable populations by using a decolonial lens which centers food as enclaves for healing, considers opportunities for communal food sovereignty, and constructs racially/culturally intersectional models within treatment interventions to erase Eurocentric barriers impeding behavioral success.
This decolonizing and Eurocentric emphases come from the guidance offered by the anti-racist toolkit, “Advancing inclusion and anti-racism in the college classroom,” a 39-page booklet telling students to infuse a woke perspective into all their courses. It comes from the Zenodo site, and the guide was put together by twelve Berkeley faculty and graduate students. Its stated aim is this (my emphasis):
This tool aims to support instructors in developing anti-racist approaches to course design and teaching practices in the undergraduate and graduate setting. It offers an accessible, and user-friendly entry-point for instructors interested in considering how their instructional choices impact student outcomes. The resource guide provides instructors a range of ideas and options to help instructors through a process of modifying their courses. The guide is meant for self-assessment, rather than for others to score courses or instructors, and is designed to facilitate progressive refinement toward anti-racist teaching over time.
Now one could question the wisdom of infusing ideology into biology (as I do)—even anti-racist ideology. While of course I oppose racism, I am not on board with every bit of antiracist philosophy (I diverge from Kendi’s claim, for example, that if you or your program is not explicitly infused with antiracist activism, it is itself racist). More important, the brand of anti-racism suggested for these courses (have a look at the “Advancing Inclusion” booklet) is extreme authoritarian Leftist, and brooks no dissent.
But the biology class is not the place to propagandize students. It is a place to learn biology. As Stanley Fish wrote in his eponymous and very relevant book, “Save the World on Your Own Time.”
As one example, here’s some guidance about how to “decolonize” the curriculum taken from chapter VIII of the “Advancing Inclusion” book:
Here they suggest not only that you suggest “alternative epistemologies” (i.e., alternative “ways of knowing”), but present them respectfully. I suspect this means that you cannot say that some “other ways of knowing” are either wrong or not “ways of knowing” at all.
The emphasis on storytelling, legend, and poetry is characteristic of “ways of knowing” that are really “ways of feeling,” including New Zealand’s Mātauranga Māori , which I’ve written about here many times. before.
“Dominant approaches,” of course, are “Eurocentric ones,” sometimes known as “science.”
While one of the courses listed above—Climate Justice—is built around an ideological view (and I’m not sure that’s wise), the rest of the courses, offered in three biology departments, really have nothing to do with politics. The reason politics is being injected into these courses is simply because the people who promoted this initiative are from the progressive Left, and they want to jam their views down the throats of their students.
Of course I object strongly to this. The biology classroom is the place to learn biology, not to be propagandized to adhere to the politics of your instructors. Every minute devoted to “other ways of knowing” and similar ideological diversions is a minute less of biology you can learn. “Anti-racist fish ecology”—really? And I cringe when I think of what will be taught in “Human Biological Variation.”
Of course my carping on this post will have exactly zero influence on these initiatives, for the professors are adhering to a form of ideological religion, and, like Eric Hedin at Ball State, cannot resist sneaking that religion into science class. These classes will produce students who know less biology than students who took earlier versions of the class, but they’ll sure be more vociferous and political!