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Rethinking the Haverford College Chemistry Department: Curriculum and Teaching Methods

sarina's picture
This paper is an exploration of changing the Haverford chemistry reuqirements for a major form a feminist perspective. It is an experiment!
Paper 3.pdf35.33 KB


Anne Dalke's picture

Experimenting with Unanswered Questions


you have some good company in your experimentation; see Stephanie's Cultural Revision of Organic Chemistry Laboratory.

You also--should you want to go on with this project--could have lots of company from me. See first the syllabus for the Gender & Science course I recently co-taught w/ Liz McCormack; though we used the field physics as our exemplar, we asked a lot of (and answered some) more general questions about the role of women in the scientific enterprise, about the contemporary feminist critique of scientific practice, and about what both suggest for science education of everyone.

Some of the essays we used, which might be of particular interest to you (I list them in chronological order) include

Shulman, Bonnie Jean."What If We Change Our Axioms? A Feminist Inquiry Into the Foundations of Mathematics." Configurations. 1996. 3: 427-451.

Feminism and Science. Ed. Evelyn Fox Keller and Helen Longino. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

"Frequently Asked Questions About Feminist Science Studies." Women and Scientific Literacy: Building Two-Way Streets. The Association of American Colleges and Universities. 1999. 1-19.

Middlecamp, Catherine Hurt and Banu Subramaniam. "What Is Feminist Pedagogy? Useful Ideas for Teaching Chemistry." Journal of Chemical Education 76, 4 (April 1999): 520-525. JCemEd.

Bug, Amy. "Gender and Physical Science: A Hard Look at a Hard Science." Women Succeeding in the Sciences: Theories and Practices across Disciplines. Ed. Jody Bart. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 2000. 221-244.

Feminist Science Studies: A New Generation. Ed. Maralee Mayberry, Banu Subramaniam and Lisa Weasel. New York: Routledge, 2001.

Some years ago, I also co-taught a class with Sharon Burgmayer called "Beauty: A Conversation between Chemistry and Culture." Although it wasn't an explictly feminist course, all my work is @ least implicitly feminist (!), and much of what we did had a cultural component; see especially

Roald Hoffman's "Thoughts on Aesthetics and Visualization in Chemistry." Preface. Issue on Aesthetics and Visualization. Hyle.

as well as his "Narrative." American Scientist On-line (July-August 2000).

All of these essays challenge, in one way or another, your presumptions that "somehow science education doesn't seem political" (what are the reasons for the naturalization of that claim?); that the "things and materials" studied by chemists are not gendered; that "hiring a diverse faculty" is an action without a problematic history (and future!); that "giving students agency" and "power" can be achieved through required assignments.

I have lots of questions for you about these matters, focused most especially on the relationship between "having authority" and "challenging the material." How to "instill confidence in students" if their discipline is "just less up to interpretation"? How to "encourage thinking beyond the textbook," if that book represents distilled authority in the classroom? (See getting it less wrong for an early account of getting rid of textbooks in a BMC science classroom....)
How possible to make the discipline (are you recommending making the discipline) non-cumulative?

I am eager to go on discussing these ideas with you, if you are still interested in working through some unanswered questions....