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What's Left Out of High School Curriculum (Stats and Bio)

gwatkins's picture

This past week I’ve been reflecting a lot about elements that were left out of certain courses in my high school education. I’m definitely not a statistician but I took AP statistics my senior year of high school so the concepts of the “normal curve” and quartiles were familiar to me.  However, their eugenic history was completely foreign.  We did have word problems relating to grades and categorizing people in above average intelligence quartiles but we never discussed the history of statistics or harmful implications of the language of the normal curve.  Learning about how it created “normal” and categorized certain people as superior or lesser was incredibly eye-opening in Davis’ text because when I learned statistics in high school it was all simply neutral mathematical principles to me.  This isn’t meant to bash statistics as a whole, because like we discussed in class it definitely can be a more neutral force sometimes used for good, but I was just very shocked by its connection to eugenics and how I had never learned about it before.

This week for my Sex under capitalism course we read two chapters from Michelle Murphy’s The Economization of Life which discussed the relationship between population and economy.  It began by talking about how the discovery of the universal S-curve to demonstrate population growth patterns (based on fruit flies) emerged in 1927 and how this model was applied to humans to prove that population can be managed.  This was said to have transitioned away from the eugenics movement and towards ideas that population is critical to economy, is “rife with possibilities for management” and that the value of a life is dependent on its ability to contribute to GDP (4).  Even though the text argued that this shifted the U.S. away from the eugenics movement, I felt that it in many ways still encouraged eugenics.  There was one line about how “[Averted Birth] was a new calculative figure of devalued or “wasteful” life to be prevented.  Averted birth was often an anticipatory measure” (47).  Even though the facts mentioned were about how less birth is profitable in general, that same logic disproportionately harms disabled people, especially in terms of current increased disability testing in fetuses.  Furthermore, tying the value of somebody’s life to their ability to work and help GDP devalues many disabled lives.

I’d also learned about the S-curve in my IB biology class in high school, but again, only in specific context to biology.  We applied it to population growth in various animal species.  I had no idea that it led to the economization of human lives and population.  I know that the historic and current implications of the normal curve in statistics and the S-curve in biology were outside of the AP/IB exams and typical curriculum, but after reading these I feel like these concepts need to be at the very least mentioned when they are taught.  This left me wondering, to what extent can we afford to separate disciplines such as math and biology from history and politics?