Tracking by Triage: How Science Education Began Dividing Populations by Perceived Health Needs
Kathryn Kirchgasler

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Research Development Award

Award Year



University of Wisconsin-Madison

Primary Discipline

This research explores how pedagogies embodying cultural norms of hygienic living contributed to the emergence of tracking, and to the production and regulation of distinct populations in early 20th-century U.S. schooling. As a history of the present, it investigates how educational research racialized pupils classified as Spanish-speaking or Mexican as not-yet-ready to learn science, but instead as needing instruction applied to their alleged health habits and home conditions. The project will entail archival research and analysis of pedagogies circulating across de jure and de facto segregated schools, sociological studies, and settlement house reforms targeting schoolchildren and their families from 1916 to 1946. Leveraging insights from recent scholarship in cultural studies, Chican@/Latin@ Studies, and Science & Technology Studies, the project will uncover the indebtedness of U.S. science education to broader biopolitical projects of school segregation, Americanization programs, and hygiene movements. It will elucidate how pedagogical techniques began to triage populations along a racializing hierarchy of perceived needs?where an 'immediate need' for health supervision took precedence over a 'future need' to study abstract science. At stake is how similar pedagogies are recommended today as strategies to connect science to the 'real-life needs' ascribed to Latinx, Native, and Black students in the name of educational and health equity. As health equity gains momentum as a site of interdisciplinary collaboration, this study promises a more robust understanding of the political stakes, ethical implications, and paradoxical effects of trying to solve public health crises within science classrooms and curricula historically rendered separate and unequal.
About Kathryn Kirchgasler
Katie Kirchgasler is an Assistant Professor of Science Education at the University of Wisconsin?Madison. Her work investigates relations of power, inequity, and exclusion in STEM, health, and environmental education, with a focus on these fields' underexamined histories of racialization and coloniality. Her central concern is understanding how research and pedagogy inherit taken-for-granted assumptions that undermine current commitments to equality and justice. In prior projects, she has explored racial disparities in high school coursework, unintended effects of data-driven reforms, and the marginalization of sociopolitical dimensions of science and sustainability in curricular standards. Her research appears in journals including Curriculum Inquiry and Science Education, and she gave an invited keynote at the International Organization for Science and Technology Education meeting in 2018. Katie holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction from the University of Wisconsin?Madison and a B.A. in Psychology from Williams College. Prior to her current appointment, she served as a Lecturer of Curriculum and Teaching at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. At the K-12 level, she taught elementary and middle school science, first as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Alcalá de Henares, Spain and then in East Boston, Massachusetts.

Pin It on Pinterest