High school biology textbooks over the past 15 years have given newfound attention to race, with attention centering on genetic definitions of racial categories rather than previous phenotypical, or appearance-based, models, according to a study by New York University’s Ann Morning, an assistant professor of sociology. But, Morning found, contemporary biology textbooks provide less evidence for their genetic treatment of race than their predecessors did.
“Today’s textbooks have redefined race as genetic without furnishing empirical evidence for this framing, in sharp contrast to the copious explanations and illustrations that were used to support the earlier phenotypic model of race,” Morning explained.
The study, “Reconstructing Race in Science and Society,” appeared in “Exploring Genetics and Social Structure,” a special issue of the American Journal of Sociology.
Morning’s research, the first to examine what American high school science teaches students about race, sampled 80 biology textbooks published between 1952 and 2002. Her findings revealed that after decades of declining attention to the subject of race, textbooks published since the early 1990s have shown renewed interest in it.
“The textbooks’ transformation sheds light on the broader relationship between race and science in the United States, where claims about racial difference have not only drawn instrumentally and selectively from empirical research, but at times forgo scientific grounding altogether,” Morning added. “As decades of post-World War II textbooks show, race is not a one-time construct or relic of centuries past, surviving only through cultural and institutional inertia. Instead, it is continually remade-and is being reworked today.”