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Ebola: Teaching Science, Race, and the Media

By Alexa Schindel and Sara Tolbert


Home > Archives > Volume 31 No.1 - Fall 2016

Ebola: Teaching Science, Race, and the Media

By alexa schindel and sara tolbertAdd to Cart Purchase a PDF of this article

The Ebola Watch Committee in Bamala Commune in Macenta, Guinea.
Anne Kennedy, UNDP/Flickr Creative Commons

Media plays a pivotal role in both informing and misinforming the public. What (and whose) stories are told, and how they are told, matter. In terms of science news, it is particularly important that students develop the ability to critically analyze the scientific content: Is it accurate? Is the guise of objectivity being used to present racism or other biases as scientific fact?

In 2014, the death toll from an outbreak of the Ebola virus in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea soared. In the United States, news outlets reacted with racist and fear-mongering reports focused on potential outbreaks in the United States.

Our pre-service teachers reported that students at their field placements were asking lots of questions about Ebola: What is it? Is it coming here? Am I going to catch it? One preservice teacher observed a conversation in a high school science class. A student asked, “Don’t Africans eat bugs?” Her teacher replied, “They’re hunters and gatherers.”

These comments are all too common in schools and demonstrate how, even among scientists and science teachers, scientific topics can be polluted with ignorance and anti-African/ anti-Black attitudes that reproduce racist and colonialist norms, a process often referred to as “othering.”



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