Table of Contents

    Cover Story
  • Free What's Your Story?

    Student identity on the walls in Philly

    By Joshua Kleiman, Charlie McGeehan

    A high school English teacher and a media arts teacher team up to teach a unit on identity. Students combine personal writing with vivid photography, creating large banners that become public art.

  • Features
  • Free Uchinaaguchi: The Language of My Heart

    By Moe Yonamine

    Returning to her home country of Okinawa at 13, Moé Yonamine was hit by a teacher for speaking her Indigenous language. She reflects on the history of colonial oppression in Okinawa and the importance of keeping culture and language alive.

  • Language Is a Human Right

    An interview with veteran activist Debbie Wei on language education in the Asian American community

    By Grace Cornell Gonzales

    Educator Debbie Wei, co-founder of a folk arts-based school in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, describes her journey—from growing up as the child of Chinese immigrants who never spoke to her in their native language, to advocating for heritage language programs.

  • Sabrina's Story

    Parents and teachers work together on inclusion

    By Kate MacLeod, Julie Causton, Nelia Nunes

    Third-grader Sabrina isn’t thriving in her self-contained special education classroom. Her parents believe that she would do better in an inclusion classroom, and they collaborate with teachers and staff to make it a success.

  • Medical Apartheid: Teaching the Tuskegee Syphilis Study

    By Gretchen Kraig-Turner

    Students in a bioethics class are horrified to learn about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, during which African American men were denied treatment for syphilis. They draw connections to other medical injustices and write their own codes of ethics for medical research.

  • Push Out: Racial Dynamics at a Turnaround School

    By Christopher B. Knaus

    A teacher educator is hired as a mentor by a turnaround school’s new principal. He soon realizes he is being asked to cover for getting rid of an excellent teacher of color.

  • Free All American Boys

    An interview with Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

    By Renée Watson

    Two authors collaborated to write a nuanced novel from the perspectives of two young men—Rashad, who is Black, and Quinn, who is white. The novel gives teachers a powerful tool to discuss police brutality and racism with students.

  • Departments Free
  • In Our Hands

    By The Editors of Rethinking Schools
  • "Water Is Life" Teaching for Solidarity with Standing Rock

    By the editors of Rethinking Schools
  • Education Action
  • Betsy DeVos: Swamp Denizen Named Secretary of Education

  • Resources
  • Our picks for books, videos, websites, and other social justice education resources.
  • Good Stuff
  • My Night at the Planetarium

    Reviewed By Rachel Cloues

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Medical Apartheid: Teaching the Tuskegee Syphilis Study

Medical Apartheid: Teaching the Tuskegee Syphilis Study

When I think of Black Lives Matter, what comes to mind first is police brutality and the resulting lost lives of young men and women in recent times. But as a science teacher, I know that racism in the United States also has roots that extend deep into the history of medical research.

Medical apartheid, the systematic oppression and exclusion of African Americans in our healthcare systems, has existed since the time of slavery and continues today in medical offices and research universities. What care people receive, what diseases are studied, and who is included in research groups are still delineated by race.
 The term medical apartheid is explained in Harriet Washington’s 2007 work, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. Washington documents how “diverse forms of racial discrimination have shaped both the relationship between white physicians and black patients and the attitude of the latter towards modern medicine in general.”

Medical apartheid is a reality that many of my students and their families face. I teach in the only predominantly African American high school in Oregon. Being talked down to by doctors is a common experience, as is leaving the doctor’s office without receiving adequate care. One of my students told us that her uncle’s treatment for a heart condition was so substandard, her family sued the hospital for discrimination. Critically examining the history of medical research is a way to bring the experiences of my students and their families into the classroom, and a way to connect our study of bioethics to the often hidden history of African American men and women who fought for their dignity and rights against a medical system that treated them like lab rats.

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