Text reads: “Juneteenth,” in green, yellow, red, and white (the Juneteenth colors). Below the text is an illustration of many raised fists (most of which appear to belong to Black people), symbolizing resistance and solidarity. Bright, vibrant red nail polish is visible on the nails of one of the fisted hands.

Celebrating Juneteenth: RDEISE Resources for Educators

How can educators engage with their students about Juneteenth? While Juneteenth is an opportunity for celebration, it’s also important for young people to understand the significance of this day, and what it might mean for them today in both their personal lives and their future careers.

Juneteenth has been commemorated by Black Americans since June 19th, 1865. It marks the day that enslaved people in Texas were informed of their freedom and the end of slavery. It was two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Recognized as a federal holiday in the U.S. since 2021, Juneteenth is a day to celebrate freedom, liberation, and Black American culture. 

Talking about slavery can bring up questions around race. We’ve compiled learning resources from the Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Science Education (RDEISE) project that educators can use this Juneteenth across a variety of subjects, including genetics, history, and biology. These resources help convey the significance of understanding race within historical and scientific contexts.

Text reads: “Discussing race” above three illustrations from RDEISE learning resources. The first illustration is of an open book revealing text that reads “Human taxonomy,” along with illustrations of human figures, a skull, and a tree. The second illustration is of silhouettes of two human faces in profile looking at each other, which are filled in with a crowd of human figures in a range of different skin tones. The third illustration is of a person opening an at-home DNA testing kit.

Discussing race in the classroom

Why is it so hard to define race in humans? How does at-home DNA testing work? Students studying biology and other natural sciences might have these and other questions. Educators can address such questions using RDEISE learning pathways.

In the pathway How Can We Begin to Understand Race?, learners explore the idea of race as a social construct, how it developed, and the complex social meanings that the term “race” holds. This pathway also opens up discussion around how the myth of biological race in humans was used to justify the enslavement of Black Americans. 

Why Humans Do Not Have Biological Races discusses the scientific evidence proving that the concept of human races has no biological basis, and explains the origins of this myth. The scrollable interactive What Can At-Home DNA Testing Tell Us about Race? demonstrates how at-home DNA testing works. It also explains that the ancestry revealed by your DNA doesn't directly match your socially defined race.

Text reads: “Integrating race” above three illustrations from RDEISE learning resources. The first illustration is of a small, diverse crowd of people below a large DNA helix, resembling a twisted ladder. The second illustration is of silhouettes of a human and a canine figure, which are filled in with green DNA helices. The third illustration is of three people sitting in front of mirrors at a hair salon.

Integrating race into the science classroom

Bringing the topic of race into the science classroom is easily facilitated by the resources from the learning pathway How Can We Begin to Understand Human Genetic Diversity? Students can explore how genetic variation in different populations is shaped by geography, evolution, and natural selection. 

Educators can demonstrate the complexity of human genetic patterns such as skin tone in the resource Human Genetic Diversity Is Biologically Continuous and human hair in The Evolution of Human Hair. Resources including How Is Human Genetic Diversity Distributed? and The Geographical Distribution of Human Genetic Variation showcase the geographical impacts on genetic variation. 

By exploring genetic differences across individuals, students will learn that human races are genetically very similar. These resources, when tied into a science setting, enable students to further understand that race is not a biological construct.

Text reads: “Celebratory stories” above three illustrations from RDEISE learning resources. The first illustration is of Jane Minor, a Black woman nurse treating a wounded man in a hospital bed. The second illustration is of Anne Bradford Stokes, a Black woman nurse, with a hospital ship in the background behind her. The third illustration is of Onesimus, a Black man, bandaging the arm of another Black man.

Celebratory stories in the US history classroom

The history of Black Americans is not merely one of exploitation and struggle, but also one in which there has been agency and resilience. In Influential Black Healers in the 18th and 19th Centuries and Black Health-Care Heroes of the Civil War, students have the opportunity to learn about the monumental contributions made in the field of health-care by Black Americans both long before, as well as leading up to the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the subsequent end of slavery.

Juneteenth is also an opportunity for educators to celebrate how Black Americans have advocated for the ethical and equitable treatment of the Black community, despite the fact that racist practices continued after the abolishment of slavery. The Story of Henrietta Lacks: A Family Legacy of Justice and Equity in Science highlights the ways that Black Americans have fought for medical justice and, in the process, have contributed to creating a much more ethical medical science field for everyone.

Learn more about using RDEISE

Interested in learning more about integrating RDEISE resources into your teaching? Watch our recent webinar, "Addressing Race, Health, and Science in the Classroom: The RDEISE Project," for an overview of the project's first cluster, Racism as a Public Health Crisis, and suggestions for how to best use its engaging learning resources.

Additional resources:

Written by
LabXchange RDEISE team

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