Today in Wokery: Whiteboards and “Whiteness” in Physics

Just when you think wokery can’t get any more stupid, you come across an online journal called Physical Review Physical Education Research (PRPER). It is somehow affiliated with the American Physical Society, supposedly a serious scientific organization. The website describes PRPER as “a fully open access journal that is sponsored jointly by APS, the American Association of Physics Teachers, the APS Forum on Education, and the APS Group on Physics Education Research.”

You have to wonder about about APR when you find this most recent offering from PRPER:

Observing whiteness in introductory physics: A case study

Amy D. Robertson and W. Tali Hairston


Within whiteness, the organization of social life is in terms of a center and margins that are based on dominance, control, and a transcendent figure that is consistently and structurally ascribed value over and above other figures. In this paper, we synthesize literature from Critical Whiteness Studies and Critical Race Theory to articulate analytic markers for whiteness, and use the markers to identify and analyze whiteness as it shows up in an introductory physics classroom interaction. We name mechanisms that facilitate the reproduction of whiteness in this local context, including a particular representation of energy, physics values, whiteboards, gendered social norms, and the structure of schooling. In naming whiteness and offering a set of analytic markers, our aim is to provide instructors and researchers with a tool for identifying whiteness in their own contexts. Alongside our discussion, which imagines new possibilities for physics teaching and learning, we hope our work contributes to Critical Whiteness Studies’ goal of dismantling whiteness.

Yes, the whole article is just a nonsensical as you think, and thus entirely typical of radical “scholarship” in the academic identity politics hothouses today. But this one is especially absurd because of its focus on . . . whiteboards. Don’t believe me? From the complete article:

Paired with other mechanisms of control (like the use of whiteboards and the structure of schooling), it organizes activity around itself, makes it possible for a single person to maintain control (and makes natural ways to keep others from gaining control), centralizes the credit in the person with the most access to it, and suggests discursive frames that make this seem normal (he understands it, he was the closest to it). . .

Entangled with the above is the use of whiteboards as a primary pedagogical tool. Though whiteboards have been shown to have a number of affordances when they are used as a collaborative tool that all members have access to, in this episode, they also play a role in reconstituting whiteness as social organization. In particular, whiteboards display written information for public consumption; they draw attention to themselves and in this case support the centering of an abstract representation and the person standing next to it, presenting. They collaborate with white organizational culture, where ideas and experiences gain value (become more central) when written down.

Somehow I think the authors are missing the potential to argue that blackboards represent racist exploitation or something.

It turns out if you read a little further on the PRPER website you discover that it is a “pay-to-play” journal. In other words, it is a vanity press for mediocre academics:

PRPER authors pay an article publication charge (APC) (current APS APCs) to make accepted manuscripts available under a CC-BY (4.0 International) license. In keeping with APS’s community orientation, this is the most permissive license available and permits anyone to copy, distribute, transmit, and adapt the work with proper attribution.

If you click through to the fee schedule, it suggests the authors—or their institution (Seattle Pacific University)—paid $2,100 to publish this article.

This explains how such a ridiculous article could see “publication,” since no self-respecting academic journal—even a leftist one—would ever publish something this bad. One wonders how the APS allowed themselves to conned into allowing this journal to claim an affiliation with them.

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