Decolonizing STEMM: Reclaiming Indigenous Scientific, Technological, Engineering, Math, and Maker Knowledge, Practices, and Inventions

Since January 20, 2017 I’ve been trying to hold on for dear life to that elated sense of progress and hope that swept me off my feet during President Barack Obama’s first inauguration 1. I had just started my first full-time 4th grade teaching gig on 98th and Bancroft in East Oakland, a community highly impacted by Post-traumatic Slave Syndrome 2, poverty, and segregation. Fresh from a career transition as a crisis counselor, I inherited a classroom whose teacher had been fired mid-February. I thought, “I did crisis counseling and case-management for women and children survivors of domestic violence for 10 years, I can definitely learn with kids, all day, erry day.” And because he had just been sworn into office, I knew I had to catch Obama’s wind in my sails and deliver inspirational instruction to my students because their life actually does depend on it.

Their lives depend on it not only because my students are survivors of violence, but because I only taught ELA and Math, all day, erry day. (Insert rolling eye emoji) It’s so frustrating when outsiders judge students of color being so disconnected from their communities and the world. How can we expect them to find connection with their communities and the world when we advocate for anemic diets of only ELA and Math?

I taught Open Court Reading (OCR), which was my scripted bible as a full-time emergency long-term substitute teacher and full-time credential program student. OCR authors had done everyone a solid by writing in Science Connections related to some readings for teachers to latch on to, if they wanted. The Science Connections were meager crumbs to me, who hated school in 4th grade but love science and learning!

As a child I learned so much basic science about our bodies and the magic of physics that as a teacher I was so aware of everything that was missing. Everything missing includes fun and engaging and hands-on but also includes basic knowledge that connects human beings to the cycles of the planet through explicit STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Making) instruction.

So decolonizing STEMM became a critical part of my practice. Decolonizing STEMM means re-connecting present-day people to the Earth by educating youth on the knowledge of the world passed down from our ancestors. Decolonizing STEMM of dominant Western practices and bias means we can live independently without the over-production or addiction to corporate surrogacy. Decolonizing STEMM is about explicitly and critically interrogating the means and ends of modern day STEMM as a pathway to recruit more STEMM professionals of color and re-entangle their personal identities to elders who once lived in non-competitive symbiotic relationships 3 with the Earth.

To Decolonize STEMM for my students I had to start by decolonizing my own mind. I started seeking out holders of knowledge willing to mentor me. I joined a local Xicana youth empowerment organization focused on third world resistance and alliance building across oppressed peoples of the world. This organization gave me a pulse check on local youth outside of Epic. I also began attending and participating in People’s Education Movement as professional development: an educators group where we explicitly unpack our own internalized oppression and the colonization of education through readings, discussion, and actions. Lastly, I started a Women of Color STEMM (WoCSTEMM) educators group that has since evolved to include white STEMM allies through a convergence with the Social Justice Math Educators of the East Bay (SJME).

The convergence of the WoCSTEMM and SJME groups eventually lead to the creation of Social Justice STEMM educators. We started in Oakland and have grown to include STEMM educators in San Francisco and Santa Rosa. This group is where I go to work through curricular development issues. We use Critical Friends Protocol to present projects that ensure educators and students are digesting STEMM through a critical pedagogical lens.

Next blog post I will write about the sewing project that developed with the help of the Critical Friends Protocol and my colleagues in the Social Justice STEMM educators group.

1 “Obama’s Parting Gift: The Power Not to Fear White Racism – The New ….” 19 Jan. 2017, Accessed 20 Jan. 2017.

2 Http:// “Post Traumatic Syndrome Dr Joy DeGruy Leary.” YouTube. YouTube, 12 Jan. 2016. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

3 “Symbionts, Parasites, Hosts & Cooperation.” Symbionts, Parasites, Hosts, and Cooperation – N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.


Reina Cabezas

Thanks so much Christa! SJSTEMM actually holds some google hang-outs during meetings so you’re welcome to join anytime. I’ll detail how this group has helped me grow into a STEMM educator founded in critical pedagogy with pictures, example lesson slides, etc. next post too.


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