Dr. Steven Selden has contributed to understanding the impacts of eugenics through his research and the January 1999 release of his book Inheriting Shame: The Story of Eugenics and Racism in America. He also presented on the conditions leading up to the widespread use of eugenics and the influences on education as the keynote speaker at AATC’s annual conference in 1999. Dr. Selden’s work focused on the lack of valid scientific evidence and the reliance on pseudoscience to explain human differences and the ongoing influences of eugenics and racism on policy and education in spite of a lack of valid scientific evidence.
In Inheriting Shame: The Story of Eugenics and Racism in America, Dr. Selden links the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel’s work in the early 1900s with its subsequent use to support a eugenics movement that attributed many human characteristics, including morality, intellect, and socialization, to heredity. Even though the beliefs that these human behaviors are determined through heredity and genetics were unsupported by research, they were perpetuated from 1900 through the 1930s. Based on Selden’s historical perspectives and analyses, connections to contemporary implications are presented as these beliefs continue to infiltrate decision making in both educational and social settings.
As we consider the work of Dr. Selden, we can consider how the impacts of eugenics and racism continue to impact education policy and practice. The following questions may help us to further our work. In the spirit of encouraging dialogue, a foundational component of AATC’s identity, we encourage you to share your thoughts and engage in discourse in the comments section:
- What beliefs of education and education policy are influenced by historical and present uses of eugenics and racist beliefs? In what ways do these beliefs knowingly and unknowingly impact our beliefs and practices?
- How does belief in eugenics impact teachers and students beyond school? How do these can educators address these impacts both in and out of school?
Written by Dr. Corey Nagle