A Call for Inclusive Language in Science Classes

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ISB is committed to a community-wide learning journey, throughout which we hope to explore ways to ensure every learner’s unique identity is valued and respected.  This is a huge task, and some steps are easier than others. One simple shift with an enormous return on investment is the intentional incorporation of inclusive language. Out of the thousands of words we speak each day, it may be the smallest ones that have the largest impact.  

The nature of the science curriculum often requires us to teach about gender and sex. While many view science as an unbiased area of knowledge, that simply is not the case. We often unintentionally promote gender and heteronormative stereotypes. With a few easy language swaps, we can create a class culture that helps every learner feel safe and well-represented. Here are a few examples. 

Things I used to say
Things I’m trying to say instead
Boys are born with XY chromosomes
Biological males are born with XY chromosomes
Female anatomy includes ovaries, uterus, etc
Most biological females are born with ovaries, uterus, etc., but there are many cases where this is not true and every body is different.  
The male testicles are the site of sperm production
Testicles are the site of sperm production
Rosalind Franklin was a female scientist who…
Rosalind Franklin was a scientist who…
Girls go through puberty earlier than boys
People born with biologically female anatomy sometimes go through puberty earlier than people born with biologically male anatomy  
If a man and a woman have a baby, what is the probability that their child will be a boy?
What is the probability that a child will be born with XY chromosomes? 
Perhaps in the not-so-distant future someone else will be writing an article about replacing these terms with even more inclusive language. Great! We have an obligation not only to speak, but to listen.  And reflect.  And be open to new ideas. As scientists we consistently use new data to question established ideas, and we should be doing the same about the language we use in our teaching practices.  

Cheryl Hickman
Secondary School Science Teacher