Homeplace and the Harshworld: a feminist re-reading of science and teaching students in poverty

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Homeplace and the Harshworld:

A feminist re-reading of science and teaching students in poverty

Angela Calabrese Barton

340 Sanchez Building

Center for Science Education

University of Texas at Austin

Austin, TX 78712



Margery D. Osborne

Department of Curriculum and Instruction

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Champaign, IL 61820



Homeplace and the Harshworld:

A feminist re-reading of science and teaching students in poverty


In the last fifteen years, feminism has had a small but significant impact on science education. This impact has been felt both in term of “what” gets taught (subject matter knowledge) and “how” it gets taught (pedagogy). In this paper, we extend the feminist argument in science education to advocate the political position that feminism in science education is about constructing places in which the enterprise of science can be rethought and "science" can be placed in a position as a tool for enacting societal change for the better. To make sense of this political ideal, we draw from the feminist concepts of “homeplace” as well as from stories of the life of one of the young people with whom we work to raise questions regarding the need for an expanded feminist conceptualization of science education.

Homeplace and the Harshworld:

A feminist re-reading of science and teaching students in poverty
Extending the feminist argument in science education

In the last fifteen years, feminism has had a significant impact on science education. This impact has been felt both in term of “what” gets taught (subject matter knowledge) and “how” it gets taught (pedagogy). This impact can largely be summarized through the emergence of and responses to the following three major questions: Whose knowledge, ways of knowing, and ways of doing in science are most valued? How can other ways of knowing and doing be incorporated into science teaching in order to promote a more inclusive understanding or a greater objectivity in scientific and science education circles (See Harding, 1991; Rosser 1996; Longino 1991)? What are the essential qualities of science learning communities that support the whole human being even when this means incorporating contradictory ideals, i.e., reason and emotion, competition and collaboration, nurturing, skepticism, curiosity, and interests in the abstract and applied (Brickhouse, 1994; Rosser 1990)?

The impact of feminism in science education cannot be understated! As a consequence of asking (and validating) these questions, major reform initiatives in the US and in other western countries, have begun to expand equity efforts from basic compensatory and remedial programs to re-vamped curricular and pedagogical strategies sensitive to cultural and gender differences (Barton, 1998). For example, Pathways to National Standards (1996) states that “there are many things that we can do to create greater opportunity to learn for girls in science” (p. 144). Later in the same paragraph Pathways offers several practical examples including, “ connect science to other subjects and the real world, choose metaphors, examples, and visuals carefully to avoid stereotypes, foster true collaboration (don’t let the boys take over!)” and later “provide opportunities for play. Girls may not have been given the opportunity to use hammers, screwdrivers, technology, and other tools” (p. 144).

In this paper, we extend the feminist argument in science education to advocate the political position that feminism in science education is about constructing places in which the enterprise of science can be rethought and "science" can be placed in a position as a tool for enacting societal change for the better. This position exerts that challenging curriculum and pedagogy is only the first major step in realizing an empowering education. The second step, we argue, would be to understand the political ramifications of such cultural and political transformation, or what it means to make science for social change for the better. To make sense of this political ideal, we draw from the feminist concept of Homeplace (a construct brought to our science classes by children and youth which recasts science as something transformative) and the kinds of things which happen within homeplace (the critical articulations of both the sociohistorical lives of the children and teacher involved, and this includes the experiences, values and ideas they bring to the science classroom as well as how these sociohistorical lives get positioned with and against science, or the "harsh world" ).

To make this argument we first present stories from the life of one of the young people with whom we work—Tanda1—to raise questions regarding the need for an expanded feminist conceptualization of science education. We then introduce the concept of homeplace. We ask, What do these ideals mean and what impact can our understanding of these constructs have on our conceptualizations of science education, especially, in this case, as it relates to the life of Tanda? Finally, we turn to ecofeminism to bring together the discussion about homeplace, acts of remembrance, and doing science with young people for social change.

In the following, we tell a story from one of our (Angela Calabrese Barton’s) research. The story is about Tanda, a nineteen year old self-labeled “PR” (Puerto Rican) who lives in a homeless shelter with her family in a poor run-down area of New York City. There are over 200 families housed at the shelter for periods of time ranging from three to eighteen months. This particular shelter stands out from other shelters in the New York City system because of the network of services it provides for children and parents. Although all shelters are required to provide families with social services, this shelter provides a myriad of educational programs including Graduation Equivalency Diploma (GED) courses for teenagers and adults, after-school homework and tutoring for children ages 6-18, recreational activities such as basketball teams, and daycare and early childhood education for children under the age of six.

However, many activities and regulations at the shelter are strikingly similar to the other shelters in the city. For example, all shelter residents are required to sign in and out and are held to strict curfews: 9PM for children under the age of 12, 10PM for children under the age of 18 and 11PM for adults. Children and youth under 18 are not allowed on shelter property without an adult guardian. So, for example, if a parent is at work or elsewhere, children cannot go home. Visitors, including immediate family members such as brothers, sisters, parents, and grandparents, as well as friends or daycare providers not residing in the shelter are not allowed on the property at any time. Finally, the shelter is surrounded by bar fences, giving it a prison-like quality.

Tanda has lived at this shelter for about six months with her infant son. Her four year old daughter lives with her own mother nearby, while the father of her children lives upstate in one of the penitentiaries. Tanda is working on completing her Graduation Equivalency Diploma (GED). She had left school (although never officially dropping out) at the age of 15 when she gave birth to her daughter. She plans to use her GED to obtain higher paying employment and eventually get out of the shelter, or as Tanda would say “ get outta this hell hole.”

Tanda works hard to stay away from the violent tug of the inner-city. She describes how she once used drugs, engaged in knife fights, and otherwise caused trouble. However, with the simultaneous birth of her son and incarceration of her boyfriend, she has decided to try to turn her life around. She wants to be a good role model, especially for young men in the inner-city. She wants to help make peace between the blacks and PRs in her neighborhood, and she believes the future of her neighborhood rests in the children. On any given day, one can find Tanda in the courtyard of the shelter talking with other mothers and fathers about children and child-care. In fact, Tanda has taken it upon herself to mentor one fifteen year old African American young man, Kobe, on parenting, since he has primary child care responsibility for his infant sibling. Kobe, like Tanda, has left school, although he hasn’t officially dropped out either. Interspersed with talk on parenting is Tanda’s efforts to encourage Kobe to enroll in GED courses with her. She agrees with Kobe that schooling is probably not for him—that they probably treated him bad anyway; but that he cannot throw his life out the door.

Tanda’s focus on the importance of education in her and others’ lives, albeit education through more informal routes, shows up in her own participation in an after school action research program offered at the shelter by my research group. The action research project was something that my (Angie’s) doctoral students, a post doc and I initiated with the teens at the shelter. Even though we initiated the project (we had the money to do so) the goals and purposes of the action research after our initial meetings were strictly up to the teens: we began by talking with them about their concerns and tried to find ways as a community to productively address those. The children rapped, made murals and role played expressing their interests and concerns in multiple ways. The teens talked about gangs, school, work, family, personal relationships, and child rearing, among other things. One of the concerns to emerge through these activities was about the lot across the street from the shelter. This particular lot was abandoned, full of litter including such items as ripped open garbage bags, feces, broken bottles, and crack vials. The lot was surrounded by a partially destroyed metal link fence with sharp fragments protruding in several places from a “high speed police chase.” The damaged fence was both an eyesore and unsafe. We worked with the teens to document the qualities of the lot, including its size, shape, and positive and negative attributes, and used this information to generate a reasonable list of things we could do to make the lot something that they would enjoy. The teens generated many ideas including, a garden, a playground, a stage, a basketball court and an apartment building. Over the next two months, from these ideas, the teens did research to figure out what they might need to accomplish their options, built 2-D and 3-D models, and debated their ideas. They settled on a community garden with benches because it would be beautiful, would not be too expensive, and although it required upkeep, that would be minimal, except during the summer months.

Tanda was actually not officially allowed by the shelter to participate in this project because she was over eighteen (she was nineteen). We disagreed with this particular rule, and we ran into resistance when we pleaded with the administration to revise it or at least make an exception. What we see as important here are the ways that Tanda schemed to involve herself in the action research project through informal channels since direct participation was ultimately not allowed by the shelter. For example, although not allowed to attend the bi-weekly project meetings, she could be found in the courtyard talking up the project to the youth encouraging them to participate and explaining the importance of the project, especially its importance for the young children who would benefit from the products of the project. This was of particular importance because the only park near the shelter was largely viewed as unsafe, serving as a focal point of several recent rape investigations and known (but not investigated) drug deals. She could also be found helping out on community days. Community days were Saturdays designed by the teens involved in the action research project to open up the work of transforming the lot to the larger community. Community days were advertised by fliers, and involved such work as picking up garbage in the lot, building a new fence around the lot, laying a cement foundation for the sign the youth created for the lot, and planting trees, flowers and vegetables. Finally, Tanda could be found around the neighborhood serving as one of the directors of a video documentary partly about the lot project and partly about life in the inner-city, later labeled The Urban Atmosphere. This video was produced separately from the after school program so that Tanda could be involved and was initiated by Darkside, one of the teens involved in the lot project who wanted to make a video by teens for teens about how to do a lot transformation project and about science and life in the inner-city (see Barton & Hagiwara, 2000). In all of these actions, Tanda’s young son was always in tow. Thus, in her own way, Tanda was actively involved in the entire process to transform the abandoned lot into a community garden even if this work was from a distance and disallowed.

Perhaps more important than transforming the lot was Tanda’s overriding passion to transform her community, with the lot being just one aspect of that. For example, from the very beginning, Tanda viewed her work around the science action research project as important because of its transformative aspects. In fact, the opening scene of The Urban Atmosphere captures Tanda standing between her son’s empty stroller and Kobe, a young teen holding her son. Her narrative in this scene is meant to introduce the viewers to her view of science and its role in our daily lives. In this statement Tanda focused on the role of science helping to transform race relations within the city:

To me, science is all around here. The community. The children. Especially the children. We have to work together to stop the fighting. Especially the races. We have to help our races.

Here, the transformation of race relations is central and the doing of science is only one aspect of making those transformations happen. Later in the video-documentary, Tanda described science in the video documentary as “about life” and that although science is something you have to learn in school it is also “the things we have to do in your life to survive” such as “taking care of babies” and “finding ways to get out [of the shelter].” According to Tanda, the vision of inclusion of all people in science was based on the ideal that the scientific community requires the input of all in order to be “good” science, because good science is responsive to all people’s needs. In fact, Tanda believed that everyone should be part of the scientific community because science was about finding answers to their questions and needs:

How we know what science to do unless we ask people what they need? I know what I need: to learn how to take care of my son. What about Kobe? Or Darkside? Or Rose? We all need to work together on this or it don’t benefit no one.

Finally, Tanda was viewed in many ways by some of the teens as a mother. Her “unit” (i.e. shelter apartment) was always open, and often other teens could be found chatting with her about life. The conversations I witnessed always carried with them a two-fold sense. There often appeared to be some element of teaching as well as some of element of critique. For example, the teens would ask Tanda for her opinion or her views, and she would often say things like, “here is what you need to do” or “that is just what is wrong with this place.”

Thus, Tanda was older than the other teens involved in the project and this positioned her in interesting ways: as an outsider, a leader, a mother, and a source of knowledge.

Homeplace: transforming the harsh world
Historically, African-American people believed that the construction of a homeplace, however fragile and tenuous (the slave hut, the wooden shack), had a radical political dimension. Despite the brutal reality of racial apartheid, of domination, one's homeplace was the one site where one could freely confront the issue of humanization, where one could resist. Black women resisted by making homes where all black people could strive to be subjects, not objects, where we could be affirmed in our minds and hearts despite poverty, hardship, and deprivation, where we could restore to ourselves the dignity denied us on the outside in the public world. (hooks, 1981)

We use the story of Tanda and a description of her life at the shelter and her views of science for two reasons: her vision of science has shaped what she does in the after school time frame at the shelter (even when most of her work is construed as “against the rules”). It also shapes her relationships with her children and her peers. Tanda’s vision of science and of participation in science is fundamentally about action: It is an enactment of homeplace. So if we look closely at the story of Tanda we can begin to answer the questions: what is homeplace and what is science for social action, and how do the two relate? In our attempt to answer this question, we first begin with a discussion of homeplace. We then move to a discussion of Tanda’s construction of homeplace.

In one of her earlier pieces, bell hooks talks about the black family, and in particular the black mother and grandmother as one who returns home from the "harsh world" to create a safe space of care and nurturance in the face of racist oppression and sexist domination, and that reality, alone, made the home, regardless how fragile or tenuous, have a radical political dimension (hooks, 1984). hooks refers to this nurturing space away from the harsh world as homeplace. Harsh world, then, is the world to be remade through the lens of homeplace and this includes the discipline of science as well as any other oppressive or exclusive discipline or domain.

In Black Feminist thought, homeplace has several important qualities. First, homeplace anchors: Homeplace is a safe community. Such a community is built on difference and solidarity, and is a place where people who may or may not be “relatives” come to know and rely on each other. This vision of community is important, especially in terms of how we think about young people, because it acknowledges that relationships between parents and children go beyond children as property or possessions of parents, to children and parents as members of a larger caring community of on-going relationship, friendship and sites for change. Understanding this also allows us to recognize the roots of a shared history and a common anguish among communities members, where a shared history and anguish is taken broadly to mean a common and articulated understanding and set of experiences around issues of oppression and liberation and a critique of those experiences. This common history and anguish joins members together in solidarity in a struggle to be heard and treated fairly outside the homeplace.

Even though homeplace as community draws strength from a common history and anguish, homeplace as community teaches—and requires—participants to relate to a wide variety of people and backgrounds. This idea of difference is important because it asserts “unassimilated otherness” or representation, and “voice” to members of smaller-groupings . This in turn celebrates distinctions and characteristics of such different smaller-groupings as one way to motivate change among all larger-grouping members (Young, 1994). By deconstructing the ideal of homogeneity within community it allows for a transformation of all members through the recognition of difference. From this perspective communities form “not through the negation of the given but rather as making something good from the many elements of the given” (Young, 1994, p. 317). In this sense, community—and homeplace—is also built through a politics of difference. And, the tension between common history and difference keeps the community balanced, self-critical, and responsive to its members.

Homeplace is also marked by several practices. For example, homeplace is a context where all members are affirmed through the act of remembrance. By remembrance we mean a critical and creative articulation and reflection on the homeplace, its members and their experiences. To us, this remembrance speaks to a painful history of subjugation. We think what is important here is the role that remembrance plays in the purpose and the goals of the family, or the community. Remembrance takes into account how an articulation of how we come to know the world is historically situated (in both what we know and how we know it), and that the articulation of the historical brings with it a radical political dimension because it calls into question connections between position, power, and knowledge. In this sense, homeplace as the practice of remembrance also embraces acts of subversion: The very act of articulation, in remembrance, politicizes experience and the meaning of experience and opens up spaces for critique and revision of those experiences and the world which helped shape them.

Homeplace also carries with it its own orientation to knowledge and values. Homeplace challenges static representations of scientific knowledge or any kind of knowledge because the production of knowledge is connected to the social uses of and need for knowledge. In building science from homeplace this means starting from a belief that the knowing and the doing of science are historically, socially and politically situated processes influenced by external needs, and that scientific knowledge is also shaped through internal channels. Science is an outgrowth of those who create it, even when drawing from work historically constructed within the discipline. Neither scientific knowledge nor the constructor of that knowledge can be defined separately from the other—each requires the other. Perhaps more important, though, is the political dimension to knowledge construction. For us this means two things. First, because knowledge is experientially based, it is a representation of one’s reality and can be used as lens to understand, critique and revision the realities of the harsh world, be it formal science or larger social contexts. Second, knowledge is always used for something, to understand and influence—to change—one’s physical or existential reality.

Together, these ideas about community, practices such as remembrance and subversion, and knowledge and values embracing cultural and political standpoint underscore the cross cutting theme that homeplace is ultimately about transforming the harsh world. Everything that happens in and about homeplace is centrally connected to the ideal of a fair and equitable world. This is why we refer to the idea of homeplace as radical and political. Homeplace exists through the efforts of those marginalized to create the physical, emotional, and intellectual space to understand, critique and recreate institutional and social practices based in the discourses of domination and control.

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Connecting Tanda with Homeplace, Ecofeminism and differential consciousness

How can concepts of homeplace and the harsh world inform our understanding of science education for social change? Homeplace situates how and what one gives witness to or remembers their lived experience. We believe that a summative quality of science and science education for social change has to do with a radical political dimension which follows from re-reading one’s personal life and life situations within communal safe spaces. Let us return to the case of Tanda to make sense of these ideas in science education and social change.

Transforming the harsh world

We believe that Tanda’s varied roles in the shelter community, including the after school science project, positioned her in such a way that she initiated (both pro-actively and re-actively) multiple sites of homeplace with/in the shelter community. The conversations in her unit, the community gatherings in the courtyard, the video documentary project, and community days all brought people together to confront their realities and to resist expectations riddled with racist, classist and sexist stereotyping and assumptions. Tanda taught Kobe how to be a caregiver. She encouraged youth to participate in ridding the abandoned lot of garbage and other litter as well as drug dealers. She pushed her peers to consider how their visions for life in the inner-city which includes their visions for the lot transformation (and their subsequent actions) are critical to revitalizing their neighborhood. She pushed her peers to consider how they might use their own constructions of science and self to sustain their community and their actions while also transforming the larger communities. Tanda also challenged the rules for participation in the after school science program, encouraging us to find and build multiple avenues for participation.

Tanda’s multiple constructions of homeplace and her role in those spaces (as mother, community member, do-er of science, and shelter resident) encouraged her peers and us to consider science (and other domains) from being simply about subject matter knowledge and how it gets taught to fundamentally being about transformation. For example, in our case, as “teachers” or “facilitators” of the after school science project, it is not that we believed science to be simply subject matter knowledge. I believe we entered the after school project understanding that it what one does with science as well as how and what one knows science that is important. However, Tanda’s actions encouraged us to think about “transformation” as the crux of knowing/doing science. Thus, what is central here is Tanda’s production of multiple safe spaces that encouraged critical conversation emergent from the youth’s (and our) lives, and the ways in which those conversation—or acts of remembrance—served to transform, us, the youth, and the community. Such transformations occurred on a number of levels including the physical world (i.e. revitalizing the lot), the social world (i.e. facilitating different kinds of relationships among peers), and the academic world (i.e. challenging how we think about science).

For example, Tanda engaged the larger group of youth at the shelter in physical transformation of the neighborhood. Although she was only a “distant” member of the project, Tanda moved this agenda forward in several ways. She faithfully attended community days, through courtyard and unit chats she pushed other youth to become more involved in the lot project, and she helped validate the process through her leading role in the video documentary. It was not that Tanda was simply a “cheer leader” – we certainly do not want to mis-state our point. It was different. More thoughtful, intellectually grounded as well as experientially grounded, genuine. Tanda’s presence kept an awareness—and thus the resulting action—alive. Tanda focused her effort to transform the abandoned lot into a garden where people in the area, especially the children could take respite in order to create a safer space for neighborhood children to congregate. This is important. The overriding goal here for Tanda was not doing or learning “the science” to transform the lot, but using the science, and helping others to use the science, in ways that allowed them to make the physical surroundings safer and more accessible to the children in her community. Embedded within this idea was that Tanda had to learn enough about science to accomplish these tasks.

Tanda also engaged the larger group in social transformation. Her impromptu courtyard conversations with other teens and the video documentary she helped produce, projected to anyone willing to listen (especially those who see the South Bronx as an ugly and scary place) that the South Bronx can be beautiful, and a place where its current residents want to live and are proud to live. She also attempted to show that Blacks and PR’s have shared agendas, and that they can come together over these shared agendas to make meaningful changes rather than to come together to fight. As Tanda stated, “It ain’t worth it. We already got the government against us. We need to be together. Especially for the children.” The three teens who came together to create and direct the video documentary The Urban Atmosphere included Tanda, Kobe (a sixteen year old African American, and Darkside, a fifteen year old Black Cuban American). As described earlier, Tanda’s opening statement in the documentary is about using science to transform the community and to improve race relations. Furthermore, an interview with Tanda provided a commentary on the ways in which and the reasons for which people ought to come together across both gender and race. As Tanda stated:

We need to be doing these projects, using science, to make this a better place. I want to get outta this hell hole. It shouldn’t be that way. We should work together. Make this place better, safer, make it a fun place for the children and all of us. We ain’t gonna wait for no government to help, because they ain’t ever gonna do it.

At some point, one might argue, what is the science here that Tanda has engaged in to make these physical and social changes? Isn’t it something different and something bigger than science that moves Tanda along her trajectory? Or, one might argue “why privilege science over everything else?” These are important questions, and ones that we have asked ourselves. It is not that we want to or intend to privilege science by making claims that it was through ‘science’ that Tanda helped bring about these physical and social changes. Rather, what we see happening here is that it was through homeplace that Tanda found a way to create a science meaningful enough to those in her community to help enact physical and social changes in her community. Thus, Tanda also engaged the larger group in the transformation of science—how science is conceptualized, who ought to be involved in such a reconceptualized science, and for what reasons a reconceptualized science should be sought. Tanda worked to convince her peers that they are already a part of the scientific community when they use science to enact change in their community regardless of what that science looks like or who validates it. For example, Tanda used and produced a science of her choosing when she created her own framework for participation. Tanda was not going to be controlled by artificial rules imposed by the shelter regarding who can and cannot do science. She created ways or used existing structures to involve herself such as through the video documentary, community days and informal conversations. Furthermore, she used these ways to influence the agenda of the action research project to help make a science more responsive to her own needs and concerns.

Embedded within these transformative acts are acts of remembrance. As the quotes in the above sections suggest, informing Tanda’s actions are her critical and creative articulation and reflection on her local community and the experiences, needs, and concerns of those within her community. Earlier, we described the importance of the radical political dimension that remembrance plays in the purpose and the goals of the family, or the community. Tanda’s intentions, actions, and descriptions of her actions call into question connections between position, power, and knowledge. In this sense, homeplace—or science with/in the community—is constructed and used by Tanda. Here, Tanda’s knowledge is experientially based; it is a representation of her reality and she uses her experience as lens to understand, critique and transform the realities of the her local community. In the process, she also transforms science and her place in science.

Thus, science as a tool for enacting social change for the better means a reconstruction of both "homeplace" and the "harsh world," and how the science itself is part of that harsh world in need of reconstruction. In this sense the "knowing and doing" of science in schools is the active intersection between the lifeworlds of children and youth, and the external worlds they come to study. Science education as social action is about pursuing those intentions and intersections and as such is about reconfiguring power relations for we assert that any social action is fundamentally tied to real and ideological shifts in power relations.

We argue that central to a construct of science education for social change is working with children and youth to construct the tools and power necessary to do this re-creation. This is a redefinition of representations of traditional science for it resituates the “expert” as in the child or youth and redefines the elitist, abstract and distancing knowledge of the “expert” as ordinary and human, connected to lives, living and reflecting a sense of personhood. When we say this we think of Evelyn Fox Keller’s description of Barbara McClintock’s science as humanist in the sense that it reflected her empathy with the plants she studied and her own spirituality. Her science was a manifestation of herself in complex ways which included her procedures in doing science, her interpretations of her observations and her final, ground-breaking articulations of genetic theory. They were revolutionary because they were different and they were different because McClintock was different. The children we work with are also different and their science is too and should be paid attention to just because of that. This differentness informs us about what science in general could be about and, more specifically, what science for social action is.

Using ecofeminism to further science for social change

Such a line of thought regarding homeplace, science, and social change draws formatively from articulations of Black (hooks, 1990; Collins, 1990; 1998) and third world feminist writings (Sandoval, 1991; 1995; Minh-ha, 1989; Mohanty, 1991) as well as ecofeminist philosophy (Gaard & Murphy, 1998; Haraway, 1992; 1991; Merchant, 1990). Ecofeminism is a practical movement for social change arising out of the struggle of women to sustain themselves, their families, and their communities. These struggles occur in the context of the concrete, the places that people actually live within and occur against both the abstract images of patriarchy, multinational corporations, and global capitalism and their concrete manifestations in peoples’ lives. In particular Donna Haraway (1991, 1992) in her various writings on the image of the “cyborg” makes the point that we cannot separate nature from culture and culture is constructed within the context of our daily technologies and our immediate life setting. Indeed we must reimagine nature to include the urban landscape where we live. This is in turn a constructed landscape, one we create/can recreate in an interplay between science (technology), nature and ourselves and our needs. In this sense science becomes an empowering tool used to reconstruct an alienating environment so that we can incorporate it into our vision of “homeplace.”

In the essay “U.S. Third World Feminisms” Chéla Sandoval (1995) offers an alternative “topography” (rather than a “typology”) of feminisms which maps on to traditional feminist typologies2 and extends them in interesting ways. As well as providing a description of catagories of feminism relevant to third world women her topography makes clear that forms of oppositional consciousness are only possible as an intersection between the multiple struggles of the marginalized against gender domination, in the context of race, class, and cultural hierarchies. She suggests five catagories of oppositional consciousness. The first is “equal rights,” in which a group argues that their differences are only superficial and could be shed with equal access to resources or accommodated if understood by those in power. Second, “revolutionary,” in which a group articulates their differences from those in power and claim these as central and valuable. The members of the group then call for a social transformation that will accommodate and legitimate those differences. Sandoval describes a third category, “supremacism,” in which “not only do the oppressed claim their differences, but they also assert that those very differences have provided them access to a superior evolutionary level than those currently in power” and thus justify their leadership over the powerful. Next, “separatism,” in which the oppressed claim their differences, but do not aim for integration, transformation or leadership, but rather a “form of political resistance...organized to protect and nurture the differences that define it through complete separation from the dominant social order.”

The final category, differential consciousness, is the most interesting to us as we try to understand the concept of homeplace and youth like Tanda and their relationship to science. According to Sandoval, differential consciousness “operates like the clutch of an automobile: the mechanism that permits the driver to select, engage gears in a system for the transmission of power.” She sees it as operating through the other catagories by changing each category’s emphasis from a fixed set of positions, ideas, and analyses to a fluid set of tools, tactics, and approaches to be used when the situation calls for them--particularly in cobbling together coalitions which enable mobilization of the means to resist external oppressive forces. Differential consciousness, allows an actor to focus on power hierarchies and enables subversion of and resistance to power relations. Rather than polarizing by focusing on differences, differential consciousness allows us to see where disparate discourse communities overlap. This in turn enables political action by diffusing borders, enabling the formation of coalitions by recognizing as well as creating affinities and allies.

The concept of differential consciousness maps on to Black feminist thought around the construction of homeplace in provocative ways. As bell hooks describes the homeplace, it exists as an island surrounded by hostility. It is a safe refuge that must exist in opposition to the harsh world of its environs and also co-exist with it in a state of mutual tolerance and even co-dependency. The women who construct such places are aware of the balance they must maintain, of creating a place where they can be different and how such self expression can only occur in an environment that is safe. To be safe a number of things must happen. First, a negotiated tolerance must exist between the homeplace and the harsh world. Second, a selective utilization of resources of the harsh world must occur--the homeplace is not self sufficient and the people who create it and exist within it are well aware of that. Third, alliances must be forged between people in the homeplace and outside, this means negotiating a mutual appreciation not just tolerance. None of this means that either the women constructing the homeplace or the people who live within it sell out, rather it means an opportunistic tolerance and selective appreciation.

Clearly we see Tanda’s doing this as she embraces science as one tool to enact change in her neighborhood. As science educators, we are particularly interested in how Tanda uses her construction of homeplace to transform the harshworld of her community and of science for herself and her children and peers. Tanda has clear views about what constitutes science and, in particular science in the community, in both what she says about her work in the action research project and what she does to help sustain the project from a distance.

Looking ahead

As we reflect on Tanda’s experiences, homeplace, and ecofeminism, we are forced to respond to the question, so what does this mean for school science? How might the stories of Tanda, of homeplace and of ecofeminism help us articulate in more vivid and meaningful ways, science for all? Perhaps one of the most important messages embedded within our narrative is how homeplace—a political and radical transformative location—can serve as link between science and social action. In many ways, this position is already supported by our national reform initiatives in science education in the US. For example, the two major goals guiding the “science for all” movement is to promote “science for all Americans” (AAAS 1989, 1993; NRC, 1996; NSTA, 1996), and to translate this vision of Science for All into concrete programs, policies and practices for teachers, curriculum developers, publishers, and students. Here, scientific literacy has been defined by the American Association for Advancement of Science as the “understandings and habits of mind that enable citizens to grasp the interrelationships between science, mathematics and technology, to make sense of how the natural and designed worlds work, to think critically and independently, to recognize and weigh alternative explanations of events and design trade-offs, and to deal sensibly with problems that involve evidence, numeric patterns, logical arguments, and uncertainties” (AAAS, 1993, p. XI). In other words, as Project 2061 suggests, we need to work with students to help them become “users and producers” of science.

Arguing from our position as feminists committed to social change we see embedded within this vision a fundamental orientation to science and education as with/for social action. Clearly the phrase scientific literacy implies a degree of knowing and acting upon that knowing. However, what we see as critical to bring out in this discussion is that such knowing and acting upon knowing transcends the academic sphere in order to integrate it with the social sphere. Tanda, through constructing homeplace, shows us that feminism in science education is about constructing places in which the enterprise of science can be rethought and "science" can be placed in a position as a tool for enacting societal change for the better. This in turn means a reconstruction of both "homeplace" or the child's situation, and the "harsh world," the science itself. In this sense the "knowing and doing" of science in schools is the active intersection between the lifeworlds of children, and the external worlds they come to study. Science education as social action is about pursuing those intentions and intersections and as such is about reconfiguring power relations for we assert that any social action is fundamentally tied to real and ideological shifts in power relations.

Thus, we have argued that central to a construct of science education for social change is giving children the tools and power to do this re-creation. In our story, Tanda and her differentness from our school-scripted versions of scientists, good science students, and science, redefined science, the scientific community, and her role in that process. It is not so much that Tanda radically altered the natural/cultural phenomenon of her local community and the garden lot, but rather, that Tanda altered our conceptions of how these interactions constituted science.
Support for this research was partially provided by the National Science Foundation (REC 9733700), and is acknowledged with gratitude.

Table 1: Homeplace


Homeplace (theoretical)

Anchoring quality

 Homeplace is a safe community built from difference and solidarity


 Remembrance

 Subversion

 Community-based problem solving and decision making

 Solidarity in action to solve identified problems

 Action to transform the harsh world

Knowledge and Values

 Respect for difference

 Respect for life experiences

 Experience based

 Cultural and political


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1 All names used in this manuscript, except our own, are pseudonyms used to protect the participants identity.

2 For example, liberal, radical, cultural, socialist .

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