education/ major curriculum& instruction

Unmasking: on violence, masculinity, and superheroes
in science education
Francis S. Broadway • Sheri L. Leafgren
Received: 26 May 2012 / Accepted: 19 June 2012
! Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012
Abstract Through exploration of public mask/private face, the authors trouble violence
and its role in science education through three media: schools, masculinity, and science
acknowledging a violence of hate, but dwelling on a violence of caring. In schools, there
is the poisonous ‘‘for your own good’’ pedagogy that becomes a ‘‘for your own good’’
curriculum or a coercive curriculum for science teaching and learning; however, the
antithetical curriculum of I’m here entails violence—the shedding of the public mask and
the exposing of the private face. Violence, likewise, becomes social and political capital
for masculinity that is a pubic mask for private face. Lastly, science, in its self-identified
cultural, political and educational form of a superhero, creates permanent harm most
often as palatable violence in order to save and to redeem not the private face, but the
public mask. The authors conclude that they do not know what violence to say one
should not do, but they know the much of the violence has been and is being committed.
All for which we can hope is not that we cease all violence or better yet not hate, but
that we violently love.
Keywords Violence ! Schools ! Masculinity ! Science-as-a-superhero ! Love
Lead Editor: M. Weinstein.
This is a forum response paper to Carolina Castano’s manuscript ‘‘Extending the purposes
of science education: addressing violence within socio-economic disadvantaged communities.’’
F. S. Broadway (&)
Department of Curricular and Instructional Studies, University of Akron, Akron, OH, USA
e-mail: [email protected]
S. L. Leafgren
Department of Teacher Education, Miami University, Oxford, OH, USA
e-mail: [email protected]
Cult Stud of Sci Educ
DOI 10.1007/s11422-012-9425-z
‘‘We will love before we can hate’’ (Harlow 1986, p. 310).
We wear masks. Although we have worn and wear masks, we cannot wear the mask of
‘‘9–10 year old children from a socio-economically disadvantaged population from
Bogota´, Colombia’’ (Castano 2012, hereafter Castano). As much as we can’t tear ourselves
from our performative body, we can’t wear the body of another. ‘‘[I]dentities are reiterated
through bodily performances. This implies that identities are not inherent to the body:
identities become naturalized through the body’s reiteration of specific norms attributed to
identity categories’’ (Ruffolo 2011, p. 291). Although we may try to become someone that
we are not, we are like a slave who
has to learn to wear a mask to seem as if he fits the owner’s concept of ‘the nigger.’ At
the same time he has an identity of his own that must be hidden, because it is a threat
to the slave system. In effect, he maintains a double identity and shifts between the
two according to the occasion…If the mask slips, the [slave] does not suffer existential
crisis, but arrest, capture, whipping, and possible death (Butterfield 1974, p. 20)
Therefore, we tread lightly on the identity of Castano’s ‘‘children—who are reactive aggressors,
possess a low social status, and are rejected by their classmates…[or are] instrumental aggressors
[who are] commonly connected with high social status, power and acceptance…[and have a] lack of
empathy and compassion,’’ ‘‘who otherwise might turn to violence as the only way they see for
surviving and gaining power’’ and who ‘‘live in poverty and immerse in situations of violence’’—as
we respect their difference.Therefore,within our pondering,we seek the private face rather than the
publicmasks by askingwhy, ifwe have a social and schoolmodel for violence, for boys, for science
education, and for the conflation of these elements, should schools create a world of a democratic
tradition (Counts 1932/1978) that does not exist? If, as NelNoddings (1997) suggests, ‘‘ithasalways
been an anathema to democratic life for authority to impose its dictates on unwilling subjects’’ (p.
188),why impose thisworld, this dream, upon its students and theworld inwhich they exist? Arewe
suggesting what we say we do not want others to do, namely, ‘‘to impose,’’ or in Count’s words
‘‘finally be prepared to, as a last resort, in either the defense or the realization of this purpose
[democratic tradition], to follow the method of revolution’’ (p. 38) and so, resort to violence?
In responding to Castano, three elements are central: violence is paradoxically inherent
in the good—the violence of love; and the bad—the violence of hate, but in both cases
violence harms. School is a place where the violence, most often bad, conflates with gender
and science-as-a-superhero; hence schools are a place of violence. And finally, the role of
masculinity/gender and of science-as-a-superhero are inherently violent because both ask
for an identity—to be like someone else.
Castano proposes and dreams that ‘‘science education could serve as a special place for
interrupting violence by encouraging compassion based on understanding the emotional
and social lives of others, starting with other animals and moving toward humans.’’ We
conjecture if science education ‘‘could play a significant role in changing the life path of
children,’’ then science (education) is a superhero; one who saves and redeems. Structurally,
we problematize Castano’s hopeful proposal by examining the cultural context of
school, namely schools as institutions of violence.
Schools as institutions of violence
Within moments of entering a school building, the culture of the place—its internal reality
as experienced and maintained by the people who are members of that cultural context—
F. S. Broadway, S. L. Leafgren
can be felt and observed by even the most nai¨ve visitor. Several years ago, a group of
teacher candidates visited an elementary school and returned to their university class with a
story to share that we recall here to mirror elements of Castano’s case study observations.
Students who were also socio-economically disadvantaged populated this school in the
Midwestern United States. In this school, the teachers involved in the story, like the teacher
in Castano’s study, viewed the students as very difficult and hard, and they likewise used
‘‘verbal aggression’’ in their interactions with them. The following vignette, recalled from
visitors’ observations, tells a tale of first-grade boys and their teachers.
The first-grade team of four white female teachers referred to them as gangsters: a
collective of five 6-year-old boys—five friends who were inseparable on the playground
and any place they could find where they could be inseparable in school. Gangsters, we
must presume because these teachers perceived this group of friends as a gang. A gang—
because they were Negroes and because they were boys and because they were other than
the teachers who labeled them. A gang—because they were perceived as violent, potentially
violent; they threatened to be violent by virtue of their blackness, their maleness, and
their otherness. In the school, they were, ostensibly, separable (as opposed to inseparable)—
because through coercion and force school does separate (Leafgren 2009, 2011), and
thus compelled the boys to a subversive –and so even more threatening—collective.
It was immediately noticeable in this school that the children moved through hallways
in straight, silent, gender-based lines. The rate of speed and style of movement was
arbitrarily prescribed by the authority of any adult who was present at the time and there
were harsh consequences for those who did not meet these unstated and often unexpected
expectations. On the day of the observation, one of the gangsters moved through the hall to
join his classmates who had begun their mute trek back to their classroom from a collective
restroom break. As the boy moved down the staircase toward the neat line of children
below, a teacher stopped him: ‘‘Stephen!!’’ barked out harshly. He stopped in mid-step and
looked to her. And every child in his class turned from their now-paused movement in their
line to look to him. The teacher –not Stephen’s teacher, but another member of the firstgrade
team of teachers who had happened to be in the hallway, too—glared at Stephen and
said, ‘‘Don’t you know how to walk down the stairs?’’ Stephen looked puzzled and said,
‘‘Yes.’’ ‘‘Then go back to the top of the stairs and walk down the stairs correctly.’’
Stephen surreptitiously looked toward the line of his classmates—all gawking at him by
now—then sheepishly ducked his head and turned to return to the top of the stairs. He
walked down as he had before—one step at a time, and with his characteristic slight, very
slight, hop as his left foot touched every other step. He reached the bottom step and looked to
the teacher. ‘‘No,’’ she shook her head, ‘‘That’s not the right way. Go back to the top and do
it again. Do it right.’’ Stephen did not look up; with head down, he turned and walked slowly
to the top of the staircase again, and walked back down—no slight hop this time, slowly and
carefully. Perhaps too slowly, because on his last step, the teacher, red-faced, said, ‘‘Very
funny. Go back again and come down the stairs correctly.’’ Stephen looked toward the line
of classmates again—all frozen in their spaces. Stephen’s classroom teacher apparently
decided to remain in the hallway with the entire line of children to witness his difficulty with
the other teacher—without a word to interrupt or question this series of humiliations. This
time, when Stephen looked to his class, he locked eyes with two of his gang, and they looked
to him with intensity and empathy. They held eyes for a time—and Stephen seemed to gather
some strength from their unspoken support and fury. He turned and walked to the top of the
stairs and turned, staring defiantly down at the teacher in the hall—his tormentor—and
waited. She slit her eyes and ground out her words, ‘‘Now—let’s see if you do know how to
walk down the stairs correctly. We’re going to keep doing this until you do it right.’’
Unmasking: on violence, masculinity, and superheroes
Stephen slowly stepped from one stair to the next, allowing both feet to rest for several
moments on each stair before moving to the next. The teacher raised her voice and ordered
him back to the top before he was half-way down, and Stephen looked to the line of his
classmates and caught the unblinking gaze of his gang,—each of them fuming, each of
them looking to Stephen with the intensity of a shared sense of injustice and hurt. This
series was repeated over and over. Each time, Stephen moved more slowly to the top and
then toward the bottom of the staircase; and each time, the teacher became more obviously
angry and frustrated. After six repetitions of sending Stephen to the top of the staircase, the
teacher gave in and abruptly shouted, ‘‘Just as I thought. You don’t know how to do it
right.’’ She shot a look to Stephen’s classroom teacher, prompting the classroom teacher to
say, ‘‘You’re flipping your card when we get back to the room, Stephen.’’ Stephen joined
his line at the end, shrugging his shoulders with a false attitude of indifference regarding
the punishment of the card flip and the prolonged affront to his dignity.
The bully school: an institution of violence
Violence is done whenever we violate the identity and integrity of the other. Violence
is done when we demean, marginalize, dismiss, rendering other people irrelevant
to our lives or even less than human. Violence is done when we simply don’t
care or don’t look hard enough to evoke our caring for another (Palmer 2009).
Stephen’s friends—his gang—in their unspoken support and commiseration demonstrated
the compassion described by Castano as ‘‘interrupting violence by encouraging
compassion based on understanding the emotional and social lives of others.’’ These boys
cared enough to ‘‘look hard,’’ and so saw Stephen’s need and acted on an orientation
toward helping, understanding and caring for him. They also acted on their collectivity.
Just as Peter, Philip, Nill and Charley maintained their status through being a collective of
boys, so were Stephen and his comrades ‘‘always together, and, despite the fact that they
were not doing anything’’ they managed a tacit collectivity through this silent exchange of
friendship and comradely support.
In this collective behavior, Stephen and his gang were practicing a nai¨ve and unintentional
form of satyagraha, a Gandhian non-violence—a practice that is not passive, not
assenting to the lack of tolerance and acceptance on the part of their teachers and their
school, but not resorting to violence either. Reverend James Lawson (2000) refers to the
‘‘non-violent athlete,’’ one who actively responds to injustice as an alternative to pacifism—
action being a necessary alternative because while pacifism does serve non-violence,
it does not affect the kind of change needed to confront injustice. Stephen was not
violent. But he did resist. He and his friends resisted humiliation and irrelevance, and they
especially resisted separation.
Because of their resistance, their non-violence—their satyagraha—Stephen and his
friends/gang were considered to be violent boys by the teachers in their school: naming
their collectivity and friendships as gangster, naming their intention and potential as
violent. Through adjective and anecdote, Castano describes the boys in her study as
actually physically and verbally violent. Palmer names violence as more than physical and
verbal acts; rather acts of exclusion, degradation, and lack of care; acts that are most
effectively inflicted by those in authority and by those who have a profound responsibility
to care. Palmer’s understanding of violence as violence against identity, against belonging,
against self-worth mirrors Castano’s discussion of school factors that ‘‘could intensify
violence… context and environments that discourage emotional, empathetic and
F. S. Broadway, S. L. Leafgren
compassionate behaviours, favour heavy discipline, competitiveness and control, and
marginalise and stigmatise certain groups of students.’’
If this is the case, then perhaps the source of school violence is in the institution and its
teachers and administrators more so than in the students compelled to be there. For
instance, as Castano discusses violence as reactive aggression ‘‘motivated by anger in
response to a real or perceived offence’’ and as instrumental aggression as ‘‘calculated and
pre-mediated’’ toward acquiring and maintaining power and social status, one can interpret
the violence done to Stephen on the staircase as a means to both exert power on a
subordinate and/or a reaction to what the teacher perceived as an offense. Whatever the
perception or intention of the action against Stephen, and indirectly, against all who
witnessed it, the impact on the children is the same. They learn that, ultimately, those in
authority do not really see them; that children’s experience and feelings are irrelevant, as
calculated order is maintained through stigmatizing and marginalizing those most vulnerable
or most offensive to those in power.
Castano refers to the students in her study as using ‘‘violence as a way of acquiring or
maintaining their social status and also many of them lacked tolerance and compassion
toward others or became involved in bullying.’’ In considering the institution of school as a
place of violence, one might easily replace the actor of students to that of teachers—as
agents of school—and be just as accurate. Dan Olweus (1993) explains bullying as
exposure to repeated and prolonged negative actions often in a context of an imbalance of
power as bullies use their power to control or harm others. School, via the actions of its
teachers repeatedly and over time, excludes, inflicts discomfort, embarrasses, calls children
‘‘savages,’’ humiliates, stigmatizes certain groups of students, subjects them to surveillance,
and separates them from who and what they care about.
Because schooling is a ‘‘process intended to perpetuate and maintain the society’s
existing power relations and the institutional structures that support those arrangements’’
(Shujaa 1993, p. 330), schools are by definition and inherently a place of violence, a place
that perpetuates violence, a place that can only thrive through violence. This schooled-goal
of perpetuating an existing power structure leads many teachers to claim that the violence
is a violence of care. Noddings (2002) famously posed the question, ‘‘Can coercion be a
sign of caring?’’ It is ‘‘for their own good’’ that teachers insist that what they are
demanding from their students is right and that coercion and cruelty, if they are used, are
necessary and for the child’s own good. The student’s ‘‘own good’’ signifies survival and,
if one is good enough, success in the existing society; it signifies learning to comply
without question, and to subvert one’s identity. For his own good, the child is coerced to
wear the mask that fits the teacher’s and society’s concept of the good child, the good
student, of the nigger. So, here, in school, even caring is violence. Even love hurts.
Mistaking the world of the institution for the world of scholarship: a coercive
The pervasive penchant for order and compliance via coercion manifests itself in the
literature about school and schooling: the flags raise in alarm in what has been referred to
as the hidden curriculum (Jackson 1966), the implicit curriculum (Eisner 1985), and the
subversive curriculum (Postman and Weingartner 1971). These hidden, implicit and subversive
curricula are what lie beneath the lessons that all schoolchildren learn about what
matters and who.
Castano ‘‘offers evidence of the way a decontextualized curriculum [not relevant to
students] could reinforce structural violence and have a negative impact in the well-being of
Unmasking: on violence, masculinity, and superheroes
children, contributing to them joining violent groups’’ and suggests that science learning
might more consistently and intentionally include contact with nature. Yet, the separating
nature of school insists that content exists in texts and notebooks rather than in bodies and
senses interacting with nature, outdoors, and one another. The poisonous ‘‘for your own
good’’ pedagogy becomes a ‘‘for your own good’’ curriculum as science learning is reduced
to squiggles on a page and copying ideas of others. For their own good, students are coerced
to lose themselves, to become absent and un-present as they are confronted in school with a
narrow and stingy curriculum that does not love them and which they, then, cannot love.
We reject teaching to public masks, often expressed as ‘‘for your own good’’ curriculum,
but we perform a curriculum of I’m here—a curriculum in which students exist, are
present and accounted for—a curriculum which necessitates private faces made public. A
curriculum of I’m here struggles to achieve a dignified self that loves and cares, (Gaines
1993) and to realize dreams (Steiner 2003), but no matter how democratic and devoid of
gender and knowledge of self, pedagogy to perform a curriculum of I’m here entails
violence—the shedding of the public mask and the exposing of the private face. In other
words, Castano must realize that a curriculum of I’m here requires the acceptance of the
pain of change (from the public mask to the private face) or the disruption of status quo
(being the private face rather than the public mask).
Choosing sides: conflicted student identity
Peter, Philip, Nill and Charley ‘‘hardly entered anything in their notebooks’’ (Castano)—
and if they had, what would they have entered? Something of relevance? Something relating
school science to application to their daily lives, and to local context and issues? Does local
relevance and applicability signify that the curriculum is of them? We suggest that relevance
is not enough; that Peter, Philip, Nill and Charley were seeking a curriculum of we’re here!
as evidence of their identity and visibility and not finding it, decided to resist the coercive
pedagogy and what those filled notebook pages might have done to their identity.
Andrew Gilbert and Randy Yerrick (2001) suggest that when teachers –whether
knowingly or unknowingly—convey to students that they view them as inferior and ‘‘very
bad’’ and impugn their abilities in the narrow context of notebook pages, that the resistance
they meet negatively impacts classroom cooperation and student learning. We claim that
the resistance from the students is not the problem; we claim that there is not enough
resistance to insult a coercive pedagogy. Just as coercive pedagogy is committed knowingly
or unknowingly, we wonder whether many students are aware of the harm being done
to them? The ones who do know…do they act? Are they what Lawson terms ‘‘non-violent
athletes,’’ actively responding (resisting) to the injustice of coercive pedagogy, or do they
passively accept, and even expect, the daily affronts to their nature and intellect?
In the face of the violence against their intellect and their identity, some students must
choose sides and many will become the ‘‘very aggressive,’’ ‘‘really bad,’’ ‘‘students who
have bad attitudes and grades …and have a lot of issues and behave very badly.’’ Castano
describes a more passive resistance as the celebration and enjoyment of anything the really
bad students did—even when it was aggressive toward other students. ‘‘Any action they
did, even teasing other students and pushing or grabbing their school stuff, was celebrated
and enjoyed by the other students who did not intervene to prevent the action’’. Here is
evidence that students have chosen sides—perhaps as a result of what Gilbert and Yerrick
(2001) describe as pressure to identify with a particular peer-group, often based on schoolbased
achievement or lack thereof. Gilbert and Yerrick claim that students may face
difficulty in school if students attempt to move outside of their micro-culture identity of
F. S. Broadway, S. L. Leafgren
peer groups (a collective) who, perhaps, resist a school-identity—and, in doing so, resist
oppression, resist coercion, and resist the norms that do not include students as valued and
cared-for members of the culture.
Students experience a conflict of identity as some seek to strike a balance between an
identity as accepted members of the schooled micro-culture—whether out of a desire to
please the adults in charge, to fit in, or to avoid punishment, ridicule, or exclusion—and the
often conflicting (especially when the school is housed in communities of low socioeconomic
status or of populations of people whose race and culture is non-dominant)
identity as a member of the micro-culture of their peers. Even compassion and empathetic
behavior such as that demonstrated by Stephen’s friends come to be perceived by their
teachers as a threat—as oppositional to the good of the order, and even named as savage or
gangster behavior, leaving students to flounder in identity confusion.
Confusion ensues as the consequence of conflicted identity by way of the wearing of
public masks to accommodate the needs of others that leads to what as been termed the
‘‘false self’’ and the ‘‘as-if personality.’’ Students in schools are asked to perform and to be
like the ‘‘masked view’’ of themselves (Miller 1979/1990, p. 27), but we suggest that
through violence, the student is choosing a conflicted identity to expose the vast self that is
behind that ‘‘masked view.’’ Choosing sides is thus an action of resistance and of fear. Fear
because as masks may slip, there is risk—not of ‘‘arrest, capture, whipping, and possible
death’’(Butterfield 1974) but of ‘‘rejection, ostracism, loss of love and name calling,’’
which will affect the student with suffering and dread of identity.
Masculinity: violence and schools
Castano’s comment, ‘‘[b]oys who develop this form of masculinity identity are characterized
by physical strength, competitiveness, emotional neutrality and detachment,’’
invites and necessitates an explicit discussion of masculinity. First, we unwrap Peter’s
comment, ‘‘‘Come and show me if you are man enough!’’’ as a sexually implicit moniker
for the performative gender act of hegemonic heteronormative masculinity always raced
White. We argue, furthermore, that hegemonic heteronormative masculinity is congruent
with the violence aforementioned existing in schools. Hence, schools are hegemonically
heteronormatively masculine. Rather than change the gang into another masculinity such
as a ‘‘feminizing masculinity’’ (McCormack and Anderson 2010, p. 857), we summarize
that gender is not necessary. If anything, we surmise gender may hinder Castano in
realizing a place of less violence albeit that violence is natural.
‘‘Come and show me if you are man enough!’’ is the conflation of sexuality and gender.
Therein, gender, being performative herein defined as ‘‘a continual and incessant materializing
of possibilities’’ (Butler 1988, p. 521, italic in the original) and ‘‘constituting the
identity it is purported to be’’ (Butler 1990/1999, p. 25), is the ‘‘materialization’’ of the
sexual possibilities and the purport of the sexual identity. Thus, the request to come and to
show the gendered identity—man—is the enactment of the sexual which is indicated by a
penis and testicles as the penis alone does not denote sexuality. This performance of
anatomy is explicit in dog trials where male animals are identified as being whole by
specificities: the testis, specifically ‘‘two normal testicles normally located in the scrotum’’
(American Kennel Club 2010, p. 46) that produces the Y-chromosomes, denotes the
normative animals and, when applied to humans, a hegemonic man. Although the boys
might want the object of the command ‘‘Come and show me if you are man enough!’’ to
‘‘drop trousers’’ and present penis and testicles for inspection, the gang depend on a
Unmasking: on violence, masculinity, and superheroes
performative (gender) representation of man. If ‘‘masculinity is a multiplicity of gender
practices (regardless of their content) enacted by men whose bodies are assumed to be
biologically male’’ (Pascoe 2011, p. 6), then the males, boys, within Castano’s article rely
upon their performative gender role confounded by race, class, and (dis)ability to make
‘‘Come and show me if you are man enough!’’ happen or a hegemonic white (hetero)
masculine that is ‘‘rational, competitive, sexually assertive—bearing the phallus’’
(Renold and Ringrose 2012, p. 48). ‘‘Come and show me if you are man enough!’’ is a
question of sexuality and gender identity, as well as race, ‘‘his skin darker than theirs, so
they called him negro (negro is the Spanish equivalent to ‘nigger’),’’ class, ‘‘a paddock full
of rubbish and many small houses around,’’ and (dis)ability, ‘‘some of his classmates
calling him ‘‘lame’’ while they were fighting’’. Castano’s boys perform masculinity
through violence in the competitive command ‘‘Come and show me if you are man
enough!’’ and violence in the sexually assertion of the penis and testicles through the
masculine artifact of the phallus. Thus the boys use their gender role and performances to
express violence as power. The boys use violence to establish heteronormative hegemonic
white masculinity as well as use violence to invent a self.
For example, Peter, Philip, Nill and Charley personated a hegemonic masculinity often
exhibited through violence and maintained their status through being a gang—‘‘They were
always together, and, despite the fact that they were not doing anything, … In several
instances, when any of them got into trouble with another classmate, at least one of the
other three went to join him.’’ Violence became social and political capital for the gang. As
a gang, Peter, Philip, Nill and Charley insured and policed each other ‘‘‘‘doing’’ boy in
appropriately masculine ways’’ (Kehler 2007, p. 275) by being at the scene of violence and
through the exchange of friendship, comradely supported through violence.
Furthermore, if schools are violent and violence is performative as hegemonically
heteronormative white masculinity, then the juxtaposition of school, gender and sexuality
situate schools as institutions of violence. School prescribed as masculine because ‘‘boys
should be the schools’ primary clients’’ (Brown 1990, p. 497) as Castano gives primacy to
the boys in this paper. The masculinizing of schools is illuminated by the control of school
by predominately hegemonic male principals and superintendents as well as school boards
void of schooling expertise who dominate teachers who are gendered female and raced
black (Pinar 2007). Thus, boys are hegemonically and heterosexually masculine. Thus
Castano’s quest for a masculinity that
foster[s] compassionate attitudes that contribute to the amelioration of aggression in
children. A science education informed by philosophical approaches such as ecojustice,
ecological literacy and interspecies education, which recognize and value
other species for their intrinsic worth, will improve the social and moral development
of children
in schools is problematic. The use of masculinity as a ‘‘catch all’’ phrase to explain all
male behavior is debatable (Mac an Ghaill and Haywood 2010) and secondly, the idea of
multiple masculinities ceases to recognize the performative nature of gender.
This hope for multiple masculinities ignores the conflation of non-hegemonic and
hegemonic forms of masculinity and necessitates that all boys continually negotiate the
status attributed to masculinity which is often stated through explicit or implicit violence or
a ‘‘demonstration of misogyny, homophobia and heterosexual fantasies’’ (Haywood 2008,
p. 9). Thus, can schools that are themselves hegemonically masculine create a masculinity
that is not violent? Is the removal of violence from schools the creation of genderlessness if
‘‘-lessness’’ denotes a disaffiliation (Fordham 1988), in this case, a disaffiliation from the
F. S. Broadway, S. L. Leafgren
category of gender? Do the performances, that at one instance were named gender no
matter how often they were replicated, lead to a non-identity, or does gender not exist
because it cannot claim existence through performativity? In other words, acknowledging
that destroying the notion of gender is the extreme consequence of changing the gender of
the Castano’s boys and gang into one of the multiple masculinities, if gender as a category
did not exist, then would schools maintain their violence?
With the problematizing of gender as a means to minimize violence and Castano
employing science, or the teaching and learning of science, as a means to save the children
in her class, we, the authors, want to comment that Castano is positing that science is often
afforded the role of hero. Elements of Joseph Campbell (1949/1968) definition of a hero as
one who
ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder:
fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes
back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow
man (p. 30, italic in the original),
indicates that science-as-a-hero ‘‘bestows’’ boons or acts like a savior. Castano sees science
as a hero because science is a means to deliver the boon of social justice to the boys and the
students in her class and the community in which students in her class live. Additionally,
Castano, acknowledging that the nature of science includes tentativeness, presumes science
as a vehicle to regain a just world. Science has in common some of the characteristics of a
superhero, namely a superhero, with its tentativeness especially in terms of identity (Indick
2004), saves (Winterbach 2006) and redeems (Jewett and Lawrence 1977). Thus, science is
arguably both a hero and a superhero.
In other words, heroes are saviors. Jesus, in this sense, perfectly fits the template:
For G-d so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that
whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
For G-d did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to
save the world through him. (John 3:16-17 KJV).
Therefore science, as a hero, saves, presents a boon of eternal life. On the other hand,
superheroes are redemptive saviors in that not only do they present the boon, they, superheroes
including science, restore that which was lost. ‘‘In the modern superhero story…
helpless communities are redeemed by lone savior figures who are never integrated into
their societies and never marry at the story’s end. In effect, like the gods, they are permanent
outsiders to the human community’’ (Jewett and Lawrence 2004, p. 29). Thus,
labeling or identifying science-as-a-superhero connotes science, through the gift of its (the
hero’s) boon—life everlasting—will allow the world to become whole again.
For example, in the United States, science is cast as a superhero by documents such as A
Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas
(National Research Council 2012) ‘‘[s]cience, engineering, and technology permeate
nearly every facet of modern life and hold the key to solving many of humanity’s most
pressing current and future challenges’’ (p. 1). In other words, in addition to science
delivering the boon to humanity, science, with incredible odds working against it, must
face the powerful super-villains that are working against the United States. Additionally,
Unmasking: on violence, masculinity, and superheroes
because science has a tendency to be unsure of itself, as science is both tentative and
temporal, and hence laced with frailties and weaknesses because ‘‘scientific knowledge is
reasonable while realizing that such knowledge may be abandoned or modified in light of
new evidence or reconceptualization of prior evidence and knowledge’’ (NSTA 2000),
science, at least the science of schools, does not desire to be anything but a superhero. The
superhero that is (school) science facilitates the continued existence of America [sic] by
allowing the people of the United States of America, the America [sic] from which all men
are created equal, to exist once again. Science not only as hero, but superhero, is the
redemptive savior hero.
The redemptive savior science is the science to which Castano turns. ‘‘Science education
could play a significant role in changing the life path of children who otherwise
might turn to violence as the only way they see for surviving and gaining power.’’ In other
words, science as a savior will deliver the boon of no violence—‘‘amelioration of
aggression in children’’—in order to reinstate a world in which the children survive and
have power—‘‘will improve the social and moral development of children.’’ Science
(education), like the superhero who must overcome its ‘‘personal doubts, fears and anxieties
about himself and his atypical identity. Incorporating both the grand and mundane in
his character’’ (Indick 2004), needs ‘‘to connect science to society in a topical sense and
has not aimed at addressing local issues, such as violence’’ (Castano).
We might ask, ‘‘Who are the scientists that are the product of science education or what
scientists do science education want students to emulate, to glorify and to identify?’’ We
might as well ask: ‘‘Who is the superhero of science?’’ We put forth two answers. First, not
the superhero of science Albert Einstein, who as ‘‘an Einstein’’ (i.e., an archetype) is not
like us; hence he will never inspire us.
Therefore, we turn to another superhero of science, Harry Harlow, who, through his
work with monkeys and mother-devices, sought to prove love, ‘‘togetherness’’ (Harlow
1958/1986, p. 118) or affection. Harlow was ‘‘an unhappy man who knew in his gut the
truth about what love, and it absence, meant’’ (Ottaviani and Meconis, 2007, back cover)
and studied love—not ‘‘doing permanent harm’’—through not loving—‘‘doing permanent
harm.’’ Harlow is an example of a practitioner of science who posited and thoughtfully
demonstrated science, as science-as-a-superhero, knowing that love needs to be present
through experimentation that caused (permanent) harm in order to prevent (permanent)
harm in people including himself. Likewise, Castano supposes that her superhero called
science would save and redeem children, specifically the gang, and the ‘‘communities
within countries like Colombia, where many have been marginalized by poverty and show
high levels of criminality and violence.’’
We are being judgmental concerning the superhero Harry Harlow although we accept
Harlow (1958/1986) findings: ‘‘we will love before we can hate’’ (p. 310). Harlow hurt
monkeys that wanted love, to love. For example, Harlow’s experimental devices such as
the Surrogate Mother Device (cloth or wire) versus the Iron Maiden (wire): ‘‘The surrogate
was made from a block of wood, covered in sponge rubber, and sheathed in tan cotton terry
cloth. A light bulb behind her radiated heat’’ (Harlow 1958/1986, p 106) and ‘‘the wire
mother differed in no appreciable way, provided postural support and was warmed by
radiant heat’’ (p 6). The Pit of Despair (also called Well of Despair)—‘‘[a] stainless steel
trough with sides sloping inward toward a narrow bottom; Baby monkeys hung upside
down in ‘v’ shaped devices in darkness and total isolation for periods up to 2 years’’
(Suomi and Harlow 1975, p. 150)—was designed and used to show that love is basic and
that to hate is something that needs to be taught. Donna Haraway (1989) probes in her
analysis of Harlow, how can a scientist who wanted to experiment with love engage in
F. S. Broadway, S. L. Leafgren
experiments that are not human(e)? What did Harlow need to do to show that the physical
touch is needed in order for beings to feel comfortable enough to develop not only
emotional skills but physical and cognitive skills? But as a superhero, Harlow’s ‘‘use of
violence is qualified by elaborate restraints: he never kills or even seriously hurts anybody
[the monkeys (primates)], even though he often shoots [experiments with] them’’ (Jewett
and Lawrence 2004, p. 31) in hopes of showing ‘‘we will love.’’
We, in our lives, have hurt people who we have wanted to love. And, here we find
ourselves using knowledge that came about because of the need to love—to hurt much like
Harlow. Jim Ottaviani and Dylan Meconis (2007) found an eye of providence in the work
of Harlow, namely that love, beyond the triteness of making the world go round, is real, a
value in the academy, a motive force and violence.
Nobody today argues that we should repeat Harry Harlow’s experiments. The baby
monkeys, even those raised with contact comfort, suffered permanent harm from
their upbringing. Inanimate arms were and are never enough, so it’s bad enough that
anyone needed to do those experiments in the first place. But someone did, and
thanks to Harlow and his colleagues, we know that love is as real as mathematics. It
exists, it’s learned, and it matters. That’s all we need to know (p. 87).
In light of Castano’s need for science-as-a-superhero to produce saviors and redeemers
for one’s self and the group in which one lives, how are science teachers and science
teacher educators implicated in the production of individuals like Harry Harlow? In other
words, is Castano complicit in using violence on the children in her study to produce good,
to make the children social justice agents? School, and by default their agents—teachers—
turn complaisant naive science students into scientists—and the scientific institutions and
infrastructures that actively use violence and justify permanent harm to transform the
world into a better place. More specifically, in what ways do structures of science (education)
such as the National Science Education Standards and the tools of the science
standards movement create scientists who are violent? If violence uses science-as-asuperhero
to reinforce an angelic science as a palatable violence, then, Castano needs
science to be the savior and the redeemer.
–and we livin in a time when a hero ain’t nothin but a sandwich. (Childress 1973/
2003, p. 74).
You do not need an identity to become yourself; you need an identity to become like
someone else (Delany 1996, p. 19).
We agree with Castano when she argues ‘‘that science classes could be well suited to
address issues of aggression but also, if not careful, could contribute to perpetuate violence’’;
however, Castano does not venture to examine the paradox which is best expressed
by Counts’ definition of the democratic tradition in the United States that includes verbs
such as ‘‘to combat,’’ ‘‘to destroy’’ and the infinitive clause ‘‘to follow the method of
revolution’’ (1932, p. 38). Democracy is violent. Thus, who is to say that violence is
harmful or hurtful or do we talk about a good harm?
Furthermore, the paradox of Harlow’s causing permanent harm to decimate permanent
harm permits Stephen to exert violence in order to love. Much like Harlow’s Macaca
mulattas (rhesus macaque monkey), Stephen sought to love—to cling to his gang, to
Unmasking: on violence, masculinity, and superheroes
believe in himself. In other words, the violence of the teacher and the violence the teacher
placed upon herself made public through anger allowed Stephen to love. Love is violence.
What do we teach when we teach a science that is void of violence, again, as if we can
teach and not be violent?
The violence of a [s]cience education [that] could serve as a special place for
interrupting violence by encouraging compassion based on understanding the emotional
and social lives of others, starting by other animals and moving towards
humans … [and include] within science education notions of justice and equality
inclusive of all species which could foster attitudes of care and compassion for others
and inhibit aggression. (Castano)
makes science education the stranger (Phelan 2001) rather than the superhero. Science
(education) as the stranger premises science (education) is neither a solution nor a problem
for Castano’s elucidation. Elementally, the curriculum and pedagogy of science is the
unfamiliar, the unknown, and the grotesque. Captured in this idea is that, in science
education, the mask of science-as-a-superhero does not prevent the ‘‘whipping, and
possible death’’ (Butterfield 1974, p. 20) for loving our students, hence science, through
‘‘methods of revolution,’’ becomes caring and compassionate, as well as just and equal.
Love is an act of violence. Therefore how do we teach children not to be violent when we
enact violence upon them in order to love, to care, to protect?
As noted in this discussion, Castano bounds masculinity to violence. Instead of positing
to change one’s gender or performativity of masculinity in whatever form ‘‘reinforc[es]
violence and contribut[es] to normalize it [violence] in society,’’ we again argue genderlessness,
in terms of Delany (see the epigram for this Conclusion) who states that you do
not need an identity to be unless you ‘‘seek to become like someone else.’’ To perform
gender is to perform violence as school teaching persons, such as Castano, seek to be
heroes because ‘‘nobody in the world believe in me no kinda way, bout nothing’’ (Childress
1973/2003, p. 81). School teaching persons and the content they teach need an identity to
be superhero—saviors and redeemers. Superheroes are gendered masculine, raced white,
notwithstanding Luke Cage (Goodwin, Tuska and Graham 1972), and sexed heterosexual,
notwithstanding Northstar (Claremont, Byrne and Austin 1979); and why do we need to be
superheroes? If we are a (super)hero albeit gendered, raced and sexed, then why do we
need gender if we are who we are?
We, those people performing in the most broad sense science (education), are not
gendered masculine nor science-as-a-superhero, but violent. We ‘‘turn to violence as the
only way … for surviving and gaining … power’’ (Castano). In imposing ‘‘eco-justice,
ecological literacy and interspecies education, which recognize and value other species for
their intrinsic worth, [we] improve the social and moral development of children’’.
Therefore, what is the identity of those people engaging in science (education)? Who are
we? Are we the owner ‘‘of ‘‘the nigger’’]… [who] has an identity of his own that must be
hidden [or] a slave who has to learn to wear a mask’’ (Butterfield 1974, p. 20)?
As (school) science teaching persons, we come nowhere near being the strangers in the
eyes of those who self-identify or are labeled stranger (Stone 2001). We do not know how
to be without a gender. As we have failed at bringing salvation and redemption to those
with whom we live and those whom we have taught, we do not know how to be a
superhero. As we often ask ourselves, as we ask the teacher candidates and teachers who
we teach, our job is to nurture, to educate and to care for those who will create a sustainable
world rather than maintain the status quo. And they ask, ‘‘How do I do that?’’ And
we answer, ‘‘I do not know for I am of my time, my place, and my experiences.’’ We ask
F. S. Broadway, S. L. Leafgren
that Castano be read not as the vision of the world as it should be in the eyes of the author,
but rather as what the world needs to be—unmasked—for all children including us and
‘‘children who, for example, live in poverty and are immersed in situations of violence.’’
We do not know what violence to say one should not do. We only know the violence
that we have committed. Some might say that we have not committed violence. Can we
give without receiving? Can we be without identity or be ‘‘I AM THAT I AM’’ (Exodus
3:14 KJV, capitalization in original)? At best, all for which we can hope—albeit that hope
is a deadly sin (Weigle and Broadway 2009)—is not that we cease all violence or better yet
not hate, but that we violently love.
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Author Biographies
Francis S. Broadway is Professor of Education in the Department of Curricular and Instructional Studies at
the University of Akron. After 19 years of teaching science and mathematics at the high school and middle
school level, he teaches early childhood undergraduate courses and graduate curriculum studies course. His
F. S. Broadway, S. L. Leafgren
research interest is curriculum studies, children’ literature, urban education and African American students
and teachers in science most often through a queer theory lens.
Sheri L. Leafgren is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Miami University in
Oxford, OH. After 19 years of teaching primary grade children in Akron, OH, she now teaches early
childhood undergraduate courses and a graduate curriculum studies course. Her research interests include
children’s disobedience and resistance, the role of aesthetics and spirituality in teaching and learning, and
exploring the complicated nature of teaching via narrative inquiry with a rhizoanalytical lens—lately, with a
focus on the experience of early career teachers.
Unmasking: on violence, masculinity, and superheroes


education/ major curriculum& instruction
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