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Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks

Education as the practice of freedom.

Stephanie Wong | 20 Sept 2018

A book cover image of Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks

Image credit: Act Build Change.

A book that will challenge your practice as an educator, trainer, student and person in the world. bell hooks shares how we can create learning relationships that are joyful, revolutionary and deliver freedom for all of us.

Three Takeaways

  1. Education as freedom
  2. Teach so anyone can learn
  3. The classroom should never be boring

bell hooks

bell hooks with flowers. Image credit: Lions Roar.

I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody elses whim or to someone elses ignorance.

— bell hooks

bell hooks is the writing voice of Gloria Jean Watkins. Gloria chose to take on her great-grandmothers name, Bell Blair Hooks to be the voice of her work. Her name is deliberately uncapitalised in order for us to focus on her work rather than her title, her ideas rather than her personality.

Education growing up

To be changed by ideas was a pure pleasureHome was the place where I was forced to conform to someone elses image of who and what I should be.

— bell hooks

In Teaching to Transgress hooks shares the joy of education in a racially segregated public school. Here, black children were the focus of their teachers and could thrive in their learning and think critically about the world around them. School was a relief to her patriarchal and violent home life. At home, gender expectations were forced down on her, on how she should behave as a young girl, both by her father and mother.

Too much eagerness to learn could easily be seen as a threat to white authority.

— bell hooks

hooks was later taken to an integrated school. Here, she experiences the trauma of being in a space dominated by white teachers and white students. She learnt the classroom can also be oppressive and an extension of white supremacy. Instead of a critical dialogue between students and teachers silence and obedience to authority were most rewarded, with a necessity to be like white children.

Education as freedom

For black folks teaching, educating, was fundamentally political because it was rooted in antiracist struggle.

— bell hooks

No education institution is politically neutral. Therefore our methods of teaching as educators must be living examples of our politics how we would like the world to be.

Teaching to transgress is about pushing against the boundaries, to challenge racism, sexism, classism and all forms of oppression in the world. A transgressive approach to education is when educators support others and themselves to achieve the freedom to live fully in the world. Without creating learning spaces to develop our capacity to think critically about ourselves and our lives, none us can move forward.

Few courageously resist the brainwashing of the banking system. hooks challenges us as educators to think are we educating as the practice of freedom or are we merely striving to reinforce domination? All our actions should be contributing towards enhancing our capacity to be free.

The classroom should never be boring

hooks critiques Paulo Freire who was a huge influence on her work, for not discussing pleasure in teaching, as well as ignoring women and patriarchy.

The classroom should be a collaborative space to enable learning to be a joyful experience. The performing teacher should invite everyone to become more engaged and activated. The teacher is not solely responsible for the joy in the classroom: Excitement can only be generated through the collective effort of the whole classroom.

Teach so anyone can learn

To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching in which anyone can learn.

— bell hooks

To create learning communities, everyones presence must be acknowledged and genuinely valued. It starts with the recognition that everyone influences the classroom dynamic, that everyone contributes and that these contributions are resources to everyones learning. Teaching to transgress means the teachers are learners and the learners are teachers. In that process, we can all learn from each other and gain new insights on how to act better in the world.

To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential.

— bell hooks

This is just a taster of what you will learn from this incredible book. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did and renew your joy in learning.