Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks

Book review time!!! Yes, 100% you need to read this book, especially if you’re a teacher, student, activist, feminist, woman, &/or critical thinker. In this collection of 14 short essays, bell hooks speaks to the spirit and realities of education as a practice of liberation, as a “way of teaching that anyone can learn.” She is profoundly influenced by Paulo Freire’s life and work as an activist educator, so if you haven’t read his work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, I would encourage you to read that before reading hooks, as it will give you better insight into her perspective and conversations. (For reference, the term pedagogy is defined as the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept). Some of my biggest take-aways from this book:

  • Being an engaged teacher means caring so deeply that you invest your mind/body and entire self into being fully present in the classroom, not only teaching your content, but really living it. This means goods teaching is hard, demanding, and incredibly fulfilling, for both the students and teachers: “Engaged pedagogy does not seek simply to empower students. Any classroom that employs a holistic model of learning will also be a place where teachers grow, and are empowered by the process.”
  • If we truly want to engage in a liberatory education, we must confront the evils of racism, xenophobia, sexism, white supremacy, and capitalism perpetuated not only in our content, but also in our pedagogical practices personally and institutionally. To do this we must, “embrace struggle and sacrifice. We cannot be easily discouraged. We cannot despair when there is conflict. Our solidarity must be affirmed by shared belief in a spirit of intellectual openness that celebrates diversity, welcomes dissent, and rejoices in collective dedication to truth.”
  • Creating a sense of community, rooted in multiculturalism, where everyone feels a responsibility to contribute and take ownership of their own education, is a central goal of transformative pedagogy. As a white teacher, I need to continually study and assess “whiteness” and my biases of any kind so that my classroom’s affirmation of this multiculturalism and unbiased inclusive perspective is present whether or not their are people of color in my classroom.
  • With the ability to put words to your experience, to be able to explain and understand your struggle – theorizing – can be a space of profound healing.
  • The ability for students to speak from a personal experience, from the “authority of experience,” is important element of critical thinking. It should be encouraged in student discussion and discourse to increase engagement, not to silence others. The encouragement is especially important for voices that have been traditionally oppressed and silenced. “There is a particular knowledge that comes from suffering. It is a way of knowing that is often expressed through the body, what it knows, what it has been deeply inscribed on it through experience. This complexity of experience can rarely be voiced and named from a distance. It is a privileged location, even as it is not the only or even always the most important location from which one can know.”
  • Chapter 7 really resonated with me. Rather than deny, white women must seek to understand the many historical and recent ways we have passively and aggressively undermined the freedom of black women, in order for us to be able to work successfully together on a united feminist front. We must seek to confront our mistakes that has resulted in the generational mistrust, suspicion, and competition that linger today. “… the degree to which a white woman can accept the truth of racist oppression – of white female complicity, of the privileges white women receive in a racist structure – determines the extent to which they can be empathic with women of color .” It will take focused work, not only on an anti-racist front, but also on a feminist front, to critically analyze and cease the ways we exercise our biases and power trips over women of color. That is what is demanded of us white women to build sisterhood and overthrow the patriarchy…
  • Black women, those who deal with sexism and racism, develop important strategies for survival and resistance, and discover herself “holds the key to liberation.” This wisdom is so important for the entire black community and their voices need to be heard, especially since until recently, there has been a serious omission of black women thinkers and writers in the published world.
  • It’s important and possible to build allyships with people within your profession.
  • As a teacher, I must be unafraid and willing to give up control of the classroom to empower my students, again to create an engaged learning environment for everyone.
  • The engaged classroom is one that is full of passion and feeling. We must be careful not to disembody ourselves and our students, but recognize that our bodies are an important vehicle of knowing and traveling through this world.
  • bell hooks’ “commitment to engaged pedagogy is an expression of political activism.” I aspire to this level of engagement to liberate myself and my students.

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