Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks--writer, teacher, and insurgent black intellectual--writes about a new kind of education, educations as the practice of freedom.

This is the rare book about teachers and students that dares to raise critical questions about eros and rage, grief and reconciliation, and the future o teaching its self."To educate as the practice of freedom," writes bell hooks, "is a way of teaching that any one can learn." Teaching to Transgress is the record of one gifted teacher's struggle to make classrooms work.-from the back of the book

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Teaching to Transgress is probably a book every person in a putative position of authority should read not just teachers, but parents, coaches, community leaders etc. I loved hooks distinction between the feminist classroom and the Womens Studies classroom, her approach that calls for equalizing (neutralizing?) power relations between student and teacher, and her rejection of the banking approach to learning. But hooks isnt only writing about being politically consistent; shes calling for the annihilation of personal boundaries in order to attain some kind of self-actualization and heal what she perceives to be the mind/body/spirit split of the "wounded educator." Early in the book she states that she expects her students to take the risk of confessing personal narratives to their classmates in order to stay registered in her courses, but doesn't acknowledge the danger of recounting sensitive, potentially traumatic details when theres no guarantee that they'll be received well or even stay within the walls of the classroom. My other major cause for pause is with how hooks suggests teachers execute this approach to teaching, insofar as she assumes visibility is something thats always desirable. Still, I don't think visibility is an unmitigated good, nor can I imagine a situation where it would be appropriate for a student to start to dance with me to apologize for coming in late (I remember the day he came to class late and came right up to the front, picked me up and whirled me around.

Through stories and dialogue, hooks explores how the intersection of theory, identity, teaching, and injustice is experienced in postsecondary classrooms.

In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress.

Some of the earlier essays felt too academic and jargony, but I think this book is a must-read for all teachers.

Um livro para todo mundo que é, foi ou pensa em ser professor.

The first few essays somewhat less so (partly because I am not American, and haven't lived there), but starting with the fifth essay, quite a lot of what hooks talks about resonated.* The overall theme is rethinking education practices (for teachers), and one's own expectations (and behavior/stance) as a student, given that both contribute to the environment and atmosphere of the classroom, influencing how and what we learn -- by which I mean both the material you read and discuss, and the group and interpersonal dynamics that are produced and reproduced: how teachers and students treat one another, how the issue of power is handled, how much room there is for different viewpoints, and how class expectations feature in, when it comes to the question what kind of behavior and viewpoints are deemed acceptable, and which are taboo. Responding to an academic and teacher decrying attempts by minority students to silence those who have a different background, hooks writes: According to Fuss, issues of essence, identity, and experience erupt in the classroom primarily because of the critical in put from marginalized groups. Throughout her chapter, whenever she offers an example of individuals who use essentialist standpoints to dominate discussion, to silence others via their invocation of the authority of experience, they are members of groups who historically have been and are oppressed and exploited in this society. Fuss does not address how systems of domination already at work in the academy and the classroom silence the voices of individuals from marginalized groups and give space only when on the basis of experience it is demanded. She does not suggest that the very discursive practices that allow for the assertion of the authority of experience have already been determined by a politics of race, sex, and class domination. Yet the politics of essentialist exclusion as a means of asserting presence, identity, is a cultural practice that does not emerge solely from marginalized groups. While I, too, critique the use of essentialism and identity politics as a strategy for exclusion or domination, I am suspicious when theories call this practice harmful as a way of suggesting that it is a strategy only marginalized groups employ. My suspicion is rooted in the awareness that a critique of essentialism that challenges only marginalized groups to interrogate their use of identity politics or an essentialist standpoint as a means of exerting coercive power leaves unquestioned the critical practices of other groups who employ the same strategies in different ways and whose exclusionary behavior may be firmly buttressed by institutionalized structures of domination that do not critique or check it. At the same time, I am concerned that critiques of identity politics not serve as the new, chic way to silence students from marginal groups. This relates to a last point hooks raises, namely that if one wants to succeed and be accepted in college and university (especially when hooks wrote this), it is nearly required to adopt (most) middle class / bourgeois values, attitudes, mannerisms, and to some extent even speech patterns; and that the values that you have to adopt (and that are considered the norm) tend to make it harder to have discussions about (politically) sensitive topics, because of how central being perceived as 'nice' and 'reasonable', and how accepted tone policing and other attempts to silence are: Significantly, feminist classrooms were the first spaces in the university where I encountered any attempt to acknowledge class difference. Yet the focus on gender privilege in patriarchal society often meant that there was a recognition of the ways women were economically disenfranchised and therefore more likely to be poor or working class. It was not just this experience that intensified my awareness of class difference, it was the constant evocation of materially privileged class experience (usually that of the middle class) as a universal norm that not only set those of us from working-class backgrounds apart but effectively excluded those who were not privileged from discussions, from social activities. To avoid feelings of estrangement, students from working-class backgrounds could assimilate into the mainstream, change speech patterns, points of reference, drop any habit that might reveal them to be from a nonmaterially privileged background.

And sometimes that book goes a step further, and challenges your view of the world or your understanding of your place in it.

Unlike Pedagogy of the Oppressed, hooks writes in a way that's accessible and understandable (a point she discusses).

At times I do feel that the more I know and learn about feminism, the less I can enjoy certain things.

  • English

  • Education

  • Rating: 4.36
  • Pages: 216
  • Publish Date: September 12th 1994 by Routledge
  • Isbn10: 0415908086
  • Isbn13: 9780415908085