Bell Hooks ‘Teaching to Transgress: Education as the practice of freedom’

I am a fan of bell hooks. I read ‘Aint I a woman’ many years ago and since then she’s always been on my radar, so when I saw her on our reading list I immediately got a copy of the book. ‘Teaching to Transgress’ seemed exactly the sort of thing I was up for. But what about the subtitle: ‘Education as the Practice of Freedom’? What was all that about? Sounds a bit liberal…hopefully (surely) not neoliberal, I thought. There is a theme going on here with Ranciere’s Emancipation and hooks’ Freedom… Of course Ranciere comes with a massive dose of equality (Fraternity missing from the triad).

So what is all this talk of freedom in education? Is it about formal freedom or substantive freedom? intellectual freedom (of thought and speech) or something else? I will take an initial look at this idea of freedom by examining the ideas in the first three chapters.

In chapter one freedom is liberation from “boundaries that confine”(p13), critical thinking, resistance, even, to normative discourse and representations, leading to self-actualisation. The pedagogic requirement is to “teach without reinforcing existing systems of domination”(p18).

In chapter 2 these systems of domination are described as racism, sexism and sexist oppression and class exploitation. Within education itself, domination is seen as natural and freedom is presented as synonymous with materialism (p28). Freedom, justice and democracy require an understanding that education is not politically neutral. 

In chapter 3 we can see how this education as freedom requires that different perspectives are taught, shared, included and practiced. In an inclusive classroom, there are no universal norms or experiences and no one way to approach a subject. The classroom should not be quiet. A quiet classroom may seem ‘safe’ but it doesn’t necessarily feel safe for everyone. Silence can represent the fear that speakers feel they will be judged inferior or made ‘native informant’. In an inclusive classroom – a classroom community – everyone’s perspective is examined, whiteness is also examined, and everyone takes responsibility for speaking and  everyone listens. In this climate there can be real freedom of expression.

Education as the practice of freedom, in the first three chapters, therefore seems to include ideas of negative and positive liberty. It is both practice that is free from patterns and practices of domination and marginalisation and  practice that produces a climate of freedom of expression and thought by embracing perspectives and ways of being that are inclusive and diverse.

So how do I translate these ideas into my own practice?

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