One of the major things that makes my life meaningful at this particular moment is teaching and the chance to pass some knowledge and ways of thinking to my students. It is not self-esteem which I am gaining here, although I recognize that teaching is a mildly narcissistic activity which may inflate already oversize egos. My major satisfaction comes from the consciousness that I have the opportunity and hopefully the capacity to touch someone’s life early on to an extent that would allow transformation, personal and professional, mostly via showing the new ways of looking and thinking about reality, about the mundane, about the obvious. Rendering the mundane exotic is perhaps key in education. Giving the students such lenses is the greatest gift of education.
bell hooks is the most radical educator, feminist, cultural critic and analyst you can come across in academia. Noam Chomsky, David Harvey and Michael Hardt are not near as close to bell hooks in the energy and inspiration with which they address the issues of education and critical consciousness. She is radical in her commitment and in her courage not to conform, to be different, to be engaging, to engage and bring change. Influenced by the famous Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire, she makes her case very clear:
The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility. 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. This is education as the practice of freedom.
My acquaintance with bell hooks comes from the book titled “Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom” published 20 years ago in 1994. This is treatise of how to teach in an engaged manner, with connection to students’ minds as well as spirits. Some of the major themes are touched upon in the book, including the issues teacher-student relationship, teaching feminism, the philosophy of Paulo Freire. The key premise of the book is that we need to liberate the students’ minds from all types of oppression levied upon it:
Teaching students to “transgress” against racial, sexual, and class boundaries in order to achieve the gift of freedom is, for hooks, the teacher’s most important goal.
There are a lot of videos and podcasts of bell hooks, including those she delivered in New School in New York. If you view education from this angle and see transformation, personal, professional and otherwise, then bell hooks is for you to read for education to inspire.
Assistant Professor at International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), The Hague, The Netherlands