Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

by bell hooks

Routledge New York 1994

All text is directly quoted. Parts of separate paragraphs will appear together if they share the same page. Ellipses used to show words at the beginning of the sentence were not included. A page number behind the text indicates the page on which the quote can be found. New pages begin with an indent. I have included notes I marked in the margin.

Paulo Freire wrote, “…in gratitude for all the times we start over–begin again–renew our joy in learning.   …to begin always anew, to make, to reconstruct, and to not spoil, to refuse to bureaucratize the mind, to understand and to live life as a process–live to become…”

Introduction: Teaching to Transgress

To be changed by ideas was pure pleasure. But to learn ideas that ran counter to values and beliefs learned at home was to place oneself at risk, to enter the danger zone. Home was the place where I was forced to conform to someone else’s image of who and what I should be. School was the place where I could forget that self and, through ideas, reinvent myself. 3

…taught me the difference between education as the practice of freedom and education that merely strives to reinforce domination. 4 [Margin note: desegregation as a negative]

The vast majority of our professors lacked basic communication skills, they were not self-actualized, and they often used the classroom to enact rituals of control that were about domination and the unjust exercise of power. 5

…the classroom should be an exciting place…sometimes even ‘fun’… To enter classroom settings in colleges and universities with the will to share the desire to encourage excitement, was to transgress…there could never be an absolute set agenda governing teaching practices. Agendas had to be flexible, had to allow for spontaneous shifts in direction…this excitement could co-exist with and even stimulate serious intellectual and/or academic engagement. 7

But excitement about ideas was not sufficient to create an exciting learning process. As a classroom community, our capacity to generate excitement is deeply affected by our interest in one another, in hearing one another’s voices, in recognizing one another’s presence. Since the vast majority of students learn through conservative, traditional educational practices and concern themselves only with the presence of the professor, any radical pedagogy must insist that everyone’s presence is acknowledged. That insistence cannot be simply stated. It has to be demonstrated through pedagogical practices. To begin, the professor must genuinely value everyone’s presence. There must be an ongoing recognition that everyone influences the classroom dynamic, that everyone contributes. These contributions are resources. Used constructively they enhance the capacity of any class to create an open learning community. Often before this process can begin there has to be some deconstruction of the traditional notion that only the professor is responsible for classroom dynamics. That responsibility is relative to status. Indeed, the professor will always be more responsible because the larger institutional structures will always ensure that accountability for what happens in the classroom rests with the teacher. It is rare that any professor, no matter how eloquent a lecturer, can generate through his or her actions enough excitement to create an exciting classroom. Excitement is generated through collective effort. 8 [Margin note: For excitement to happen a community must exist.]

…To emphasize that the pleasure of teaching is an act of resistance countering the overwhelming boredom, uninterest, and apathy that so often characterize the way professors and students feel about teaching and learning, about the classroom experience. 10

…undermine the insistence that engaged pedagogy recognize each classroom as different, that strategies must constantly be changed, invented, reconceptualized to address each new teaching experience. Teaching is a performative act. And it is that aspect of our work that offers the space for change, invention, spontaneous shifts, that can serve as a catalyst drawing out the unique elements in each classroom. To embrace the performative aspect of teaching we are compelled to engage ‘audiences,’ to consider issues of reciprocity. Teachers are not performers in the traditional sense of the word in that our work is not meant to be a spectacle. Yet it is meant to serve as a catalyst that calls everyone to become more and more engaged, to become active participants in learning. To teach in varied communities not only our paradigms must shift but also the way we think, write, speak. The engaged voice must never be fixed and absolute but always changing, always evolving in dialogue… 11 [I have always maintained that teaching relies heavily on performance art.]

Chapter One  Engaged Pedagogy

Education is the practice of freedom. Everyone in the room should claim knowledge and engage in “praxis”–action and reflection upon the world in order to change it. Link awareness with practice. 14

Striving not just for knowledge in books, but knowledge about how to live in the world. Acknowledge a connection between ideas learned in university settings and those learned in life practices. Create participatory spaces for the sharing of knowledge. Emphasizes well-being. Teachers must be actively committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students. Thich Nhat Hanh said “The practice…should be directed toward his or herself first, because if the helper is unhappy, he or she cannot help many people. 15

There is a connection between life practices, habits of being, and the roles of professor. The idea of the intellectual questing for a union of mind, body and spirit. 16

Education connects the will to know with the will to become. Hope that the knowledge received in these settings will enrich and enhance them. Want education that is healing to the uninformed, unknowing spirit. They do want knowledge that is meaningful. They rightfully expect that my colleagues and I will not offer them information without addressing the connection between what they are learning and their overall life experiences. It allows students to assume responsibility for their choices. 19

Through critical thinking–a process he learned by reading theory and actively analyzing texts–Gary experienced education as the practice of freedom. My voice is not the only account of what happens in the classroom. Engaged pedagogy necessarily values student expression. 20

When education is the practice of freedom, students are not the only ones who are asked to share, to confess. A place where teachers grow, and are empowered by the process. That empowerment cannot happen if we refuse to be vulnerable while encouraging students to take risks. I do not expect students to take any risks that I would not take, to share in any way that I would not share. Productive if professors take the first risk, linking confessional narratives to academic discussions so as to show how experience can illuminate and enhance our understanding of academic material. Practice being vulnerable in the classroom, being wholly present in mind, body, and spirit. 21

Chapter Two  A Revolution of Values:  The Promise of Multicultural Change

Capitalism requires the existence of a mass underclass of surplus labor. 29

[Margin note: multicultural does not exactly equal peaceful.] 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. 33

Chapter Three  Embracing Change:  Teaching in a Multicultural World

There is no one way to approach a subject–only multiple ways and multiple references 36

Making the classroom a democratic setting where everyone feels a responsibility to contribute is a central goal of transformative pedagogy. 39

Feeling of community creates a sense that there is shared commitment and a common good that binds us. Recognize the value of each individual voice. 40

To hear each other is an exercise in recognition. No student remains invisible in the classroom. Different “cultural codes.” I have to learn these codes, and so do the students. Often, professors and students have to learn to accept different ways of knowing, new epistemologies, in the multicultural setting. 41

In the transformed classroom there is often a much greater need to explain philosophy, strategy, intent than in the “norm” setting. Moving away from the need for immediate affirmation was crucial to my growth as a teacher. Takes time for students to experience that challenge as positive. Necessary to practice compassion. 42

Some degree of pain involved in giving up old ways of thinking and knowing and learning new approaches. Shifting paradigms and talk about the discomfort it can cause. New ways of knowing may create estrangement where there was none. Practice at integrating theory and practice: ways of knowing with habits of being. 43

Chapter Four: Paulo Freire

A change in attitude can be significant for colonized/oppressed people. 47

Action and reflection. “Praxis”:acts by individuals not in our daily lives. Day to day we live out what we affirm. Our lives must be a living example of our politics. 48

The experience of black people, black females, might tell us more about the experience of women in general than simply an analysis that looks first, foremost, and always at those women who reside in privileged locations. 53

Those who help and those who are being helped help each other simultaneously–can the act of helping become free from the distortion in which the helper dominates the helped. 54

Chapter Five  Theory as Liberatory Practice

[Margin note: Naming] The privileged act of naming often affords those in power access to modes of communication and enables them to project an interpretation, a definition, a description of their work and actions, that  may not be accurate, that may obscure what is really taking place. 62

[Margin note: Totally] The production of an intellectual class hierarchy where the only work deemed truly theoretical is work that is highly abstract, jargonistic, difficult to read, and containing obscure references. Any theory that cannot be shared in everyday conversation cannot be used to educate the public. 64

[Margin note: Matter of fact, I believe many scholarly writers use the above-mentioned tools to such a degree that not only do they not want others to truly understand what they are saying, I begin to wonder if the authors themselves have a clear notion of what they are describing. It seems they spin word webs so dense that they can’t be criticized because no one can figure out what they are saying. In this way, dense academic writing becomes an exercise in ego for the author while being useless to the audience.]

My decisions about writing style, about not using conventional academic formats, are political decisions motivated by the desire to be inclusive, to reach as many readers as possible in as many different locations. 71

Chapter Six  Essentialism and Experience

Growing body of work by black feminist critics–particularly literary criticism… 80

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. 82-3

The assertion of an excluding essentialism on the part of students from marginalized groups can be a strategic response to domination and to colonization, a survival strategy that may indeed inhibit discussion even as it rescues those students from negation. 83

When I teach Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye in introductory courses on black women writers, I assign students to write an autobiographical paragraph about an early racial memory. Each person reads that paragraph aloud to the class. Our collective listening to one another affirms the value and uniqueness of each voice. This exercise highlights experience without privileging the voices of students from any particular group. It helps create a communal awareness of the diversity of our experiences and provides a limited sense of the experiences that may inform how we think and what we say. Since this exercise makes the classroom a space where experience is valued, not negated or deemed meaningless, students seem less inclined to make the telling of experience that site where they compete for voice, in indeed such a competition is taking place. In our classroom, students do not usually feel the need to compete because the concept of a privileged voice of authority is deconstructed by our collective critical practice. 84

I most often see and experience the way the telling of personal experience is incorporated into classrooms in ways that deepen discussion. And I am most thrilled when the telling of experience links discussions of facts or more abstract constructs to concrete reality. 86

Henry Giroux: pedagogy suggests that ‘the notion of experience has to be situated within a theory of learning.’ Giroux suggests that professors must learn to respect the way students feel about their experiences as well as their need to speak about them in classroom settings: ‘You can’t deny that students have experiences and you can’t deny that these experiences are relevant to the learning process even though you might say these experiences are limited, raw, unfruitful or whatever. Students have memories, families, religions, feelings, languages and cultures that give them a distinctive voice. We can critically engage that experience and we can move beyond it. But we can’t deny it.’ Usually it is in a context where the experiential knowledge of students is being denied or negated that they may feel most determined to impress upon listeners both its value and its superiority to other ways of knowing. Identity politics emerges out of the struggles of oppressed or exploited groups to have a standpoint on which to critique dominant structures, a position that gives purpose and meaning to struggle. 88

I share with the class my conviction that if my knowledge is limited, and if someone else brings a combination of facts and experience, then I humble myself and respectfully learn from those who bring this great gift. I can do this without negating the position of authority professors have, since fundamentally I believe that combining the analytical and experiential is a richer way of knowing. 89

[Margin note: The following makes a good point regarding me, a white woman, not often given the chance to teach African American literature (although I have a teaching certificate in the topic). I can have a level of expertise in the topic, yet I do not have the lived experience of a black life.]  For example, I am disturbed when all the courses on black history or literature at some colleges and universities are taught solely by white people, not because I think that they cannot know these realities but that they know them differently. Truthfully, if I had been given the opportunity to study African American critical thought from a progressive black professor instead of the progressive white woman with whom I studied as a first-year student, I would have chosen the black person. Although I learned a great deal from this white woman professor, I sincerely believe that I would have learned even more from a progressive black professor, because this individual would have brought to the class that unique mixture of experiential and analytical ways of knowing–that is, a privileged standpoint. It cannot be acquired through books or even distanced observation and study of a particular reality. To me this privileged standpoint does not emerge from the ‘authority of experience’ but rather from the passion of experience, the passion of remembrance. 90

What would be lost in the transmission is the spirit that orders those words, that testifies that, behind them–underneath, every where–there is a lived reality. When I use the phrase ‘passion of experience,’ it encompasses many feelings but particularly suffering. For 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 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. In the classroom, I share as much as possible the need for critical thinkers to engage multiple locations, to address diverse standpoints, to allow us to gather knowledge fully and inclusively. 91

Chapter Seven  Holding My Sister’s Hand: Feminist Solidarity

[Margin note page 100: Many white women don’t like white women either; sometimes for these same reasons!] White women were more willing to ‘hear’ another white woman talk about racism, yet it is their inability to listen to black women that impedes feminist progress. 102

…apparent abdication of interest in forging sisterhood, even though white women now show interest in racial issues. It seems at times as though white feminists working in the academy have appropriated discussions of race and racism, while abandoning the effort to construct a space for sisterhood, a space where they could examine and change attitudes and behavior towards black women and all women of color. 103

…white women ignore the relative absence of black women’s voices, either in the construction of new feminist theory or at feminist gatherings. 104

Fear and anger about appropriation, as well as concern that we not be complicit in reproducing servant-served relationships, have led black women to withdraw from feminist settings where we must have extensive contact with white women. Withdrawal exacerbates the problem: it makes us complicit in a different way. 105

Often black women do not respond to friendly overtures by white women for fear that they will be betrayed, that at some unpredictable moment the white woman will assert power. 107

…we must have more written work and oral testimony documenting ways barriers are broken down, coalitions formed, and solidarity shared. If revitalized feminist movements is to have a transformative impact on women, then creating a context where we can engage in open critical dialogue with one another, where we can debate and discuss without fear of emotional collapse, where we can hear and know one another in the difference and complexities of our experience. When we create this woman space where we can value difference and complexity, sisterhood based on political solidarity will emerge. 110

Chapter 8  Feminist Thinking: In the Classroom Right Now

[Margin note:Teach students to control their responses so others can freely express.] Confronting one another across differences means that we must change ideas about how we learn; rather than fearing conflict we have to find ways to use it as a catalyst for new thinking, for growth. Black students often bring this positive sense of challenge, of rigorous inquiry to feminist studies. 113

…teaching larger numbers of black male students, many of whom are not aware of the ways sexism informs how they speak and interact to a group setting. They face challenges to behavior patterns they may have never before thought important to question.  114

…the reasons it is difficult for black men to deal with sexism, the primary one being that they are accustomed to thinking of themselves in terms of racism, being exploited and oppressed. Since it is difficult for many black men to give voice to the ways they are hurt and wounded by racism, it is also understandable that it is difficult for them to “own up to” sexism, to be accountable. 116

Everyone in the group expressed the fear that a commitment to feminist politics would lead them to be isolated. …the feeling of the group was that studying feminist work, seeing an analysis of gender from a feminist standpoint was a way ot understand black experience, was necessary for the collective development of black consciousness, for the future of black liberation struggle. …once you learn to look at yourself criticall, you look at everything around you with new eyes. 117

Everyone agreed with Carolyn that black women who “get it together,” who deal with sexism and racism, develop important strategies for survival and resistance that need to be shared within black communities, especially since (as they put it) the black woman who gets past all this and discovered herself “holds the key to liberation.”  118

Chapter Nine   Feminist Scholarship: Black Scholars

…they talked about the status and experiences of “women” when they were only referring to white women. …black gender relations were constructed to maintain black male authority even if they did not mirror white paradigms, or about the way white female identity and status was different from that of black women. Scholars usually talked about black experience when they were really speaking solely about black male experience. 120

…racist and sexist biases shaped and informed all scholarship dealing with black experience, with female experience. It was clear that these biases had created a circumstance where there was little or no information about the distinct experiences of black women.  This acceptance came only when white women began to show an interest in issues of race and gender. …the erasure of black female presence. Again and again black female activists, scholars, and writers found ourselves isolated within feminist movement and often the targets of misguided white women who were threatened by all attempts to deconstruct the category “woman” or to bring a discourse on race into feminist scholarship. 121

For the most part, black folks, along with many white women, were suspicious of black women who were committed to feminist politics. Though this strategy was necessary for us to gain a hearing, an audience, it meant that we were not concentrating our energies on creating a climate where we could focus intensively on creating a body of scholarship that would look at black experience from a feminist standpoint. By focusing so much attention on racism within feminist movement, or proving to black audiences that a system of gender inequality permeated black life, we did not always direct our energies towards inviting other black folks to see feminist thinking as a standpoint that could illuminate and enhance our intellectual understanding of black experience. It seemed that individual black women active in feminist politics were often caught between a rock and a hard place. 122

…few black folks were willing to engage that dimension of feminist thought that insisted that sexism and institutionalized patriarchy indeed provide black men with forms of power, however relative, that remained intact despite racist oppression. …black women and women of color who dared to challenge the universalization of the category “woman” created a revolution in feminist scholarship.  123

Currently, many more white women than black women do scholarship from a feminist standpoint that includes race. 124

Even thought individual black scholars still choose to do this work, and more recent graduate students dare to place their work in a feminist context, the lack of collective support has resulted in a failure to create the very education for critical consciousness that would teach unknowing black folks why it is important to examine black life from a feminist standpoint. 127

Chapter Ten  Building a Teaching Community: A Dialogue

…it is crucial that critical thinkers who want to change our teaching practices talk to one another, collaborate in a discussion that crosses boundaries and creates a space for intervention.  129

If we really want to create a cultural climate where biases can be challenged and changed, all border crossings must be seen as valid and legitimate.  131

I feel that one of the things blocking a lot of professors from interrogating their own pedagogical practices is that fear that ‘this is my identity and I can’t question that identity.  135

Jane Gallop and Shoshana Felman–have tried to write about the presence of the teacher as a body in the classroom, the presence of the teacher as someone who has a total effect on the development of the student, not just an intellectual effect but an effect on how that student perceives reality beyond the classroom.  137

Ron Scapp: As people move around it becomes more evident that we work in the classroom. For some teachers, and especially older faculty, there is a desire to enjoy the privilege of appearing not to work in the classroom. It’s odd in and of itself, but it’s particularly ironic since faculty members congregate outside the classroom and talk endlessly about how hard they’re working.

bell hooks: We must return ourselves to a state of embodiment in order to deconstruct the way power has been traditionally orchestrated in the classroom, denying subjectivity to some groups and according it to others. 139

Ron Scapp: This seems especially so with issues of race. Many of us want to act as though race doesn’t matter, that we are here for what’s interesting in the mind, that history doesn’t matter even if you’ve been screwed over, or your parents were immigrants or the children of immigrants who have labored for forty years and have nothing to show for it. Recognition of that must be suspended; and the rationale for this erasure is that logic which says, ‘What we do here is science, what we do here is objective history.’  140

Bh: Again and again, you and I are saying that different, more radical subject matter does not create a liberatory pedagogy, that a simple practice like including personal experience may be more constructively challenging than simply changing the curriculum. One of the ways you can be written off quickly as a professor by colleagues who are suspicious of progressive pedagogy is to allow your students, or yourself, to talk about experience; sharing personal narratives yet linking that knowledge with academic information really enhances our capacity to know.

RS: When one speaks from the perspective of one’s immediate experiences, something’s created in the classroom for students, sometimes for the very first time. Focusing on experience allows students to claim a knowledge base from which they can speak.  148

Bh: …teach students how to listen, how to hear one another.

            RS: I see it as a fundamental responsibility of the teacher to show by example the ability to listen to others seriously.  150

Bh: …when students share experiences in conjunction with academic subject matter…Once the space for dialogue is open in the classroom, that moment must be orchestrated so that you don’t get bogged won with people who just like to hear themselves talk, or with people who are unable to relate experience to the academic subject matter. At times I need to interrupt students and say, ‘That’s interesting, but how does that relate to the novel we’re reading?’

RS: Yet one can be critical and be respectful at the same time. One can interrupt someone, and still have a serious, respectful dialogue.  151

Bh: The bottom-line assumption has to be that everyone in the classroom is able to act responsibly. That has to be the starting point–that we are able to act responsibly together to create a learning environment.

Along with them I grow intellectually, developing sharper understandings of how to share knowledge and what to do in my participatory role with students.

…our purpose is to be…a community of learners together. It positions me as a learner. But I’m also not suggesting that I don’t have more power. And I’m not trying to say we’re all equal here. I’m trying to say that we are all equal here to the extent that we are equally committed to creating a learning context.

RS: The power of the liberatory classroom is in fact the power of the learning process, the work we do to establish a community.  153

Bh: …our purpose here isn’t really to feel good. Maybe we enjoy certain classes, but it will usually be difficult. We have to learn how to appreciate difficulty, too, as a stage in intellectual development…there is integrity to be found in grappling with difficult material.

RS: …joy can be present along with hard work. …possibility of joy. Nor does it deny the reality that learning can be painful. Not all pain is harm, and not all pleasure is good.  154

Bh: When we bring our passion to the classroom our collective passions come together, and there is often an emotional response, one that can overwhelm.  155

RS: To focus on covering material precisely is one way to slip back into a banking system. That often happens when teachers ignore the mood of the class, the mood of the season, even the mood of the building. The simple act of recognizing a mood and asking ‘What’s this about?’ can awaken an exciting learning process.  156

Bh: A more flexible grading process must go hand in hand with a transformed classroom. …I want them to think, ‘What I’m here for is to work with material, and to work with it the best way that I can. And in doing that I don’t have to be fearful about my grade, because if I am working the best I can with this material, I know it’s going to be reflected in my grade.’ I try to communicate that the grade is something they can control by their labor in the classroom.  157

It invites us always to be in the present, to remember that the classroom is never the same. …the engaged classroom is always changing. When the classroom is truly engaged, it’s dynamic. It’s fluid. It’s always changing.  158

…I couldn’t do it alone, that forty other people were also in there.  159 [Margin note: That’s why I need summers off!] RS: Engaged pedagogy is physically exhausting!  160

Chapter 11  Language: Teaching New Worlds/New Words

…standard English, of learning to speak against black vernacular, against the ruptured and broken speech of a dispossessed and displaced people. Standard English is not the speech of exile. It is the language of conquest and domination; in the United States, it is the mask which hides the loss of so many tongues, all those sounds of diverse, native communities we will never hear, the speech of the Gullah, Yiddish, and so many other unremembered tongues.  168

For in the incorrect usage of words, in the incorrect placement of words, was a spirit of rebellion that claimed language as a site of resistance. Using English in a way that ruptured standard usage and meaning, so that white folks could often not understand black speech, made English into more than the oppressor’s language. An unbroken connection exists between the broken English of the displaced, enslaved African and the diverse black vernacular speech black folks use today. In both cases, the rupture of standard English enabled and enables rebellion and resistance. By transforming the oppressor’s language, making a culture of resistance, black people created an intimate speech that could say far more than was permissible within the boundaries of standard English. The power of this speech is not simply that it enables resistance to white supremacy, but that it also forges a space for alternative cultural production and alternative epistemologies–different ways of thinking and knowing that were crucial to creating a counter-hegemonic worldview. It is absolutely essential that the revolutionary power of black vernacular speech not be lost in contemporary culture. That power resides in the capacity of black vernacular to intervene on the boundaries and limitations of standard English. 170-1

Not surprisingly, when students in my Black Women Writers class began to speak using diverse language and speech, white students often complained. This seemed to be particularly the case with black vernacular. It was particularly disturbing to the white students because they could hear the words that were said but could not comprehend their meaning. Pedagogically, I encouraged them to think of the moment of not understanding what someone says as a space to learn. Such a space provides not only the opportunity to listen without “mastery,” without owning or possessing speech through interpretation, but also the experience of hearing non-English words. These lessons seem particularly crucial in a multicultural society that remains white superemacist, that uses standard English as a weapon to silence and censor. 172

That the students in the course on black women writers were repressing all longing to speak in tongues other than standard English without seeing this repression as political was an indication of the way we act unconsciously, in complicity with a culture of domination. 173

[Margin notes show a heart; I love this next passage]     At a lecture where I might use Southern black vernacular, the particular patois of my region, or where I might use very abstract thought in conjunction with plain speech, responding to a diverse audience, I suggest that we do not necessarily need to hear and know what is stated in its entirety, that we do not need to “master” or conquer the narrative as a whole, that we may know in fragments. I suggest that we may learn from spaces of silence as well as spaces of speech, that in the patient act of listening to another tongue we may subvert that culture of capitalist frenzy and consumption that demands all desire must be satisfied immediately, or we may disrupt that cultural imperialism that suggests one is worthy of being heard only if one speaks in standard English. 174

Chapter Twelve  Confronting Class in the Classroom

Significantly, class differences are particularly ignored in classrooms. 177

…class was more than just a question of money, that it shaped values, attitudes, social relations, and the biases that informed the way knowledge would be given and received. It is still necessary for students to assimilate bourgeois values in order to be deemed acceptable.  Bourgeois values in the classroom create a barrier, blocking the possibility of confrontation and conflict, warding off dissent. 178

Most students are not comfortable…give voice to thoughts, ideas, feelings that go against the grain, that are unpopular. This censoring process is only one way bourgeois values overdetermine social behavior in the classroom and undermine the democratic exchange of ideas. …the absence of constructive dialogue, enforced silencing, takes place as a by-product of progressive efforts to question canonical knowledge, critique relations of domination, or subvert bourgeois class biases. 179

…silencing is “the most oppressive aspect of middle-class life.” 180

…this estrangement was in part a reflection of class difference…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. 181

…class…economic standing…values, standpoint, and interests…Those of us from diverse ethnic/racial backgrounds learned that no aspect of our vernacular culture could be voiced in elite settings. This was especially the case with vernacular language or a first language that was not English. To insist on speaking in any manner that did not conform to privileged class ideals and mannerisms placed one always in the position of interloper. …encouraged…to betray our class origins. [margin note: the great divide: code shifting too difficult.] 182

…encourage students to reject the notion that they must choose between experiences. They must believe they can inhabit comfortably two different worlds, but they must make each space one of comfort. They must creatively invent ways to cross borders. They must believe in their capacity to alter the bourgeois settings they enter. All too often, students from nonmaterially privileged backgrounds assume a position of passivity–they behave as victims, as though they can only be acted upon against their will. Ultimately, they end up feeling they can only reject or accept the norms imposed upon them. This either/or often sets them up for disappointment and failure. [margin note: When students don’t believe they have the ability to adapt.] Yet those of us from working-class backgrounds cannot allow class antagonism to prevent us from gaining knowledge, degrees and enjoying the aspects of higher education that are fulfilling. 183

[margin note: The goal] Create a context for critical thinking, for dialectical exchange. 184

…willing to interrogate the way our presentation of self as well as our pedagogical process is often shaped by middle-class norms. {solution} …learning communities where everyone’s voice can be heard, their presence recognized and valued. When those of us in the academy who are working class or from working-class backgrounds share our perspectives, we subvert the tendency to focus only on the thoughts, attitudes, and experiences of those who are materially privileged. [Gaining a personal voice and p.o.v. to contribute to learning.] 185

…recognition of the uniqueness of each voice and a willingness to create spaces in the classroom where all voices can be heard because all students are free to speak, knowing their presence will be recognized and valued. I have students write short paragraphs…opportunity to pause and listen…Just the physical experience of hearing, of listening intently, to each particular voice strengthens our capacity to learn together. …engage in acts of recognition with one another, and do not just talk to the professor. Sharing experiences and confessional narratives in the classroom helps establish communal commitment to learning…usually are the space where the assumption that  we share a common class background and perspective is disrupted.  186

[Margin note: Some are more used to being loud and interrupting; others find this disruptive.] …power was not itself negative. It depended what one did with it. [Margin note: I still must maintain control of the classroom.] 187

Many of the black students feared that learning new terminology or new perspectives would alienate them from familiar social relations. Since these fears are rarely addressed as part of progressive pedagogical process, students caught in the grip of such anxiety often sit in classes feeling hostile, estranged, refusing to participate. [Margin note: Learning can be seen as a distancing from home class background.] 188

…alter our classroom practices creatively so that the democratic ideal of education for everyone can be realized. 189

Chapter Thirteen: Eros, Eroticism, and the Pedagogical Process

Sam Keen from his book The Passionate Life: When we limit “erotic” to its sexual meaning, we betray our alienation from the rest of nature. We confess that we are not motivated by anything like the mysterious force that moves birds to migrate or dandelions to spring. Furthermore, we imply that the fulfillment or potential toward which we strive is sexual–the romantic-genital connection between two persons. 195

[From a student journal] When I dance my soul is free. It is sad to read about men who stop dancing, who stop being foolish, who stop letting their souls fly free…I guess for me, surviving whole means never to stop dancing. 197

Professors are expected to publish, but no one really expects or demands of us that we really care about teaching in uniquely passionate and different ways. Teachers who love students and are loved by them are still “suspect” in the academy. Some of the suspicion is that the presence of feelings, or passions, may not allow for objective consideration of each student’s merit. To allow one’s feeling of care and will to nurture particular individuals in the classroom–to expand and embrace everyone–goes against the notion of privatized passion.  198

…the purpose of education is to show students how to define themselves “authentically and spontaneously in relation” to the world, then professors can best teach if we are self-actualized. 199

Chapter Fourteen  Ecstasy: Teaching and Learning Without Limits

She really needed to talk about her work with someone she could trust, who would not approach it with racist, sexist, or classist prejudice. ..”critical thinking” was the primary element allowing the possibility of change.  In our society…critical thinking is not encouraged. Conditions of radical openness exist in any learning situation where students and teachers celebrate their abilities to think critically, to engage in pedagogical praxis. 202

My commitment to engaged pedagogy is an expression of political activism. 203

[Margin note for following: I like this idea] Sometimes, the whole class might bring lunch and have discussion in a space other than our usual classroom. …might go as a class to the African Heritage House and have lunch, both to learn about different places on campus and gather in a setting other than our classroom. 204

…academic colleagues…so many of them willingly betrayed the promise of intellectual fellowship and radical openness that I believe is the heart and soul of learning. Engaged pedagogy not only compels me to be constantly creative in the classroom, it also sanctions involvement with students beyond their setting. When I teach, I encourage them to critique, evaluate, make suggestions and interventions as we go along. [Margin note: very helpful and must rely on flexibility.] 205

When students see themselves as mutually responsible for the development of a learning community, they offer constructive input. Commitment to engaged pedagogy carries with it the willingness to be responsible…have the power to change the direction of our students’ lives. 206

…I have sought teachers in all areas of my life who would challenge me beyond what I might select for myself, and in and through that challenge allow me a space of radical openness where I am truly free to choose–able to learn and grow without limits. 207








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I'm a doctor of philosophy in Literary and Cultural Studies which makes me interested in everything! I possess special training in text analysis, African American literature, Women and Gender Studies, American lit, World Lit and writing. I work as an assistant professor of English in Memphis.

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