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Book Reviews

Review: Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by bell hooks

February 9, 2022
ND Learning

By Jade Liggett

Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom sees the late bell hooks discussing and engaging with her past as a student and then as an educator in relation to education as a potentially profound and transformative experience that can tax the mind, body, and spirit due to opposition and oppression that is very evidently still in place in our educational systems. The book centers around how hooks wanted to shape herself and her teaching in a way that did not mirror her experiences as a student, but rather transgressed the systems of domination.

hooks makes claims throughout the entirety of the reading that an educator must transform their pedagogy to build multicultural communities that cultivate ownership and responsibility within students. This goes to say that it is imperative that one needs to care about every voice and really hear what those voices are saying. This is the practice of freedom, both within and without the classroom.

hooks draws on Black Feminist theory to frame pedagogy as a critical practice that is reflexive, critical, and builds solidarity. These practices cannot be sequestered to only women’s or gender studies courses, but must be introduced and explored in every discipline. And when these practices are able to be implemented, the critical self-reflection that can follow, and should follow, and combined with communities of teaching and learning, is integral to the practice of what hooks establishes as engaged pedagogy.

Teaching to Transgress establishes early on that hooks’ views on education as the practice of freedom is predicated on how authority and dominance play out in the classroom. The effects that authority and dominance have on the learning environment can be insurmountable if not addressed properly. Asking oneself how language, ego, powerplay, embodiment, and silence are impacting the classroom are good first steps to establishing education as a practice of freedom rather than a practice of dominance.

Throughout the book, hooks leads us through complex, crucial, and uncomfortable discussions on race, class, gender, sexuality, and other intersectionalities that are imperative parts in the transformation of education into a practice of freedom. hooks leaves the reader saying that “profound commitment to engaged pedagogy is taxing to the spirit” but it is important to take on this challenge head-on.