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  • Writer's pictureNnaemeka Ali, O.M.I

Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

This year, the first book I finished reading is Bell Hooks’ Teaching to transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Bell Hooks is Jean Watkin's pen name. She's an acclaimed author and one of the finest and first black feminist writers. Unfortunately, she died on December 15, 2021. Thanks Hooks for given your voice to our course. Hooks wrote more than 30 book, among which are "Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism" (1981), "Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre" (1984), “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love” (2004), “When Angels Speak of Love” (2007), etc. “Teaching to Transgress” was published in 1994.

Born on September 25, 1952, in a black neighborhood, Hooks went first to a segregated school. However, as one of the students meant to experiment on a recently desegregated school system, she was later transferred to a new school in a white neighborhood.

In this remarkable book, Hooks presents her views on teaching pedagogy and her experience as a student, a black woman, a professor, a feminist, and a human rights activist.

Initially, "Teaching to transgress" appears as a narrative of Hooks' experience, struggle, and navigation through an education system that has no place for students' thoughts, feelings, and lives. So, through a captivating narrative, she presents how, in both schools, the teachers made her work either to prove that she's equal to her white counterparts or better than them. And through her experience, she gives the reader an insight into an education system that limits students' imagination and creativity.

Her struggle to locate her voice lasted until she discovered “Pedagogy of Pedagogy of the Oppressed Paulo Paulo Freire world-acclaimed book that has long become a classic, Hooks found a key to her self-transformation, and also a theory of education that liberates and triggers a change. This remained her combat until her death.

For those who have yet to read the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, suffice it to say that Paulo Freire shows how education could become a subversive force in this work. Paulo believes that once those denied the possibility of reading or writing, or even the ability to find in themselves their voice, or capacity to think for themselves, become aware of their selfhood, they will begin to look critically at the social situation they find themselves. Through Pedagogy of the oppressed, Paulo empowers such people to take initiatives to transform the society that had once denied them the opportunity to participate in their destiny (30).

Hereafter, Hooks tells the reader that her relationship with reading and teaching changed. So, she decided then to be a voice in the desert, but this time, not asking that the society prepares the way for the privileged, but she took it upon herself to arm the oppressed and marginalized to tell their stories. And through her writings and engaged pedagogical method of teaching, we read, she challenges both her students and readers to look beyond the traditional way of teaching and learning.

The book isn't just a narrative of Hooks' struggle for a liberating education system but a manual for those interested in teaching differently, engaging in critical racial thinking theories and subverting the society that limits teachers and students to the status quo. The title— "Teaching to transgress" could be understood both literarily and figuratively. It's literal knowing that through "Teaching to transgress," Hooks wants teachers to go against the old-accepted banking concept of education or the traditional method of teaching where the teacher is all-knowing, and the students are bound to listen. It could also be figuratively, and this is the one privileged by Hooks herself when we understand that Hooks is asking that we go beyond—transgress—our self-erected borders. The book demands a reinvention of our teaching methods and our relationship with the marginalized—women, minority groups, people with different sexual orientations, etc.

Finally, to better understand Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, one needs to read "Teaching to Transgress" by Bell Hooks. It's one of the works that, while underlining the limits of the “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, take time to appreciate its originality and the necessity to implement its theories.

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