Teaching to Transgress – bell hooks

This book by bell hooks will be discussed by the Philosophy of Education Reading Network next week on Tuesday 16th March, 7.00 to 8.00 pm, GMT. This is an open group. Anyone can join any of the monthly discussions. For further details see – https://www.philofed.com/

You will notice, if you are not familiar with bell hooks’ work, that her name is written in lower case. There are two reasons for this. First Bell Hooks was her great grandmother’s name and she wanted to distinguish herself from her great grandmother who she greatly admired. Second is that she considers the substance of her books more important than who she is. By writing her name in lower case she wanted to shift attention from her identity to her ideas. bell hooks’ birth name was Gloria Jean Watkins.

Teaching to Transgress is made up of 15 chapters in which bell hooks shares her insights, strategies, and critical reflections on pedagogical practice. In the book bell hooks writes from a personal perspective as a black, female activist and intellectual feminist, about how teachers can help students to overcome the constraints of race, gender and class to achieve the gift of freedom. “I celebrate teaching that enables transgressions – a movement against and beyond boundaries. It is movement which makes education the practice of freedom.” (p.12)

bell hooks’ writing is informal, fluent and easily accessible. She writes in a variety of styles, from the academic to the conversational. The book includes two chapters written as conversations. Chapter 4 is an imagined conversation with Paulo Freire, who has greatly influenced her thinking and work, in which she asks herself questions about Freire and answers them herself. Chapter 10, Building a Teaching Community – A Dialogue, is an interview between bell hooks and her long-term friend Ron Scapp, a philosopher.

A good summary of the book has been written by Allen Cheng – https://www.allencheng.com/wp-content/uploads/kalins-pdf/singles/teaching-to-transgress-book-summary-bell-hooks.pdf. And the entire book can be found as a PDF online, although the first couple of chapters are marked up with highlighted text – https://academictrap.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/bell-hooks-teaching-to-transgress.pdf

Teaching to Transgress was first published in 1994, but this first paragraph from Chapter 1 on Engaged Pedagogy seems as relevant now as it ever was.

To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn. That learning process comes easiest to those of us who teach who also believe that there is an aspect of our vocation that is sacred; who believe that our work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students. To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin.

Throughout my years as student and professor, I have been most inspired by those teachers who have had the courage to transgress those boundaries that would confine each pupil to a rote, assembly-line approach to learning. Such teachers approach students with the will and desire to respond to our unique beings, even if the situation does not allow the full emergence of a relationship based on mutual recognition. Yet the possibility of such recognition is always present. (p.13)


bell hooks (1994). Teaching to Transgress. Education as the Practice of Freedom. Routledge

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