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Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

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In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks—writer, teacher, and insurgent black intellectual—writes about a new kind of education, educations as the practice of freedom. 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.

Bell hooks speaks to the heart of education today: how can we rethink teaching practices in the age of multiculturalism? What do we do about teachers who do not want to teach, and students who do not want to learn? How should we deal with racism and sexism in the classroom?

Full of passion and politics, Teaching to Transgress combines practical knowledge of the classroom with a deeply felt connection to the world of emotions and feelings. This is the rare book about teachers and students that dares to raise critical questions about eros and rage, grief and reconciliation, and the future of teaching itself.

"To educate as the practice of freedom," writes bell hooks, "is a way of teaching that any one can learn." Teaching to Transgress is the record of one gifted teacher's struggle to make classrooms work.

–from the back of the book

216 pages, Paperback

First published September 12, 1994

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About the author

bell hooks

140 books9,617 followers
bell hooks (born Gloria Jean Watkins) was an African-American author, feminist, and social activist. Her writing focused on the interconnectivity of race, class, and gender and their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and domination. She published over thirty books and numerous scholarly and mainstream articles, appeared in several documentary films and participated in various public lectures. Primarily through a postmodern female perspective, she addressed race, class, and gender in education, art, history, sexuality, mass media and feminism.

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Profile Image for Thomas.
1,459 reviews8,562 followers
March 26, 2022
I liked bell hooks’ intelligent and passionate writing about the importance of elevating teaching through making it personal and cultivating professors’ self-awareness. As always she writes well about the intersection of race and gender and class, especially about dynamics between Black women and white women and how race, gender, and class show up in the classroom. I think this book serves more as a theoretical guide than one that offers many practical implications which still feels useful and relevant. I enjoyed the nuance of her discussion about appreciating Paulo Freire’s work while still critiquing its sexism.

The chapter on eros made me a bit uncomfortable. While I resonate with the notion about passion emerging in one’s teaching, I think it is extremely important to draw clear boundaries preventing sexual relations given the disturbing reports of professors sexually assaulting students and engaging in inappropriate sexual relations with students.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,657 followers
November 16, 2018
Some of the earlier essays felt too academic and jargony, but I think this book is a must-read for all teachers. It made me change the way I think about the classroom, my role in it, and about how power works in those spaces.

There was one particular essay that I loved--about the false dichotomy between theory and practice. She pushes back against activists who say that they have no time for theory and that they would rather just do the work. She says, essentially, that we are all operating under some theory even when we don't talk about it. So in order to perform the work better, we need to engage with the theory as well. That seems right to me. There were many passages in here that I think I will keep thinking about--not just as a teacher, but as a person who is interested in ideas.
Profile Image for Jeremy.
Author 2 books231 followers
May 30, 2023
2.5 stars overall, but 4.5 stars for intentional accessibility (p. 71). This review is helpful.

"bell hooks" is the writing voice name of Gloria Watkins.

It was interesting for me to read this book after having heard much of this kind of thinking at Baylor. I wonder how much of hooks's pedagogical theory (e.g., requiring student participation) is shaped by her being an English teacher. In other words, would a math professor have the same pedagogy? hooks seems to act as something of a therapist for students, who often come to her with issues regarding family, race, class, gender, etc.

I appreciate parts of hooks's pedagogical theory, including an avoidance of an exclusive banking system of education, a desire for student engagement in the classroom, a desire for learning to be exciting, and the hope that classes will be places of student transformation. But one of the ironies of hooks's work is that as an alleged victim of racism, sexism, classism, and probably a bunch of other things, hooks comes across as a lecturer—a knower who is sometimes pleading, sometimes demanding that others rise to her level of righteous understanding about how everything in life is about unjust power plays. Like most critical theory out there today, hooks's theory often has a tone of scolding self-righteousness, which is rarely persuasive.

Introduction: Teaching to Transgress
When hooks was in school, black girls were expected to marry, become a maid, or become a teacher—not become a tenured professor. For hooks, bussing (forced integration) turned learning into more about obedience/information rather than zeal/transformation/freedom. Like Friere (whom hooks admires and who is the source of the book's epigraph), hooks hates the banking system of education. Feminist scholars were viewed suspiciously because they openly critiqued pedagogical traditions. hooks insists that learning should be exciting. Radical pedagogy needs to recognize students' presence (everyone should contribute and be active in the learning process, even students who are resistant at first). [I wouldn't want to force students to be vulnerable in class; in fact, I was the kind of student, I think, who eagerly listened to lectures and felt more at ease because I knew I wouldn't be put on the spot.]

Ch. 1: Engaged Pedagogy
Friere is the source of the "banking" terminology. Students shouldn't be exclusively passive consumers—receptacles for information. hooks wants student "self-actualization" and "wholeness." Professors, too, should be vulnerable in the classroom.

Ch. 2: A Revolution of Values: The Promise of Multicultural Change
This chapter doesn't have much about pedagogy. hooks provides more details about integration and bussing (e.g., arriving early and waiting in a gym to prevent incidents, segregated reunions). hooks mentions her friendship with a white male (Ken). hooks is against the patriarchal family and Clarence Thomas, and she is pro-LGBT. She connects MLK and Rom. 12:2.

Ch. 3: Embracing Change: Teaching in a Multicultural World
hooks discusses the politics of curriculum choices and mentions Cornell West on "decentering Western civilization." [See Cornell West as of 2021: "Academia’s campaign to disregard the classics is a sign of spiritual decay and moral decline. Those who commit this terrible act treat Western civilization as irrelevant or harmful and worthy of condemnation."] Tokenism isn't the kind of multiculturalism that hooks is looking for; she wants equal value given to marginalized writers [which seems impractical at best and racist at worst]. Changing curriculum content (without being overtly political and talking about race, gender, etc.) isn't good enough. On the one hand, hooks insists on the importance of student visibility/engagement, but on the other hand, she is the knower who persists despite the "bitch[ing]" of students, because she knows what's best for them (p. 42). Multiculturalism > whiteness. [44: I'm not sure why it's unfair for professors to ask students who complain about a lack of diversity to provide options.]

Ch. 4: Paulo Friere
This chapter is a dialogue with herself. hooks is anti-capitalism. Friere is sometimes accused of sexism.

Ch. 5: Theory as Liberatory Practice
There is often a gap between theory and practice, but theory should be about action, not just words. hooks tells some stories about encountering resistance from black women.

Ch. 6: Essentialism and Experience
This chapter is basically a book review of Diana Fuss's Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference. hooks is concerned that white feminists were defining womanhood without including the black experience.

Ch. 7: Holding My Sister's Hand: Feminist Solidarity
This chapter continues some thoughts from previous chapters by discussing the fear and mistrust between white and black feminists.

Ch. 8: Feminist Thinking: In the Classroom Right Now
hooks observes that intersectional folks (e.g., gender, race, etc.) don't always get along. [It seems like for hooks, everyone else is guilty except her. As a black woman, she is the epitome of oppression, and therefore has the most claim to moral rightness and certainty.]

Ch. 9: Feminist Scholarship: Black Scholars
hooks wants to see more scholars writing from both a feminist and a black perspective. [If we're just throwing around preferences, I'd like to see more scholars writing from a Christian perspective.]

Ch. 10: Building a Teaching Community: A Dialogue
This chapter is a dialogue with one of hooks's white male colleagues whom she sees as a ally. She wants "to show that white males can and do change how they think and teach." [Heaven help the white male who says something similar about black females.] It's not enough to change the content of one's course (e.g., different readings); one must also teach differently (see Ch. 3). What hooks means by this is that adding a book by Toni Morrison isn't enough; a professor must intentionally raise questions of race, gender, etc. in the class discussions. hooks is unhappy with Bloom's and D'Souza's critiques of progressive pedagogy [probably Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind and D'Souza's Illiberal Education]. hooks emphasizes the importance of listening carefully to students.

Ch. 11: Language: Teaching New Worlds / New Words
"It's difficult not to hear in standard English always the sound of slaughter and conquest." Broken English reflects the broken world of the slave. Rap potentially trivializes black English when white kids appropriate it or mock it.

Ch. 12: Confronting Class in the Classroom
Feminists addressed class issues (when others wouldn't) because of the disenfranchisement of women. Class isn't just economics. There's an expectation of conformity to a bourgeois behavioral norm, which can be difficult for lower class students who feel torn between conformity to academic expectations and loyalty to their roots. hooks used to think that power was evil, but she realized that it was a mistake to think that she didn't have power as a professor, and she determined to use it for good. [Alan Jacobs heard Cornell West say something like this at Wheaton when a white male student asked about white privilege.] hooks's democratic ideal is "[higher?] education for everyone."

Ch. 13: Eros, Eroticism, and the Pedagogical Process
hooks wants to avoid the mind/body split. Eros isn't exclusively sexual.

Ch. 14: Ecstasy: Teaching and Learning Without Limits
Fellowship and openness in teaching lead to ecstasy, paradise, and freedom.
Profile Image for Meagen Farrell.
Author 1 book20 followers
July 27, 2012
This book renewed my passion for teaching, especially in light of the constant rhetoric of adult education existing to create an efficient economic pipeline. It reminded me at a critical time that I am not the only one who believes education of marginalized people can--and should--be something more. I found that hooks had articulated many things I felt & experienced but could not name, which proves her point about the power of theory. Chapter 3 in particular is critical reading for anyone teaching in a multicultural setting. Through stories and dialogue, hooks explores how the intersection of theory, identity, teaching, and injustice is experienced in postsecondary classrooms. She offers a theoretical framework & practical skills that she has successfully used to create an engaging, inclusive classroom. My one warning is that as a pioneer in stepping out from behind the podium, hooks' approach feels incomplete. I think teachers can do more beyond just transforming content or teaching methods by designing learning that helps students focus & apply their reflections & skills to their own context, which hooks confesses having struggled with. However, this does not diminish the fact that hooks offers an important critical & historic perspective in an extremely easy to read format.
Profile Image for metempsicoso.
251 reviews191 followers
March 13, 2021
Così tante cose da imparare, così tante realtà diverse con cui confrontarsi. Questo libro mi lascia con la fame di scoprire ancora, di andare sempre un passo più in là.
bell hooks condensa in "Insegnare a trasgredire" (pubblicato per la prima volta nel 1994 eppure ancora estremamente potente e contemporaneo) una vita di esperienze come insegnante progressista. Un'insegnante donna e nera cresciuta e formatasi in uno scenario maschile e bianco in modo asfissiante.
Quanta generosità: nelle parole e nel pensiero, e nella disponibilità a darvi accessibilità.
Maestra davvero, fino in fondo, con un'apertura assoluta. hooks si mette lì a braccia aperte e di spinge a metterti in moto.
Non penso di poter sintetizzare e rendere giustizia a questo saggio, non penso neppure di riuscire a quantificare quanti spunti offre e quante riflessioni ha aperto nella mia testa.
Posso dire, però, che ho vissuto nitidamente l'esperienza del sentire la mia prospettiva cambiare e i bordi della mia ignoranza ampliarsi dandomi modo di vedere una nuova porzione di suolo.
Profile Image for Gabriela Ventura.
294 reviews104 followers
November 5, 2018
Que livro maravilhoso.

Encontrei, nas reflexões de hooks, eco das minhas paixões, motivações, temas e problemas durante o ofício de professor. Fiquei profundamente emocionada com a leitura amorosa & crítica que a autora faz da obra do Paulo Freire.

Um livro para todo mundo que é, foi ou pensa em ser professor. Reflexões ensaísticas sobre educação, transgressão e a tão difícil (mas ensinável? quero crer que sim) prática da liberdade.

Que saudade que esse livro me deu da sala de aula. <3
Profile Image for s00z519.
17 reviews12 followers
December 16, 2020
i wish i'd read fanon and freire before this! overall interesting, though the chapter on eros in the classroom was ���
Profile Image for Gabe Steller.
135 reviews5 followers
June 6, 2022
Recommended by my fellow education guy Sam, and although this is definitely directed at teaching college level not Primary school like we do lol, still feel like i got something out of it. I’m also almost amazed this is my first time reading hooks, but at the same time I feel like she was to Oberlin College student experience what like the leftover microwave radiation from the big bang is to the universe, and many of the concepts here i was already at least passingly familiar with. all to say 20ish years late bell hooks has totally conquered at least one college campus!!

Anyway onto the stuff… which is great! i feel like u can tell she's an excellent teacher just by the masterful balance of generosity, firmness, and like genuine excitement she brings in every essay, it really brought me back to the best times at Oberlin feeling like I was getting exposed to ideas and books i would never have bumped into a in a thousand years, connecting thoughts and concepts that maybe felt related but i could never assemble coherently on my own!

especially enjoyed the chapters on Essentialism and Experience, Language, and Ecstasy, which i feel like got at what can be so fantastic about a good class, where you pull the curtain back on some completely endemic aspect of modern life, and how in way it should never be underestimated how hard it is to communicate across gulfs of experience but also how amazing it can be when its done!

One criticism or thing that hasn't necessarily aged well is hooks’ love of Big Terms. Libreratory pedagogy, etc. You get the feeling and she almost says out right in her chapter on theory that she finds these phrases usefully precise and eyeopening. While Its not overwhelming by any means i think i do fall on the anti-jargon side that ultimately they aren't really useful outside of a academic contexts and serve to make everything a little more opaque. I was excited for her dialogue chapter with a white professor from a working class background, thinking i might see some her ideas presented in a more conversational form, but it was actually waaaay more jargon-y! in all likelihood cuz their both profs but tough stuff man.

also enjoyed the passing mentions of Dinesh D’souza lolol he has been around a long time i guess

Nice job bell!
Profile Image for Marina Dadico.
8 reviews
August 25, 2020
bell hooks nos convida a aprender e ensinar de forma crítica e transformadora em uma escrita íntima e revolucionária. Iniciei a leitura com um pé atrás, pensando que a pedagogia não se transporia ao que buscava para a Psicologia e, felizmente, surpreendi-me. Não canso de encontrar alento em escritos conscientes de raça, classe e gênero sobre epistemologias "alternativas" e sobre a importância da voz no processo de aprendizagem e formação, nas mais diversas áreas. Em "Ensinando a transgredir: a educação como prática da liberdade", senti-me abraçada por uma autora que disse que sim, está tudo bem se revoltar com um ensino e uma ciência que universalizam a experiência branca burguesa cisheteronomativa. Fui convidada a refletir sobre o poder que essa revolta e que minha própria voz têm sobre a educação e a experiência acadêmica e, mais importante ainda, sobre a importância em transgredir a norma de um ensino bancário que repudia a diversidade da comunidade acadêmica. Devemos valorizar as forças instituintes dentro da academia, dar voz às epistemologias que subvertam as estruturas normativas excludentes e, acima de tudo, celebrar a diferença em sua totalidade. Mais que essencializar a discussão sobre a diversidade e nos limitarmos a uma visão superficial de quem deve falar sobre o quê, aprendi com hooks que devemos expandir o processo pedagógico em uma aliança construtiva, em que convidamos toda a comunidade a contribuir com suas visões, a partir de suas origens das mais diversas, indo de encontro com a teorização sobre nosso local de fala. A inclusão e a descolonização dos saberes e do fazer-saber é um problema de todos nós, não apenas daqueles que experimentam as opressões. Mano, sei lá. Leiam bell hooks ! kkkkk
Profile Image for Giorgeliot.
47 reviews33 followers
January 8, 2023
credo sinceramente che sia un libro che tutte le persone che lavorano nell'ambito culturale (non solo pedagogico) dovrebbero leggere, anche se ci sono un paio di cose che ho trovato pesanti e anche se non sono convintissima dalla traduzione di Feminoska. Secondo me il testo originale è più vivido e qui a volte è molto macchinoso, freddo come un saggio "dovrebbe", nonostante sia esattamente il contrario di quanto afferma hooks. Ma non l'ho letto in inglese; e sono comunque rimasta enormemente colpita da tante cose.
Il saggio breve sul linguaggio e quello sull'eros meritano da soli dieci stelle.
Profile Image for Meg.
417 reviews182 followers
May 14, 2008
"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."
Profile Image for Foppe.
151 reviews47 followers
January 12, 2019
Overall, a quite stimulating read. The first few essays somewhat less so (partly because I am not American, and haven't lived there), but starting with the fifth essay, quite a lot of what hooks talks about resonated.*
The overall theme is rethinking education practices (for teachers), and one's own expectations (and behavior/stance) as a student, given that both contribute to the environment and atmosphere of the classroom, influencing how and what we learn -- by which I mean both the material you read and discuss, and the group and interpersonal dynamics that are produced and reproduced: how teachers and students treat one another, how the issue of power is handled, how much room there is for different viewpoints, and how class expectations feature in, when it comes to the question what kind of behavior and viewpoints are deemed acceptable, and which are taboo.

To give you a sense of the kinds of things hooks draws attention to, and her writing style, I'd like to cite her at some length, before adding brief thoughts of my own.
Firstly, I'd like to draw your attention to a point she makes related to the issue of who gets to speak, and how that opportunity to speak is created, as I'd never seen anyone make this point, even though the behavior she's commenting on back in/around 1994 has by now become quite pervasive. Responding to an academic and teacher decrying attempts by minority students to silence those who have a different background, hooks writes:

According to Fuss, issues of “essence, identity, and experience ”erupt in the classroom primarily because of the critical in put from marginalized groups. Throughout her chapter, whenever she offers an example of individuals who use essentialist standpoints to dominate discussion, to silence others via their invocation of the “authority of experience,” they are members of groups who historically have been and are oppressed and exploited in this society. Fuss does not address how systems of domination already at work in the academy and the classroom silence the voices of individuals from marginalized groups and give space only when on the basis of experience it is demanded. She does not suggest that the very discursive practices that allow for the assertion of the “authority of experience ” have already been determined by a politics of race, sex, and class domination. Fuss does not aggressively suggest that dominant groupsmen, white people, heterosexuals -- perpetuate essentialism. In her narrative it is always a marginal “o the r” who is essentialist. Yet the politics of essentialist exclusion as a means of asserting presence, identity, is a cultural practice that does not emerge solely from marginalized groups. And when those groups do employ essentialism as a way to dominate in institutional settings, they are often imitating paradigms for asserting subjectivity that are part of the controlling apparatus in structures of domination. Certainly many white male students have brought to my classroom an insistence on the authority of experience, one that enables them to feel that anything they have to say is worth hearing, that indeed their ideas and experience should be the central focus of classroom discussion. The politics of race and gender within white supremacist patriarchy grants them this “authority” without their having to name the desire for it. They do not attend class and say, “I think that I am superior intellectually to my class mates because I am white and male and that my experiences are much more important than any other group’s.” And yet their behavior often announces this way of thinking about identity, essence, subjectivity.
[W]hile 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.
Fuss makes the point that “the artificial boundary between insider and outsider necessarily contains rather than disseminates know ledge.” While I share this perception, I am disturbed that she never acknowledges that racism, sexism, and class elitism shape the structure of classrooms, creating a lived reality of insider versus outsider that is predetermined, often in place before any class discussion begins. There is rarely any need for marginalized groups to bring this binary opposition into the classroom because it is usually already operating. They may simply use it in the service of their concerns. Looked at from a sympathetic standpoint, 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.

More succinctly put, if people weren't raised and trained to be sensitive to attempts to claim the conversation, such attempts (which are so jarring to white people when minorities make use of them) wouldn't work, and those minorities wouldn't have picked up those strategies (by osmosis, from living in a society in which hierarchy and exclusion are the norm) in the first place. People adopt strategies because they work for them, at least most of the time. And if others using said strategies annoys you, then that's a good indication you should avoid making use of it yourself (and if it is unclear how you are, ask others for feedback, so you can learn from that).

Essay 7 is about feminist solidarity; what that might mean, and how we can get there. In it, hooks discusses some of the history and consequences of the fact that the (academic) feminist movement long (mostly) ignored questions of class and race, focusing on the issue of (middle class) white women's role in the subjugation and repression of black women especially. And she points out that this silence made -- and still makes -- it hard for lower class and minority women to take feminism seriously, as it did not (and -- as far as I can tell -- by and large still doesn't) deal with those issues. As an aside, the historical discussion hooks offers, provides a nice illustration of a number of points Corey Robin talks about in his introduction to The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin. In it, he both illustrates how pernicious and strong the belief in the "rightness" of hierarchy as an organizing principle is, and points out that slavery was purposely "democratized" in the antebellum South precisely to give poor whites a "stake" in slavery, by giving everyone a "taste" of rule. Hooks' discussion of how this affected the relationship between white women and their "servants" forms an interesting illustration of how that worked 'on the ground'.

This relates to a last point hooks raises, namely that if one wants to succeed and be accepted in college and university (especially when hooks wrote this), it is nearly required to adopt (most) middle class / bourgeois values, attitudes, mannerisms, and to some extent even speech patterns; and that the values that you have to adopt (and that are considered the norm) tend to make it harder to have discussions about (politically) sensitive topics, because of how central being perceived as 'nice' and 'reasonable', and how accepted tone policing and other attempts to silence are:
Significantly, feminist classrooms were the first spaces in the university where I encountered any attempt to acknowledge class difference. The focus was usually on the way class differences are structured in the larger society, not on our class position. Yet the focus on gender privilege in patriarchal society often meant that there was a recognition of the ways women were economically disenfranchised and therefore more likely to be poor or working class. Often, the feminist classroom was the only place where students (mostly female) from materially disadvantaged circumstances would speak from that class positionality, acknowledging both the impact of class on our social status as well as critiquing the class biases of feminist thought.

When I first entered university settings I felt estranged from this new environment. Like most of my peers and professors, I initially believed those feelings were there because of differences in racial and cultural background. However, as time passed it was more evident that this estrangement was in part a reflection of class difference. At Stanford, I was often asked by peers and professors if I was there on a scholarship. Underlying this question was the implication that receiving financial aid “diminished” one in some way. It was not just this experience that intensified my awareness of class difference, it was 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. To avoid feelings of estrangement, students from working-class backgrounds could assimilate into the mainstream, change speech patterns, points of reference, drop any habit that might reveal them to be from a nonmaterially privileged background.

Of course I entered college hoping that a university degree would enhance my class mobility. Yet I thought of this solely in economic terms. Early on I did not realize that class was much more than one’s economic standing, that it determined values, standpoint, and interests. It was assumed that any student coming from a poor or working-class background would willingly surrender all values and habits of being associated with this background. 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.

Demands that individuals from class backgrounds deemed undesirable surrender all vestiges of their past create psychic turmoil. We were encouraged, as many students are today, to betray our class origins. Rewarded if we chose to assimilate, estranged if we chose to maintain those aspects of who we were, some were all too often seen as outsiders. Some of us rebelled by clinging to exaggerated manners and behavior clearly marked as outside the accepted bourgeois norm. During my student years, and now as a professor, I see many students from “undesirable” class backgrounds become unable to complete their studies because the contradictions between the behavior necessary to “make it” in the academy and those that allowed them to be comfortable at home, with their families and friends, are just too great.

Often, African Americans are among those students I teach from poor and working-class backgrounds who are most vocal about issues of class. They express frustration, anger, and sadness about the tensions and stress they experience trying to conform to acceptable white, middle-class behaviors in university settings while retaining the ability to “deal” at home. Sharing strategies for coping from my own experience, I 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 up on against their will. Ultimately, they end up feeling they can only reject or accept the norms imposed up on them. This either /or often sets them up for disappointment and failure.

I found it a very fruitful read; and if these things strike you as worthwhile topics to think about, do pick it up yourself. :)

*Even though the book was written in 1994, and we're now more than 20 years -- a full generation -- further down the road, a lot of the issues she mentions have gotten worse rather than better, because of impoverishment of much of the population on the one hand, and the cuts to the educational system on the other.
Profile Image for Siria.
1,792 reviews1,309 followers
February 3, 2016
This is the first book of hooks' that I've read—a collection of stand-alone essays in which she reflects on the concept of pedagogy as liberation. Essay collections are almost always a mixed bag and there are some in here that didn't work for me—the one that's structured as a dialogue between her and her writing pseudonym, or the rather uncomfortable one on eros in the classroom (that one needed a lot of teasing out and consideration of agape, philia, storge, and a hell of a lot more nuance and acknowledgement of the power differentials and potentials for abuse within what she's advocating). Yet there are other essays here which are powerful and (sadly) still relevant more than twenty years after the collection was first published. Definitely recommended for those doing work in the college classroom.
Profile Image for Melissa.
52 reviews20 followers
November 30, 2014
I have been dedicated to feminist, liberatory pedagogy since I began to teach, but admittedly I never read much about it, its development, its history, and how it used by others. My own feminist praxis informed my teaching and my commitment to create an environment which was non-hierarchal, which elevated the voices of the subjugated, and which created communities of love, respect, and critical inquiry. Going to hooks at this moment in my career was motivated by a desire to deepen that commitment, to reflect, and to strengthen that praxis with theory.

The "engaged pedagogy" she details in this book is inspiring, militantly feminist and anti-racist, and radically transformative. I wish I had more teachers like her and the authors who inspired her like Freire rather than many of the dictators (to use her terminology) who use education as a pretext to dominate, to bully, and to force their students into conformity. Will that type of "education" only be abolished once white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy goes as well?

Some of the most interesting parts of Teaching to Transgress autobiographically document her own education, how she found liberation despite the constant humiliations many of teachers subjected her to because of race, gender, and class. hooks is convinced that both teachers and their students must work to be self-actualized, must work to be present in education in their minds, bodies, and spirits and that shows through her willingness to open herself and history up to her students and her audience. Education is personal and political growth.
Profile Image for Princess.
233 reviews23 followers
November 5, 2020
Sometimes you read a book that manages somehow to articulate intuitions you've always had. And sometimes that book goes a step further, and challenges your view of the world or your understanding of your place in it. Three things in particular I will take from this book: (1) education as the practice of freedom is actually education as a process of self-actualization, (2) coming to critical awareness can be a painful process; there is always conflict in spaces of unlearning, and (3) with critical awareness, must come praxis, that is, action and reflection; what good is critical awareness if we do not immediately put that awareness to work in the world?

This is a powerful book. Definitely re-readable.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
57 reviews3 followers
September 16, 2022
tears in my eyes … bell hooks is so impactful. i’m so excited to rewrite my TA essay 😭 - also finishing this soon after finishing abbott elementary .. yea.
Profile Image for Taylor Hughson.
48 reviews
March 31, 2023
Finished this a few months ago but never managed to gather my thoughts at the time. A strange and somewhat sad experience - a lot of it is hooks railing against people in the 90s who are either openly or privately against 'multiculturalism' and her arguing for it; the scenarios she described felt extremely similar to battles against decolonisation etc taking place in the 2020s. There isn't nearly as much in it about teaching as one might expect - hooks basically advocates for teaching that is passionate, challenging, includes a diverse curriculum, is relevant to students lives. The biggest single point, perhaps, is that theory is powerful and can transform our lives. The overall vision is there, but specifics often skirted over even when they'd be quite useful to explore, or, the line between a vision of education and a particular vision of teaching in particular is a bit blurry (these are interconnected ofc).

She grapples well with challenges like what happens when students don't want to be challenged in class (a rather common phenomenon), and how to build on (often older) theorists who you like but might also find problematic (for her this is Friere who is a bit sexist and racist). She struggles to deal with things like assessment pressures in the classroom in much detail - she recognises that assessment can have problematic implications for learning but also serves an important function, but seems to get a bit stuck on this gordian knot without suggesting potential routes forward. I guess these various points aren't the main goal, but to envision a full 'teaching as transgression' it would have been useful to think about how to get past the various lacunae of our present system. Ofc, overall a landmark text, a significant and powerful contribution, and one I'm glad to have finally read in full.
Profile Image for K Agbebiyi .
194 reviews715 followers
April 16, 2021
Chapter 5 and 6 were my favorite but chapter 10 was ridiculously long. She spoke of the importance of progressive or engaged pedagogy but I don’t think she explained much about what that actually *is*. Chapter 14 left me scratching my head. I will buy the physical copy for some of the chapters, and could see this being helpful to future professors.
Profile Image for Felix.
301 reviews356 followers
January 8, 2022
bell hooks makes so many valuable points in this. A lot of them may seem dated now, since a lot of her proposed reforms to the university classroom environment have largely come to pass (at least in my experience of studying at the University of Liverpool). This book was published in 1994 after all. The whole discourse surrounding race and education has changed enormously since then, and the notion that in university literature courses (I use them as an example, since that was where I first encountered critical theory) should be inclusive environments for multi-faceted discussion, open to experiential readings - that's pretty much the norm. Maybe not at all universities, but certainly at mine. bell hooks, as it turns out, was quite prophetic on this stuff.

Some of bell hooks's concerns about the inclusion of students in multicultural environments remain a problem however. I have personally witnessed discussion groups try to turn to their one person of colour, or perhaps one of two or three people of colour, in order to treat them as a kind of 'authority' on texts about race. A similar dynamic can exist for classes with skewed gender ratios. These things can be hard to combat, because acting in this way is a natural thing for students to want to do, having grown up in our Western cultural background. I suppose there aren't easy solutions for this sort of thing. If there were, we'd have actioned them.

That said, this book is a mess. It is a hodge-podge of various essays, loosely united by topic, but often repeating each other, and often running on a lot longer than they need to. I would hesitate to recommend reading all of this collection, because its content does not totally justify its page count. The essays, for the most part, are good, but they don't need to be grouped together like this. Some of them are about extremely niche areas of critical theory research, while others seem to be written for a general audience. Some of them are straightforward and easy to read, others are couched in dense and confusing academic language. Perhaps this book is better served as a reference work, for finding certain pieces of assigned reading, than as something to be read from cover to cover.
Profile Image for Lance.
116 reviews31 followers
December 12, 2011
Though this is an important book for teachers to consider, I found myself somewhat disappointed. hooks definition of transgressive teaching, and critical pedagogy for that matter, are just too different from mine. Her critical work seems more what Alastair Pennycook calls "emancipatory modernism," which comes dangerously close to the missionary mindset so often criticized by critical pedagogues. I have nothing against hooks pedagogy, but my goal as a critical scholar is to question the systems of thought that produce differences . . . and preferably find new ways of thinking. There must always be an element of renewal and generation within transgressive approaches to theory and pedagogy.

That being said, the last few chapters are useful to get teacher's thinking about how to transgress the assumptions behind the universal, liberal subject (which is bodiless, classless, and speaks a perfect English). hooks deliberately transgress these assumptions by bringing the body, class, and diverse languages back into the classroom.
Profile Image for Andrew.
1,989 reviews700 followers
May 16, 2016
bell hooks is someone whose influence is everywhere, even if her name isn't. Any time the concept of intersectionality is invoked in the blogosphere, or an educator writes an article in Salon or Slate about the need for an educational method that addresses the needs of working-class youth, you can trace a direct line to hooks' thought, and Teaching to Transgress evidences all of these connections. She writes not only from a theoretical perspective, but places it firmly in her experiences both as a student and as an educator, and the practices of countless others. The result is a book about education that celebrates the open classroom, but at the same time demands academic rigor. Likewise, she demands that educators not only pay lip service to radical approaches to pedagogy, but also put it into practice in their classrooms. It's a vision I find it hard not to get on board with. As with the best theory books, it helped me expose some blind spots in my own thought, which, in my mind, is the highest praise I can give to a critical theorist.
Profile Image for David Bylenga.
86 reviews2 followers
January 31, 2022
Holy smokes. I feel like I will have to continue to revisit several of these essays year after year. Super timely read as a new semester begins tomorrow.

What stands out to me the most is hooks’ emphasis on, as a teacher, the importance of finding (and fostering) joy in the classroom, actively stepping back and centring each individual students’ experience, and providing space for everyone to critically analyze the world. I really really really loved essay 10 which highlighted tangible ways to achieve this that moves past a lot of the teacherese that often doesn’t lead to actual practice.

Also, I guess now I’m gonna have to check out some Paulo Freire. ✌🏼

Notes for future Dave to reread: essay 1: engaged pedagogy, essay 10: building a teaching community, essay 13: eros and pedagogy, essay 14: ecstasy
Profile Image for Lawrence.
533 reviews11 followers
March 17, 2021
Magnificent!!! hooks captures so much, so powerfully, it feels silly to try to review it. I am glad I read this "for fun" because it's clear that all of this thinking is absolutely core to the thing I am trying to do with my dissertation-- I might need to write a whole section about the false pedagogy/research dichotomy....
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,922 reviews1,258 followers
May 6, 2023
This book was published when I was five years old, yet it remains timeless and in a way prescient. My second bell hooks book, I read this for the book club I’m a part of. Teaching to Transgress is quite a different vibe from All About Love . This one is more practical, more focused on work rather than personal life (though hooks, of course, blurs those lines). I value both books but in different ways. As a teacher, of course, this book really spoke to me. Much of what hooks says feels familiar in what I already do; some of what she said pushed me to do better; all of what she says just feels so true and right, especially in the current climate.

At the start of the book, and then returning to it throughout, hooks discusses her experiences with education as a student. As a Black girl, and a Black woman, growing up in the American South during desegregation and integration. As a white woman in Canada, all I was taught was that integration of schools was a good thing—makes sense, right? But hooks points that a lot of Black parents were skeptical of integration, were just as against it as white parents, albeit perhaps for different reasons. She laments that she went from an all-Black school that was full of caring Black educators to a white school that treated her poorly and valued compliance over curiosity and actual learning. This is, alas, a story all too familiar today, even here in school systems in Ontario.

Thus we arrive at the first meaning of teaching to transgress: hooks wants us to be complicit, to recognize that the system itself is designed to sabotage students. To make them obedient in replicating structures of oppression. She doesn’t say this quite in that way, of course—as I noted in my review of All About Love, hooks has this incredible facility for making her writing accessible, her sentences short—a skill, you have noticed, that still eludes me. So we must teach our students to transgress this system.

Beyond that, we ourselves must transgress the dynamics expected between teacher and student by this colonial, carceral system. That is to say, teachers are expected to wield power in a way that dominates students. To change that, hooks says, we have to be vulnerable. We have to invite students to be a part of the learning process in a way that might frighten us (and them). Writing from the perspective of teaching undergraduate university students, hooks remarks that often students will feel lost, will resist her attempts to democratize her classroom, because they are used to being told what to do. As an adult education teacher I feel this way too—my students are suspicious of anything that is different from the high school experience they recall even though that experience was, in part, responsible for them not being successful. Nevertheless, all we can do as educators is keep trying.

I call this book prescient because even though hooks is writing in the early nineties, so much of what she says feels like it applies to classrooms today. She witnessed in her time what we are seeing now—namely, the use of shallow stabs at “diversity and equity” that are little more than public relations gambits in lieu of actual systemic change. Much like contemporary Black women are calling out such hypocrisy right now, hooks cautions us not to fall for such pabulum. I drew great inspiration, especially in her conversations with a white male colleague. There is such unflinching honesty in this book: hooks reflects on her own limitations, criticizes others where she believes they deserve criticism, yet is also willing to recognize that people have the capacity to grow and change and be allies.

Those of us who are white who read this book and mull over our role in being antiracist educators must confront the fact of our whiteness. This goes deeper than simply “checking our privilege,” as we are often advised to do by the diversity consultants. It means understanding that we can’t always understand, that our experience literally obscures reality as Black people experience it, and for that reason we have to listen to Black voices on these matters—yet not expect Black people to do all the work. We need to understand how we can wield our whiteness to be accomplices.

Nearly thirty years old now, Teaching to Transgress has as much or more power today as it did when it was published. I only regret that bell hooks is no longer with us, for I would have enjoyed hearing her speak. As it is, all I can do is keep catching up on her writing. She is honest, thoughtful, deliberate, sensitive. She acknowledges that feminism hasn’t always extended beyond white woman yet strives to change that rather than set feminism aside. She is aware of the paradoxes in which she exists as a Black woman in our society, yet she challenges other Black people, challenges herself, as much as she challenges white people to do better. This, to me, is the ultimate theme of Teaching to Transgress: for hooks, there is always a way for anyone to learn, to do better, to push further and harder for justice.

Originally posted on Kara.Reviews, where you can easily browse all my reviews and subscribe to my newsletter.

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Profile Image for Malcolm.
1,720 reviews419 followers
July 26, 2019
bell hooks is one of those authors whose work, even when 25 years old as this one is, seldom fails to invoke and inspire. One of the major names in contemporary cultural theory and analysis, a literary scholar of considerable impact and a leading figure in black feminist theory, her writing is notable for its accessibility as essays for general audiences. This collection opens with a confession, that she never saw herself as becoming a teacher – she expected to teach, but only as a way to support her work as a writer. The distinction is important, and in academic settings profound.

More significantly, the confession matters, granting insight to her pedagogy by bringing home the ‘teacherliness’ of much of her writing as personal confession becomes a means to unpack and explore wider questions of identity, of voice, of fit and of the dynamics of relations with students in a learning/teaching community. Considering education as the practice of freedom puts it at odds with dominant tendencies in schooling and education, where ‘education’ is increasingly conflated with ‘training’, where we teach to the test because that gets the best results and therefore elevates institutional rankings in league tables – all the while we are on the end of rhetorical imprecations to ‘teach’ critical thinking. It doesn’t long to realise that the critical thinking the powers that be want is limited to ways to enhance the current social and cultural order, not to change it. Not surprisingly, this is not hooks’ world or vision.

She draws on work by Paulo Friere to highlight the limitations of this approach – he called it a ‘banking’ system where we as teachers deposit in students information they will later need: it is a powerfully difficult approach to shake off, even for critical thinkers where our disruptive content is often developed in class in a manner than retains the conventions of the power of the teacher and the receptiveness of the student. She repeatedly reminds us that critical content is not the same as critical pedagogy, and that giving up the power is unsettling, while critical pedagogy that draws on the voices, knowledges and experiences of students is exhausting. I have often heard students and teachers complain that a class was hard work (I have done the same): hooks reminds us it is supposed to be. Learning critical thinking and analysis is exhausting because it unsettles what we take for granted within and beyond the classroom.

Central to her idea of engaged pedagogy is that it goes beyond conventional forms of critical or feminist pedagogy – both of which she draws on here – by being socially engaged in a manner that deals with the well-being of students and teachers, striving to become whole people. She talks about self-actualisation in a way that seems to me to draw on ideas of overcoming alienation (in both Marxist and psychoanalytic terms) where the dialogues and dynamics of teaching as an interactive process enhances all of those involved. Of course, she notes, this doesn’t mean equality – in formal teaching settings we as teachers still grade, still mark, still determine results and often shape the outline if not the specifics of any programme of study.

The collection is very good on the takens for granted of study and the academy, on the cultural norms and mores seldom seen by those on the inside, on the ways these norms and mores alienate and exclude, on the ways those excluded by race, class, gender or other hierarchies of Power adapt themselves to those cultural codes. One of the highpoints of the collection is a dialogue with fellow New York academic Ron Scapp, a philosopher, building on the observation by Henry Giroux and Peter McLaren that pedagogy on cultural studies requires combination of “theory and practice in order to affirms and demonstrate pedagogical practices engaged in creating a new language, rupturing disciplinary boundaries, decentering authority, and rewriting the institutional and discursive borderlands in which politics becomes a condition for reasserting the relationship between agency, power, and struggle.” (p129) Picking up on this Scapp & hooks discuss how we and they build teaching communities, with their students, with their colleagues and in the face of inertia and institutional resistance; it is the longest essay and in may ways the one most directed at the specifics of classroom practice.

This dialogue can be juxtaposed to the book’s other dialogue where hooks discusses her approaches to teaching and learning with Gloria Watkins (her birth name); it is a delightfully playful dialogue exploring and traversing Friere, his impact on hooks, the critiques of his gender blindness, his reflection on those critiques and the ways hooks works with what we’d now call intersectional analyses and positionalities in developing her pedagogy. The essays throughout the collection are, like this ‘dialogue’ invigorating and inspiring, analytically rich and clearly articulated, asserting hooks’ celebration of teaching as essential to her practice, not only as a means to fund writing. She concludes with a powerful summation:

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 labour 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. (p 207)

I had delved into some of these essays, but to read them over to cover reveals a richness and value making the whole more than the sum of its parts: essential reading for teachers and students.
Profile Image for Noel Cisneros.
Author 1 book18 followers
April 8, 2022
Ensayos sobre la enseñanza, la importancia de dejar paradigmas sobre la relación dispar que se establece en el aula entre el cuerpo docente y el alumnado, hooks invita a repensar esa relación haciendo conscientes a las personas implicadas que cada quien es un individuo con una historia socio-cultural particular (producto de procesos muy violentos, como fue el caso de ella misma siendo mujer afroaméricana del sur de Estados Unidos) que permitiran enriquecer la experiencia en el aula, pero también confrontar -ahí la labor del docente radica, según hooks, en mediar; no para imponer su visión y evitar conflictos, sino que esos conflictos sean el punto de partida para nuevos conocimientos-. Nuevos conocimientos que permitan el desmantelamiento del status quo que sigue violentando a poblaciones minorizadas.
Profile Image for Julia.
284 reviews14 followers
July 14, 2022
This collection of essays on pedagogy, theory, and feminism was rich and thought-provoking. It reminded me how much space education still has for change, and the growing pains that come with that change. Teaching well is no easy task.

My favourites from the collection: 'Essentialism and Experience', 'Holding My Sister’s Hand', and 'Embracing Change'.

There are times when personal experience keeps us from reaching the mountaintop and so we let it go because the weight of it is too heavy. And sometimes the mountaintop is difficult to reach with all our resources, factual and confessional, so we are just there collectively grasping, feeling the limitations of knowledge, longing together, yearning for a way to reach that highest point. Even this yearning is a way to know.
Profile Image for Sara Anselmo.
19 reviews57 followers
January 3, 2020
a sara criança cujo sonho sempre foi ser professora está a chorar por mulheres maravilhosas como a bell hooks estarem a trazer este bichinho de volta ao de cima. o livro perfeito para começar 2020 com a mais bonita das lembranças: a mudança começa em nós e isso facilmente pode ser transgredido para as salas de aula que habitamos. aspiro um dia a ser uma professora tão inspiradora como a bell hooks 🖤
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