Bell Hooks | Image : WikiMedia Commons

The New Leam believes that here in our country students and teachers ought to engage with Bell Hooks—a great professor and pedagogue who could question the politics of gender and race in American universities, invoke Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy, question the fetish of ‘neutrality’ and detached ‘scholarship’, and articulate without the slightest hesitation that no meaningful teaching/learning is possible without dialogue and communion, or without passion and ecstasy. Here in India, our students and teachers are obsessed with a purely exam-centric/rote learning. Or for that matter, in our ‘elite’ colleges and universities, professors are asked to publish as robotic performers for their career prospects, and seldom is there any importance attached to the art of teaching, or the significance of a vibrant/passionate/joyful classroom. This must change. We need to humanize our classrooms; we need to celebrate creativity and engaged pedagogy in our classrooms.. 

And who can make us aware of this forgotten truth except Bell Hooks?

Why do professors fear the ecstasy of engaged pedagogy?

Even though many viewers could applaud a movie like The Dead Poets Society, possibly identifying with the position of the professor and his students, rarely is such passion institutionally affirmed. 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 feeling, of passions, may not allow for objective consideration of each student’s merit. But this very notion is based on the false assumption that education is neutral, that there is some “even” emotional ground we stand on that enables us to treat everyone equally, dispassionately. In fact, there is not much passionate teaching or learning taking place in higher education today. Even when students are desperately yearning to be touched by knowledge, professors still fear the challenge, allow their worries about losing control to override their desire to teach. Concurrently, those  of us who teach the same old subjects in the same old ways are often inwardly bored—unable to rekindle passions we may have once felt. …To restore passion to the classroom or to excite it in classrooms where it has never been, professors must find again the place of eros within ourselves and together allow the mind and body to know and feel desire.

Is learning a place where paradise can be created?

My commitment to engaged pedagogy is an expression of political activism. Given that our educational institutions are so deeply invested in banking system, teachers are more rewarded when we do not teach against the grain. The choice to work against the grain, to challenge the status quo, often has negative consequences. And that is part of what makes that choice one that is not politically neutral. In colleges and universities, teaching is often the least valued of our many professional tasks. It saddens me that colleges are often suspicious of teachers whom students long to study with. And there is a tendency to undermine the professional commitment of engaged pedagogues by suggesting that what we do is not as rigorously academic as it should be. Ideally, education should be a place where the need for diverse teaching methods and styles would be valued, encouraged, seen as essential to learning. Occasionally students feel concerned when a class departs from the banking system. I remind them that they can have a lifetime of classes that reflect conventional norms.

Many professors remain unwilling to be involved with any pedagogical practices that emphasize mutual participation between teacher and student because more time and effort are required to do this work. Yet some version of engaged pedagogy is really the only type of teaching that truly generates excitement in the classroom ,that enables students and professors to feel the joy of learning. …Engaged pedagogy not only compels me to be constantly creative in the classroom, it also sanctions involvement with students beyond that setting. I journey with students as they progress in their lives beyond our classroom experience. In many ways, I continue to teach them, even as they become more capable of teaching me. The important lesson that we learn together, the lesson that allows us to move together within and beyond the classroom, is one of mutual engagement.

The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom, with all is locations, 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.

(Curtsey: Bell Hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, Routledge, 1994)



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