On page 64 of Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks writes, “[A]ny theory that cannot be shared in everyday conversation cannot be used to educate the public.” Indeed, hooks is a woman who practices what she preaches. One of the things that has always struck me about her work is its accessibility; the essays in Teaching to Transgress adhere to this assertion.
The book is a collection of essays about progressive education practices. Uniting the essays is a constant awareness of various forms of oppression that exist in the classroom, all analyzed through a feminist lens.
In her introduction, hooks talks about painful experiences from her child in which she mostly felt rendered invisible by the education systems in place. These experiences continued throughout her undergraduate and graduate school years; she talks about how these experiences focused on the “banking system” of education, wherein the educator is the figure of absolute authority in the classroom, existing solely to “deposit” information in receptacles: the students.
Once becoming a teacher herself, she writes:
The first paradigm that shaped my pedagogy was the idea that the classroom should be an exciting place, never boring. And if boredom should prevail, then pedagogical strategies were needed that would intervene, alter, even disrupt the atmosphere. (7) … To teach in varied communities not only our paradigms must shift but also the way we think, write, speak. The engaged voice must never be fixed and absolute but always changing, always evolving in dialogue with a world beyond itself. (11)
One of my favorite essays in the book came in the form of a conversation between hooks and Ron Scapp, a philosopher and progressive educator at Queens College. The conversation comes toward the end of the book, after many essays about theory, different types of oppression, and feminism in the classroom. This works well, because the reader can listen to hooks’s and Scapp’s teaching experiences and see how the theory presented in the earlier essays can be applied in a progressive classroom. It’s useful information because the two discuss what has worked for them, and what hasn’t.
My only wish is that hooks had given more examples in some of her essays. For instance, in one of her essays, she talks about how a group of women was able to apply theory to real life; however, she fails go to into detail and list some examples.
This lack of information doesn’t happen very often, though. In fact, hooks offers many examples of activites she has used in her own classroom. The book is a definite must-read for progressive, feminist educators.