bell hooks: an academic whose words re-wrote narratives of Black feminism, whose attitudes moved beyond kindness and towards cultural shifts in love and education, and whose name alone demonstrates the humility of decentring the self and the ego.
“The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy… Urging all of us to open our minds and hearts so that we can know beyond the boundaries of what is acceptable, so that we can think and rethink, so that we can create new visions…” – bell hooks in Teaching to Transgress
To ask myself what it means to use the classroom as a “radical space of possibility” means I am inspired and grounded in the works of bell hooks, whose writing I revisited when I learned of her passing last month. The question of what it means to be radical as an educator requires me to turn not only inwards but also towards my students, whose liberation is dependent on the programs I build around them. As I do so, I think hooks would ask: What are the structures of oppression that require constant consideration in order to create space for student joy and freedom? I think about how norms, typically viewed as best practice in education, can be challenged in day-to-day teaching. As classroom teachers we don’t have the individual power to shift entire systems, but we can transform the classroom experience into one that builds lasting, loving, and trusting relationships.
I have felt a little behind, having only been introduced to hooks’ body of writing five years ago, but the reflective journey that she asks us to take as educators will constantly evolve—the work is truly never complete. Her work is both accessible and timeless; her legacy will forever provide us with frameworks for love, healing, and critical thought, which are particularly effective as we grapple with the current realities in front of us, both in our lives and in our classrooms.
“Because of bell hooks, we know we can bring our whole selves to our work. We can trust and believe in our intellect. We can be complicated in our humanity. We can be gentle with our critiques. We can be fierce in our protection. We can keep talking to, and talking with, and talking back, until the last breath.” – Noliwe Rooks on bell hooks