hooks – Teaching to Trangress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

hooks, bell. Teaching to Trangress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routlege, 1994. Print.

bell hooks’ Teaching to Trasngress speaks to educators and students in the U.S. academy about what it is to embrace education as the practice of freedom. She describes her collection of essays as an “intervention” to counter the devaluing of teaching and the disinterest in teaching and learning. hooks shares teaching practices that she asserts are critical and encourage the interrogation of biases in curricula that “reinscribe systems of domination (such as racism and sexism) while simultaneously providing new ways to teach diverse groups of students” (10). hooks pedagogical approach also appreciates the need for passion and pleasure in the classroom which necessitates the consideration of not only students and teachers’ minds, but their bodies and spirits as well.

hooks shares knowledge based on her lived experience as both a student in a predominantly Black school as well as the work of Paulo Freire on critical pedagogy. This knowledge in addition to her classroom experience provides the basis for what she considers a “testimony” for the power of liberatory education.

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 boundaries of what is acceptable, so that we can create new visions, I celebrate teaching that enables transgressions — a movement against and beyond boundaries.It is that movement which makes education the practice of freedom (12).

Essays of particular interest:

  • “Engaged Pedagogy”
  • “Embracing Change: Teaching in a Multicultural World”
  • “Paulo Friere”
  • “Theory as a Liberatory Practice”
  • “Holding My Sister’s Hand”
  • “Language”

Freire – Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Purpose/Objective/Research Questions/Focus of Study:

This work blends theory and methods to emphasize the necessity for alternative pedagogies for and by groups of people that are oppressed by larger power systems.


Friere’s main recommendation is that his pedagogy not be merely imitated and adopted as is, but that his practices be embraced and rewritten, recreated, and re-situated in different contexts.

Chapter 1

In chapter one, Paulo Freire establishes the need for a pedogogy of the oppressed that differs from tradition pedagogies formed and implemented by those in power which serves as a tool of dehumanization and oppression. Freire is clear that both those who exploit and those who are exploited are dehumanized in the process. Freire asserts that it is the oppressed that have the power to liberate themselves and their oppressors from an unjust social order through praxis (44, 51). This praxis can be summarized as “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it” (51).

On page 68, Freire explains why a humanizing pedagogy is required:

The struggle begins with men’s recognition that they have been destroyed. Propoganda, management, manipulation – all arms of domination – cannot be the instruments of their rehumanization.

A humanizing pedagogy is one in which the teacher and the student (revolutionary leadershers and the oppressed) are both Subjects who are co-intent on collective reflection of reality as well as collective action in order to create new knowledge (69).

Chapter 2

This chapter details the inherent difference between “banking” and “problem-posing” education models and how they either work to oppress or liberate the masses. Freire stresses the importance of humanist, revolutionary educators not using what Audre Lorde would call the Master’s Tools of the “banking” concept, but insists that revolutionary educators begin with problem-posing techniques so that they co-create knowledge with the people. Any other way, Freire says would only further sustain dehumanization and oppression (75).

Banking education resists dialogue where problem-posing necessitates it. Banking education mythicize reality and conceals certain facts, while problem posing seeks to demythologize reality. The banking model inhibits creativity and severs people and their ways of being from the world, while problem-posing is based on creativity, reflection and action. On page 84, Freire says that in sum,

…banking theory and practice, as immobilizing and fixating forces, fail to acknowledge men and women as historical beings; problem posing theory and practice take the people’s historicity as its starting point.

Problem-posing praxis provokes the question “why?” and therefore necessarily goes against the purposes of the oppressor. This dialogical pedagogy requires the oppressed act as agents on behalf of their own emancipation.

Chapter 3

This chapter details dialogics as the essence of liberatory education as opposed to rote memorization. Dialogue is based on the word which is also praxis in that it must balance reflection and action in order not become mere verbalism or activism (87-88). Freire suggest that there must be an agreement of intent in order to have dialogue. Other qualities necessary to sustain dialogue are: profound love of the world and of people, humility, faith, hope, and critical thinking (89-92).

A dialogic approach is necessary in critical pedagogy at every turn as a safe guard against the banking model, where the teacher brings the agenda, content, and/or knowledge to the student(s). Instead, Freire says that a dialogic methodology is needed to explore the people’s “thematic universe” and to develop “generative themes” (96). Revolutionary educators must engage with the people in order to unearth the areas of focus, problems, and questions that the people want/ need to pose and have resolved. Through this process a much richer and more relevant understanding is realized by all parties. Working in “culture circles” to engage in dialogue about these “generative themes” is in fact generative in that group members then have the opportunity to build off of those discussions and suggest more themes for inquiry. About this, Freire says:

The important thing, from the point of view of libertarian education, is for the people to come to feel like masters of their thinking by discussing the thinking and views of the world explicitly or implicitly manifest in their own suggestions and those of their comrades (124).

Chapter 4

In this chapter, Freire builds upon the previous discussion of dialogics and contrast it with it’s oppresive counterpart of antidialogics. Antidialogics works to maintain dichotomies that separate the ruling minority from the majority and establishes the minority as the standard and justification for the other groups oppressed situation. He lists the four main characteristics of antidialogics as being: conquest, divide and rule, manipulation, and cultural invasion (138-160). All of these characteristics employed by the minority in power work to further oppress the majority.