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”

Souto-Manning – Freire, Teaching, and Learning: Culture Circles Across Contexts

Background/ Context:

Author Mariana Souto-Manning approaches Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy f the Oppressed from a place of lived experience and knowledge. Being steeped in Brazilian education both as a student and educator and having attended workshops with Freire, she says “critical pedagogy has long been a reality for me” (1). As a former teacher and current teacher educator who has worked in educational institutions in both Brazil and the United States, Souto-Manning is able to theorize based on data from her own professional experiences in a variety of contexts and speak with fellow educators.

Purpose/Objective/Research Questions/Focus of Study:

In Freire, Teaching, and Learning: Culture Circles Across Contexts, Mariana Souto-Manning breaks down the theory behind Paulo Freire’s culture circles, first designed by Freire as a means to promote adult literacy in Brazil, and demonstrates how they work in practice and can be used to bring about democratic education in a multitude of contexts. In her introduction, she states her purpose is to make the process of implementing culture circles clearer and more real and applicable particularly for teachers and teacher educators. Souto-Manning seeks to arm educators with “theory-informed examples” of Freirian culture circles and problem-posing techniques across a variety of educational so that they can recreate culture circles in their own contexts thereby promoting critical, transformational, and democratic education.


Souto-Manning takes her data from several different settings and groups of people in Brazil and the United States – an American first-grade classroom, a Brazilian adult education program, an American university group of pre-sevice early childhood education teachers, a group of American public school elementary school teachers, and a lead teacher and teaching assistant in an American university college of education. Souto-Manning offers adaptations of culture circles in and out of Brazilian contexts in order to show the portability of Freirian critical pedagogy theories and methods.

Research Design: 

Souto-Manning presents five case studies of culture circles enacted in different contexts. The data were collected from ethnographic observations. At times Souto-Manning used a combination of Critical Discourse Analysis and Conversational Narrative Analysis in order to employ Critical Narrative Analysis (Souto-Manning, 2005). “Critical Narrative Analysis mirrors the process whereby teachers engage in questioning their generative stories and locations in society” (134).


From the beginning Souto-Manning is clear that education is not culturally or politically neutral. Thus, critical pedagogy is necessary in order to honor the humanity of all students and their cultural backgrounds, but this is particularly important for the oppressed. One way that critical pedagogy honors the oppressed is by focusing on generative themes that are significant to those who have been marginalized instead of the information or “deposits” from the oppressors. Culture circles, Souto-Manning says, “are based on two basic tenets: the political nature of education (Feitosa, 1999a; Freire, 1985) and dialogue in the process of educating” (18) emphasis mine. Culture circles, first conceptualized by Freire in the 1950s, are fueled by dialogue and the generative themes that come from the participants in the process:

By documenting the most urgent struggles experiences by many of the participants of a culture circle and codifying those experiences in a generative theme (e.g., a case, story, photo, drawing, document), facilitators open up opportunities for students to name, problematize and deconstruct issues which are paramount in their lives (31).

The five phases to the critical cycle in culture circles are:

  • generative themes
  • problem (or question) posing
  • dialogue
  • problem solving
  • action (32).

While this cycle alone serves to disrupt hierarchies  found in traditional classrooms, other features, such as circular seating further goes against the banking concept of education and promotes dialogue.

In addition to codifying and decodifying specific challenges faced by participants in culture circles, participants also become more aware of how their social realities are constructed. Souto-Manning says, “this process of identifying and deconstructing institutional discourses within personal narratives (Souto-Manning, 2007) makes social interaction a space for norms to be challenged and changed” (41). She gives an example of this challenge/ change and how it can translate into individual and collective agency in chapter six on culture circles in in-service teacher education. Souto-Manning shows elementary school teacher, Shante, sharing the influence of the culture circle/ teacher study group: “Something needs to change, but I can’t be the one responsible, you know. Maybe I’ll leave. But then… I had a renewed sense of purpose… We knew that we could change anything if we stuck together” (136).

On Praxis…

Souto-Manning embodies praxis; reflection and action upon the world with the goal of transformation (Freire, 1970) in Freire, Teaching, and Learning by integrating theory, her practices and observations, and the reflections of her culture circle participants. Although Souto-Manning mainly gives examples that feature childhood education and teacher education, educators across geographic locations, institutions, and disciplines are prompted and given a road map to  enact liberatory pedagogies by incorporating culture circles.

We must ask ourselves whether schools geared to preparing loyal subjects or obedient workers also build thinking, literate, active, fully developed and morally sensitive citizens who carry out their democratic responsibilities to one another, to their communities, to the earth – William Ayers, “Afterword” (194).

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.