Campus Culture

The bell hooks Book Club

My colleagues never disappoint. When bell hooks passed last December, I was shocked and mourned with all the many people she influenced.  Soon after, I bought Robin Isserles’ book, “The Costs of Completion: Student Success in Community College,” where she cited bell hooks as a major influence in her work. (Side note—there will be a discussion with Robin about her book next semester.) I realized that I needed to read bell hooks again, almost 30 years after I read Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom.  There has been so much work in our college lately addressing anti-racist pedagogy and culturally sustaining pedagogy that I thought it would be fruitful to go to the mother of the movement.  But I also didn’t want to read her by myself.  I know my colleagues and wanted to read with all of you.  So along with the library, CETLS and the Race, Equity and Inclusion Coordinating Committee, we started the bell hooks Book Club.

CETLS put out the call and dozens of you showed up. When we spoke at our first organizational meeting, we each said what she meant to us.  More than one of us teared up.  That is how profound bell hooks’ work is; her powerful theories cut to the bone and heal us at the same time. As she theorizes, she also reflects on her experiences in the classroom as a student and a teacher. She brilliantly explicates oppression and power struggles and also movingly writes about how those forces operate in the classroom, how they occupy our hearts and psyches.

At our first discussion group, I was once again touched by how thoughtful, compassionate and self-reflective the faculty are at BMCC.  No wonder we wanted to read bell hooks together.  She can toss out a phrase that can take months to unpack.  She writes: “To embrace the performance aspect of teaching we are compelled to engage ‘audiences,’ to consider issues of reciprocity” (p.11). We could have talked about what she means by “performance” and “reciprocity” for the entire session.  But there was so much more. This about her early education: “That shift from beloved, all-black schools to white schools where black students were always seen as interlopers, as not really belonging, taught me the difference between education as the practice of freedom and education that merely strives to reinforce domination” (p. 4).  Chills. Are our classrooms liberating?

And there’s so much more in her book. It felt that we barely scratched the surface while we also dug deep into our own pedagogical assumptions and relationships with our students. We have one more discussion about Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom.  We welcome everyone.  Please jump in if you are so inclined, just by registering at the link below. Join us and show the love you have for bell hooks, for each other and for our students.

The next and last session of the bell hooks Book Club will be May 5, 2022, from 3:00-4:15 via Zoom. You can find more information about Session 4, including the registration link, here.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge.

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