Join our discussion of Chapter 11 of Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks on Thursday, February 24 at 12PM Eastern.

This month, we will be drawing on bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress to expand our discussions on critical pedagogy. As teachers and as learners of the English language, we recognize that education is never apolitical or neutral. In any learning environment, everything from the materials we use to the content we focus on is filtered by sociohistorical context, our preconceived ideas, and ideas of those around us.

Checking in on the what, how, and why of learning and teaching is an  antidote  for  complacency . Rather than accepting things as they are, we may question why something is a certain way. Rather than assume everyone is included, we may ask whether everyone has a place at the table. From a teacher’s perspective, this means, as bell hooks says, “seeing the classroom always as a communal place enhances the likelihood of collective effort in creating and sustaining a learning community” (8).

In Chapter 11, Language: Teaching New Worlds/New Words, bell hooks applies these concepts to language (see pages 167-175). We are invited to reflect on connections between language and power, and between power and agency. In reference to a poem about oppression, for example, bell hooks writes “… I know that it is not the English language that hurts me, but what the oppressors do with it, how they shape it to become a territory that limits and defines, how they make it a weapon that can shame, humiliate, colonize” (168).

As you read the chapter, consider how legacies of settler colonialism and transatlantic enslavement have shaped language in the United States (where English at times engulfs existing and new-coming languages). Then take into account bell hooks’ comments on agency, or ways she reclaimed language in her life and in her work as a teacher and a writer. Now examine your own relationship to language. Do you relate to bell hooks’ quote on the way language can be weaponized? How can we make sure our learning environments are equitable and inclusive? Join our meeting to share your thoughts.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you think that language is apolitical? Did your perspective change in any way after reading the chapter?
  • Why do you think the quote, “this is the oppressor’s language yet I need it to talk to you,” is repeated throughout the chapter?


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