Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Education as the Practice of Freedom: responding to bell hooks

How would you summarize, in your own words, what bell hooks means by "The Education as the Practice of Freedom"? hooks discusses her time in high school as "education that merely strives to reinforce domination." Discuss your own experiences with these two different types of educational experiences-- have you experienced education that works to reinforce domination? Have you experienced education that practices freedom? Describe your experiences briefly and how they were those types of educational practices that hooks describes. And don't forget to also respond back to your fellow classmates and talk to one another.


  1. I think most simply she means to teach in a manner that opens the floor to the students just as much as to the teacher. Equality is something that is obviously huge to her. I believe she wants the students to feel free in their learning atmosphere and not be bound by the typical "You are the student I am the teacher" approach. She discusses how the teacher usually controls the room and the discussions, if any discussions are even allowed, and how she thinks there should be a more open environment for the students to either lead or be very involved in discussions.

    I can't think of a good example where I have been taught by the domination approach but I can see that our course are typically structured like that. Now that I think about it most of my engineering courses are structured where the teacher teaches and we do homework and tests and that is it. there are no discussions or chances to broaden our learning methods.

    I never really have experienced this education that practices freedom but i am fairly interested to see how it is going to work in this class. You mentioned that this is where you got some of the ideas or that maybe the class is modeled after her description to a certain extent. So like I said I am excited about getting to experience that.

  2. I think she means that "Education as the Practice of Freedom" is when students have the opportunity to express themselves freely in the classroom and interact with each other. She says that it creates and environment more suited for learning. When students can speak and share openly with themselves and the teacher, it builds trust and creates a very comfortable learning environment.

    When Bell Hooks says, "education that merely strives to reinforce domination", I think she means that most classroom settings don't allow for the students to bring different things to the table. They simply set the professor as the head of the class and everyone focusses on him/her.

    I have been in many classes where the teacher didn't allow time for different views and ideas from the students. They just wanted to present the material to the students in the time allotted.

    This might be one of the first classes I've had that will encourage freedom in the classroom. I can probably count on one hand the number of classes I've been in that are like that.

    -Andrew Hubert

  3. In the essay, I believe that she states how and why her method of equality in the classroom between the students and the teacher tends to be successful. When the teacher acting as an equal rather than a power hungry dictator it allows the students to feel more comfortable and learn more from both the teacher and themselves. Education was clearly a huge part in her life, and she just wants others to share the same joy and passion she felt during some points in her childhood.

    The only domination through teaching experience I can think of for me would have to be the way our drumline tech taught during my first semester in college. He was power hungry and taught mainly through embarrassment. If you would make a mistake, he made sure that everyone on the line knew that you had messed up. He knew he was feared and he loved every bit of it. Not really the best time for the rest of us though. We were all miserable and just did things so wouldn't get yelled at. Hooks basically says things should be the opposite, which I agree with. Last year the line was much more relaxed, and we had a great time and performed much better.

    I have practiced education with freedom practically everyday in the architecture studio. The instructor tells you the guidelines, and lets us go. If you need help they are more than happy to answer a question, but the projects are supposed to be your own interpretation of the assignment. I believe that is exactly what Hooks is trying to get across in her essay, and I agree that it works.

    -Kevin Plath

  4. Bell Hooks' "Education as the Practice of Freedom" allows the student to engage and critically think rather than to just learn facts and regurgitate them later on a test. This method helps the students think about the material in relation to their lives rather than just something to store in their brains.

    I experienced the dominance approach all through elementary school and a little bit into high school. I understand why it was used in elementary school because that is a critical period to learn about obedience. However, high school should be more freedom approached. I did have some Honors classes that used the freedom approach and I liked those classes a lot more than just learning facts for a test.

    I can see how this course will be using the more freedom approach with the designated drivers, and i look forward to the more engaging atmosphere.

    -Jordan Crawford

  5. I believe that when Hooks refers to “Education as the Practice of Freedom,” she is saying that learning should be something the student should strive for. For this to happen, the atmosphere of the classroom has to be more engaging, not just for the students but also the teacher. She believes this is possible through interaction and conversation between the students and teacher.

    When thinking of “education to reinforce dominance” I automatically think of the typical classroom setting that most of students experience. The teacher does most, if not all, of the talking, and the students simply memorize the information given. Little learning is actually being done. Although most of my classes in the past have been a combination of the two practices, the latter appears to be more common. In retrospect, it seems that some of the classes I have taken in the past seem fixed on passing the exams and course. The teachers are focused on grades rather than true learning. I agree that in earlier years, this practice may be necessary for a foundation in discipline. In my later years in high school, educational freedom was more noticeable. Critical thinking and discussion with other students was mere commonplace.

    From our classes thus far, I am certain that this class will greatly stress our learning as a freedom and am looking forward to this new experience.

    -Shawn Mitchel

  6. I think "Education as the Practice of Freedom" means giving the students the freedom to learn how they please and actually participate and take responsibility for their learning experience. Most people learn better by experience and interaction than by just listening to facts. I like to know why and how things happen, not just that they do happen. In an open discussion, I am able to ask my questions to fully understand and get multiple opinions an the matter.

    Education that reinforces domination is more commonm in college because the classes are so big and it would be difficult for everyone to participate. I had a couple of classes in high school that taught by freedom and they were some of my best memories of that time. I had an English class where most of what we did was read books then have a class discussion on them. We would spend weeks ona a single book, squeezing every bit of information we could out of it. I just dont think you can learn that well from a dictator.

    Nicole Bekemeier

  7. "Education as the Practice of Freedom" to me means getting the students involved in the material they are going over. Students should not have to go into class, and sit there and listen to what the professor has to say and call that learning. I like to be able to asks questions when I don't understand something or do group activities to help others and get help from them. Last Fall in English our professor allowed us to critique each others' papers in groups and have volunteers put their paper on the projector and go over it as a class. This helped me learn to become a better writer. However, most of my classes consist of over 300 students so I don't get that experience. Unfortunately, if I don't know the material, which happens a lot, I can't really get the help I need. That to me is education as a dictatorship.
    -Nicholas Roger

  8. So many of you all are bringing up great topics for discussion. Those of you who post later, consider what some of the students have already said. Many have talked about large lecture classes, which, at large Research I schools like LSU, is pretty commonplace. I would argue that the style of teaching, education as the practice of freedom, that hooks argues for can be done in such a classroom setting. Do you all have any ideas on how such a task by a teacher could be accomplished? That is, making a large lecture class a bell hooks model of education?

    -Ms. McCray

  9. When Hooks says that “the education as a practice of freedom,” she means wants educating to be free and open to both teacher and student. Students should be allowed to freely express themselves. She is helping students be freer in the classroom so maybe they can better express themselves.
    I would have to agree with Hooks when she says, "education that merely strives to reinforce domination" about high school. Since in high school, I still had the threat of detention and many rule and consequences, the education seemed more focused on the control issues of the teachers over us that should have been sharing lessons and materials to learn. This type of teaching, as it did for her, takes all the fun out of learning. Feeling trapped inside a classroom where the student has no say is very discouraging, as she experienced.
    The only other class I felt I had complete freedom was my English 1001 class first semester of last year. We chose and wrote about our own topics, ones that interested us and related to our majors. I feel this class will give us freedom to express ourselves every day in class and what we want to argue in our papers.

    Erin King

  10. I believe what Hooks means by "Education is the Practice of Freedom" is that students should be able to connect information learned in class to their individual lives. Teachers should want to engage students in a "conversation" type setting where the line of "I'm the teacher and you're the student so listen to what I have to say" is blurred. If a student can't connect the information learned in class to their own life then they are tuned out from the start. She wants to include the students in the learning-process by wanting them to open their minds to new possibilities they might haven't thought about before and not just cramming random facts and taking a test on it. These types of classes leave a much larger impression on the students, and through each class a student takes, it should alter their view of the world and everyone in it in some way.

    I have taken a class like this. Hooks talks many times about a WGS courses, and the WGS course I took was communication intensive. We would look at past events and present issues going on in our world and have a class discussion on them instead of just learning the history of women's rights.

    I don't know if I have ever had an experience with "education reinforcing dominance." I took a psychology class last semester, and the teacher I had just read straight from the book not including personal connections with the material or any class discussion. Needless to say, only about 15 of 200 people ever showed up, us that did had a hard time keeping our eyes open.

    I think practicing freedom can still be obtained in a large class. If the teacher gives personal connections and keeps the lecture more conversational, engaging the class with questions and "a show of hands" type thing, it keeps the students attention. The teacher/professor must be enthusiastic about the subject they are sharing with the students, or the students have no reason to be excited about learning that particular subject.

    -Katie Clark

  11. Personally, I believe education should fall somewhere between these two extremes. I went to a very strict Catholic High School run by a group of brothers. Though there were many strict rules, we enjoyed many freedoms that other schools did not. We did not have a set uniform like many other private schools in Baton Rouge did. The classes were also run with much freedom and open discussion rather than the teacher just lecturing the entire time. I feel that my mix of both made me a more well rounded person in high school.

    - George Bursavich

  12. When Bell Hooks says, "education as the practice of freedom," I think she is talking about an education that encourages students to explore new ideas and discover interesting facts that can altar their life. Like Jordan said, this type of education really challenges students to engage instead of memorizing for a test. Hooks seems to have been a very curious girl growing up. But when the teachers in her life that used education as a way to "reinforce domination," she felt smothered. She was not FREE to think on her own and create/find new ideas.

    I have had experiences with both types of education. In high school I had many teachers that used their teaching position to feed their hunger for power and dominance. As a student, it really turned me off to listening to/learning from that teacher. If students do not feel able to explore, ask questions, be themselves, etc., they may not learn anything at all.

    Katie, I have experienced classes like you where the teacher reads straight out of the book. It's incredibly boring. However, I feel like in college there is less "dominance" enforced, and it's mostly up to us to do the exploring and be "freely educated". But I definitely do not think it's the best way to teach.

    Ms. McCray, I do agree that there is a way to obtain this setting in large lecture classes like those we have here at LSU. I think it mainly boils down to communication between the teacher and the students. If the students feel comfortable asking questions and are understanding the teacher's perspective, they will feel more free to learn. Like Katie said, asking questions is a sure way to give students the experience to think and learn for themselves.

    And Kevin, I am really sorry about your drumline experience. I think coaches of any kind are more apt to "strive to reinforce domination." ha.

    -Rebecca Griggs

  13. I think she feels that education shouldn't be about facts as much as understanding, and that in understanding, the student should be able to explore the answers he/she finds and come to terms with them in his/her own time. Where I don't agree with such an approach in the classroom, there have been many times where I've questioned the "facts" I was being taught and felt that memorizing information I wasn't fully understanding could be hampering my ability to think for myself.

    The freedom of education that I experience is done outside class time in a setting conducive to the method. Seeing teachers in office hours or friendly discussions with peers are often the places where a freedom of education will be encouraged.

    Though it may sound strange, I prefer a structured setting with strongly guided information like a large lecture class. The information is presented in a way that can only be understood as the way it is presented and leaves little room for interpretation, but for the classes I have taken and will take, this method is the most practical.

    -Evan Ledet

  14. I believe that when Hooks says through "Education as a practice of freedom" That she is talking about letting the student experience everything for themselves and learning from experience versus learning from being told what the teacher experienced. In this way of teaching, it allows the student to expand and learn and grow in a natural way instead of forcing them to have to learn through the bias of the teacher teaching them which is where the reinforcing of domination comes in because the only thing that the teacher can teach is what they know, and how they experienced it.

    I feel that this way of teaching could be accomplished at LSU, but it would require time that some teachers of larger classes just would not want to put forth. But, if the teacher was willing to put in the time to think about how they could have the students experience the subject with set parameters instead of just taking notes, the class would be a lot more effective and less monotonous

    -Erik Ross

  15. I would have to say that what Hook is trying to say in "education as a practice of freedom" is that students should not only be taught what they need to know in the world , but that they will be able to connect and actually use what was taught. That they should question and not just accept the answers that they are given.

    Joey Busbice

    I had a creative writing class in high school that challenged the students to think outside of the normal ideas and to come up with ones of our own.We were given the freedom to pick what ever topics we wanted to write on, no matter how boring or how exciting they were.

  16. From what I got out of the text, "Education as the practice of freedom" was a style of teaching (or the best style of teaching), in which facts are not just memorized and graded by tests, but rather critical thought is stimulated. Ideas are not meant to be learned simply be "stored and used at a later date" but used for opening the mind, making connections, and generating different viewpoints. "Education that merely strives to reinforce domination," creates an atmosphere of conformity. In such an atmosphere, trains of thought outside the mainstream ideas are suppressed and, thus, students of such an environment are not truly educated.

    I have actually experienced both of the above listed environments. Throughout elementary and middle school, I had "gifted program" classes (especially in English), in which classes were more of a seminar than a lecture course. Students presented their ideas, and the teacher was generally the moderator or the lead guide of discussion.

    However, I have had classes, in which, ideas were lectured to a large group of students, like in math. Students asked questions to clear up misunderstandings, but there was no stimulation of discussion. This was done so each student had an equal educational experience from the instructor.

    -I have had both teaching methods throughout my life. I've had more fun in my open-discussion classes, though.

  17. The idea bell hooks (notice how I conspicuously made use of the proper lowercase initial letters) was trying to convey with the phrase “education as the practice of freedom” was that certain styles of teaching, particularly her own “engaged pedagogy”, would confer upon its subjects freedom in a “holistic” sense. That is, according to the author, freedom of mind, body, and spirit. Freedom to feel however you want, to believe whatever you'd like, and to express yourself and seek happiness in what ever ways you see fit. Freedom which, as is implied, would not be granted under the humdrum and joyless teaching methods currently employed (and have been in one form or another since the days of Socrates). Freedom which, supposedly, if not for bell hooks' “engaged pedagogy”, could not ever be achieved. If it was not obvious from my tone, I find myself in disagreement with how bell hooks supports her idea, particularly with how she characterizes teachers who are not “engaged pedagogues” as tyrants, their students as mindless drones, and education as something that can only be handed down and not pursued as an individual. I have more I'd like to rant about, such as how she spent less time supporting her thesis and more time explaining that white, male professors are universally sexist and racist, but I will save that for another time, assuming it is wanted.

    I don't think I have ever experienced a teacher that worked to “reinforce domination”. Or, if I have, I had not realized it. The phrase itself is ambiguous. If “reinforce domination” means to suppress questioning of the teacher and the status quo, then I would say I have not. The interesting thing about questioning someone who knows something a lot better than you do is that they can often provide an answer which will ultimately dispel any conflicts you may have had. That is part of the teacher's job, after all. If they cannot manage to do this, then either you asked a question beyond their scope of knowledge (in which case you should do the research yourself), you are being stubborn (in which case you should stop), or you have a poor teacher (in which case they should stop). I've never had a teacher rudely tell me to shut up and stop questioning. If they did so, they would not likely be a teacher for long. If “reinforce domination” means to oppress freedom in the ways bell hooks described, no, I have never had a teacher who was racist, sexist, or just a general misanthrope.

    I feel like I'm prattling on undesirably, but I promise I am almost done. I have always felt education to be something you pursue yourself, rather than something that is bestowed upon you. Even if you are learning under a professor, it is still your choice to learn from them (well, not so much – compulsory education and all). As such, I feel as though, rather than education reinforcing freedom, freedom is what allows us to educate ourselves; freedom is something that is conferred unto us not by our schools or our teachers, but by our culture and ourselves. Or at least that's an oversimplified version of how I feel. There's really only so much a blog comment can convey. As for education as tool for “healing”, well, that is what family, friends, and community are for. Schools are for learning.

    – Brandon Ross (P.S., sorry for getting carried away. I'm not entirely sure anything I said is even relevant or cogent!)

  18. Brandon: In no way were you "prattling on undesirably"-- I think you bring up strong arguments. Of course, I may disagree with some of the points, but they're issues that need to be addressed-- and actually, the ones you discuss are the same that many of her critics have pointed out.


    Ms. McCray

  19. Honestly, I would have liked to have written more, however it was almost ten o'clock before I had finished and I had been working on it for almost an hour (quite silly for a simple blog comment). To be clear, I do not disagree at all with the Socratic method. In fact, I find it to be a beautiful way to educate and have been quite moved by stories of teachers teaching kids with the Socratic method and succeeding wonderfully. I've also been so fortunate as to learn by the Socratic method on a few occasions, which is why I can attest to it being very exhausting (though rewarding) for both the teacher and the students. It also takes a lot more time than simple lecturing, as one would imagine, though how much more exactly might be surprising.

    In high school, it took three semesters of physics – regular physics with approximately 25 people and the first half of AP physics with eight (I am not counting the second half of AP physics, which deals with electricity and magnetism) – totaling around 171 hours (57 wks. × 3 hrs/wk.). I would say the first two semesters were taught moderately Socratically (keep in mind the class size), while AP was very much so. In contrast, everything I learned in those three semesters gets taught here at LSU in about 42 hours of class time (14 wks. × 3 hrs/wk.) in the one-semester course PHYS 2101. Not to mention that fact there may be over 100 people in a college-level physics class, and that classes really don't start until ten minutes in (leaving really only 2.5 hours per week in a three-day-per-week schedule). It is not plausible for a professor, who, unlike my high school physics teacher, might teach multiple classes on different subjects in physics everyday, to teach that kind of material (hard science/math) Socratically to that many students in that little time. Especially considering that are absolutely no physics professors under the age of 50 (joking... somewhat), I can't imagine it ever being feasible for them to truly hold to the Socratic method in their classes. Certainly they may try to stimulate conversation by making jokes, asking questions, or running around the auditorium with a mic, however it is not really Socratic teaching unless there is active back-and-forth, critical discussion taking place between the teacher and students as well as the students themselves. Under the conditions that college professors (especially low-level ones) teach in, it is simply not plausible to be Socrates' ideal teacher, let alone the kind of fantasy teacher bell hooks so glorifies. I wanted to bring this up at some point during this morning's discussion, however I could not seem to find a break in which I could interject, nor did I feel I was adequately prepared to do so. And while I agree with hooks in that I also believe that a teaching scenario with constant, on-going, interactive, in-depth discussion is a great way to educate a small, tight-knit group of people, especially in cases where the subject being discussed is either highly subjective or difficult to wrap one's head around, I realize that it is not always practical for every professor to apply this style of teaching in every instance.

    (Would you believe this? Blogspot won't let me post a comment over 4096 characters in length.)

  20. (Continued from above...)

    I disagree strongly, though, (to the chagrin of many a student) with the way hooks blames the prevalence of the “boring” method of teaching on some sort of innate sinister desire of the teacher to “dominate” their students and to suppress them and prevent them from questioning what the teacher might profess. I may not be able to comment on the racism and sexism bell hooks ascribes to white, male teachers due to my age and ignorance of the past – for all I know, everything she said in that respect is completely true, though I certainly don't see any evidence of it today – I am quite certain that no teacher (within statistical significance) teaches because he or she desires to assert his or her dominance over and superiority to “weaker”, less-educated individuals. To say so is, well, uneducated. And also a little cynical. And I also get the feeling was meant to appeal to disillusioned students looking for affirmation for the contempt they hold to the teachers that they may believe have wronged them in the past. I think it was meant to make those students nod their heads and go, “oh, that must be the reason I failed the class; not because I was too disinterested to really try, but because my professor actively participated in trying to make me fail, no doubt to the benefit of their own hubris”, and even, if I may suggest, “in fact, I bet the reason so many white males seem to pass the course is because the professor makes it easy for them”. (I feel I must explain that last sentence in quotations, lest I be deemed less favorable than I likely already am: I think if it is indeed true that white males more often pass courses than blacks or women [which it might not be in most cases], then I believe the fault lies in our culture and the way it may favor white males succeeding in academics over blacks and women, and NOT due to any incapacity on part of females or blacks, nor by any fault of racism or sexism on part of the professors. Man, I sure do like run-on sentences.)

    In my own (unabashedly unsupported) opinion, I believe that hooks' feelings towards professors and the prevalent style of “mass-teaching” were based less on evidence and research, or carefully-reasoned and vetted conclusions, and more so on her own negative experiences, biases, and personal feelings. And that her opinion, though not invalid in its own right, might have been arrived at in a way that precluded rational, critical thinking, and thus should be treated critically.

    I should really probably reread hooks' paper so that I don't mischaracterize any of her assertions. Admittedly, I really kind of skimmed it the first time through. Certainly if I am making any arguments that have already been addressed in hooks' own writing, or mischaracterizing her in any way, do please call me a buffoon, a blockhead, and then direct me to the proper place in the text. I don't like to be wrong, so please do help me out if you happen to see that I am, so that I may cease being so.

    – Brandon Ross

  21. Ah, yes, Brandon. We talked about hooks as proposing a very utopian vision when we studied her theories in a class last semester. I think it is utopian, but perhaps her point is to strive to get more free discussion than we would have normally in the classroom. And I wish you all could have read the entire book where the chapters came from-- she has a great dialogue with a white, male professor (who came to the Academy from a working class background) and they discuss race, class, gender in terms of the teaching profession and both articulate what they mean by oppression. Excellent points...