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  • Jason

What is Education? What is it for... and for whom?

Wow. I've just attended and presented at the The Centre for the Study of Practice and Culture in Education (CSPACE) conference at Birmingham City University. The conference, over two days, invited presentations based on perspectives and responses to bell hooks' seminal work, Teaching to Transgress. It was a highly inspirational couple of days, not least due to the two key-note presentations by Professor Heather Smith and Professor Rob Smith.

This was a flipped conference where presenters delivered a blog post for pre-reading. After a short summary of the blog posts within the presentation sessions, the majority of the conference was discussion based, finding connections between the different perspectives and areas of delegate practise and research.

My process for writing my blog post 'Education is Change' started with a critical re-read of Teaching to Transgress aiming to form the beginnings of my perspective through reflective awareness of what was 'speaking to me' and thinking about how this related to my current ideas on Education. As the re-read progressed, I realised I was most drawn to hooks' references to Performance and Language and how the linguistic performances taking place within the classroom were powerful to transform or to recreate 'reality'. It made me think about what Education is, what it is for and for whom (who benefits?).

The blog post piece can be accessed at this link but I've included it here as well.

Education is Change

Education is Change. The ‘classroom’ a stage where the performances of persona undergo transformational processes. Where behaviours, words, gestures, transgressions, rewards and hierarchies are mediated by (in)visible forces of power; from within and without. Education is Change as classroom actors negotiate time, space and situation towards new destinations; loaded with renewed quotients of Cultural Capital. Education is Change. Change from one state to another. Habitus in motion.

Education is Motion, but what is ‘desirable’, ‘positive’ motion and who decides? What does it mean to ‘graduate’ (verb. ‘to move forward or improve’) and who sets the socio-cartographic coordinates? What is ‘improvement’? Who holds the power to define correct movement or improvement and what are the unseen alternatives? How do these powers ‘play out’ upon the stage of the classroom? Whether classroom actors seek awareness of their roles and the connotations of action or not, ‘Education is never politically neutral’ (hooks 1994, p.30) and performances generate forces for or against this ‘correct’ direction of travel.

Education is Freedom and Restraint. ‘These days, I am compelled to consider what forces keep up moving forward (hooks 1994, p.30)’. The weightings, forces, gravities, biases and values which interact, strengthen, diminish, conflict and combine within the classroom have the power to both facilitate personal movement or restrict; to widen and loosen boundaries or tighten and restrain. To teach/learn (Freirian Teacher/Students...) to transgress is to unveil these forces and to understand the limits, possibilities and potentialities that exist across the stage of power and into ‘the world’. Education becomes the ‘Practice of Freedom’ through first a critical unveiling, to assess the forces which restrict. The restrictive forces of

hegemonic ‘common-sense’ mediated through the en-cultured panopticon of the self and the selves of others. Teaching/Learning to Transgress is to develop languages to articulate our situationality and to encounter the illusory boundaries cast by the (internal/external) gate-keepers of cultural ‘sensibility’. Education can be both the linguistic practice of Freedom or Restraint.

Language is Power. ‘Like desire, language disrupts, refuses to be contained within boundaries. It speaks itself against our will, in words and thoughts that intrude, even violate the most private spaces of mind and body’ (hooks 1994, p.167). Education as the Practice of Freedom is to develop and wield the weapon of Language against the boundaries of self and against the restrictive linguistic forces of the dominant. Learning to speak the language of the dominant (i.e. Neoliberalist logic of all social actions measured against market-led metrics) is an important first stage to understand agency (‘”This is the oppressor’s language yet I need to speak it to you”’ (hooks 1994, p.167)). To master then subvert this Language subsequently becomes the transgressional act; moving through linguistic ‘gates’ of power purposefully towards erasure of these same restrictive boundaries. Language is Power in it’s potential use as a force of hermeneutical expansion of self and society, dissolving the liminal spaces of restrictive containment. Teaching/Learning to Transgress is to learn and apply the power which Language yields. ‘The power of this speech is ... that it also forges a space for alternative epistemologies – different ways of thinking and knowing that were (are) crucial to creating a counter-hegemonic world view’ (p. hooks 1994, 171). Hegemony withers when complicity is withdrawn.

The ‘rituals of control’ processing within the classroom, towards ‘prison confinement’ (hooks 1994, p.4), seek to define ‘correct’ language; correct obedience and assimilation to hegemonic power. Teaching to Transgress is to examine these rituals of control and consider opposition; opposite forces and directions of motion. De-colonising, De-Schooling (Illich 1971), Anti-Assimilationist, Anti-Racist, De- Neoliberalising... – these processes are syntactically associated with the ‘negative’ or the ‘anti’. Processes which provide potentiality for transgressive, alternative motion and the dissolution of boundaries of control. Processes which develop ‘weights’ of opposing force upon the ‘scales’ of hegemony. Teaching to transgress is to unveil these forces of power and to interrogate, through Language development, Language itself and the connotative powers playing out across social-situationalities towards new futures and Freedom of agency.

As teachers we must self actualise first, to interrogate how we unknowingly deploy our linguistic forces and to problem-pose who we are teaching for, why and how. What are the performances of power we enact and how have our own masks of conditioned persona been crafted; ’Teaching as a performative’ (hooks 1994, p.11) upon the stage of the classroom. What ‘ills’, ‘conditions’ and conditioning do we bring and to what extent does our identity stake it’s survival on the power vested in the transubstantiated institutional capital bestowed upon us through historic demonstration of our own linguistic obedience? On some teachers ‘more than anything they seemed enthralled by the exercise of power and authority within their mini-kingdom, the classroom’ (hooks 1994, p.17). What power do we willingly exercise as restrictive gatekeepers; guarding the liminal, and linguistic, zones of the sacred kingdom of power and freedom? Through self-actualisation we can draw new-coordinates of motion, Sage-ly signalling entrances through the Thresholds across and around student’s Heroic Journeys, through the Abyss of self (Campbell 2012) to face the great Mythic adversary of Persona(l) Transformation.

Education is Change: Education is Motion: Language is Power, and Power is Freedom or Restriction. We choose on which side of the scales we place this ‘weight’ of performative, linguistic action. We should never accept that ‘passion has no place in the classroom’ (hooks 1994, p.192); a passion with potential to ignite a 1000 little fires of potential. Fires with the potential to destroy boundaries of power and, from the ashes, re-imagine new futures.

‘Ohh you’re turning on A thousand little fires Ohh your siren call It’s spreading around for miles’ (Lazaro 2019)

References: Campbell, J. (2012), The hero with a thousand faces (3rd ed.), New World Library. Illich, I. (1971), Deschooling Society, Caldor & Boyars. hooks, b. (1994), Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, Routledge, London. Lazaro, A. (2019), A Thousand Little Fires, Rock Paper Scissors, Independent, [Online]

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