Engaged Pedagogy – a playful dialogue with bell hooks and a collective interview with Nassira Hedjerassi

Written by – transcribed and introduced by X. Gorgol & C°C

The first Teaching To Transgress Toolbox project public event took place on Monday, January 27, 2020 in erg auditorium in Brussels. It was the first day of the programme with participants from the erg, HDK-Valand in Gothenburg and ISBA in Besançon.

The activities preceding the meeting included collectively reading the first chapter of “Teaching To Transgress: Engaged Pedagogy” by American author, scholar, feminist, and social activist bell hooks and articulating questions related to hooks’ text and discussing those in small groups. The result was six questions on different themes to be drawn on in the public event.

Nassira Hedjerassi, a founding member of the Institut bell hooks — Paulo Freire in France, was our interlocutor in this public conversation. She is a sociologist specializing in popular education and feminisms, and a professor of education sciences at the Sorbonne.

This public moment with Nassira Hedjerassi consisted of two parts:

A playful dialogue
Nassira Hedjerassi engaged in a “dialogue” with bell hooks taking the form of a series of exchanges with quotes from bell hooks read by a computer.

A collective interview
An exchange with Nassira, structured around the questions that we had previously prepared together in the workshop, the protocol for which is described below.

How to conduct the workshop

1. Suggestions for framing questions

In small groups

2. Suggestions for finalizing the questions

with the larger group

3. The questions

The questions below, initially written at the end of the above protocol, were further adapted during the conversation with Nassira Hedjerassi.

If there is a whole toolkit for teachers to understand what engaged pedagogy is, shouldn’t there be a similar toolkit for the students? Be it more active, hands-on and in the moment or more forward-looking developing long-term change.

Does the system desires a pedagogy for emancipation, and why?

Courage to transgress boundaries! How to deal with structural “boundaries” in 2020 in an edufactory? What are the boundaries? Strict structure, timing, outcomes, grades, etc., room for experimentation: NO! Boundaries might not be transgressed, but made be transparent. Is this enough? For example, not pretending all is horizontal, while power structures are at play.

How can students be proactive, or even think of wanting to be more proactive, if they are not used to raise questions, even outside of school, and how everything starts in early childhood? How to take different students into account when expecting more active participation? Active participation may stigmatize students with special needs, who might not be comfortable sharing their needs with their teachers.

In what ways can a teacher support their students without creating a power imbalance and create an environment of mutual respect and empathy?

How to be transparent about the power relations in the act of teaching? How to actually become aware of them? Do you have specific tools reminding you of power imbalances?

4. Suggestions for remodelling the space:

For this first public moment, we felt it was important to move away from the frontal configuration of a lecture hall. As the erg's bleachers are retractable, we thought we could easily act on this, but it turned out to be more complex than expected as only a few people in the institution were authorized to retract the bleachers. So we had to make do and simply engaged with Nassira by sitting all around her, even on the stage usually reserved for the speaker.

Playful dialogue with bell hooks

A lecture performance by Nassira Hedjerassi

What follows is the transcription of Nassira’s performative dialogue, with a selection of bell hooks’ quotes read by a computer.

Transcript of the presentation

a playful dialogue with bell hooks

Nassira Hedjerassi 00:07

Hello. So we are going to start if you agree, following bell hooks, pedagogical conception, I imagine a dialogue between her and me.

Nassira Hedjerassi (computer voice) 00:28

How I feel honoured to have this discussion with you, bell hooks, Gloria Watkins. In fact, I was, and I'm still so moved, inspired and transformed, both intellectually and personally, by your texts, your words, your life, your person.

Last week, I was invited by the University of Women (Université des Femmes) here in Brussels, and I was questioned about my choice of bell hooks and not another feminist intellectual. In my answer, I expressed how you resonate in me because of your social and geographical background, that is a black working class background in a rural Southern place. And because even if you were not a scholar in Educational Studies, you valued education very much. As you said, education is key for you. “Education is a political issue for exploited and oppressed people” to quote you. Now, let’s introduce you, yes, unfortunately to a French-speaking audience. But I will be very brief.

Born in 1952, in Kentucky, from a working class family, you were “a smart student” to quote you. Educated at Stanford, at Santa Cruz, where one of your colleagues was Angela Davis, appointed at the prestigious Yale University, you left this place – it was a political choice –for the City College in New York to teach less privileged students. And now you are back to your home place, in Kentucky, as a distinguished professor in residence, Maria University. You are the author of more than 30 books of all kinds, essays, poems, biographies, but also self-help books and even books for children. Even if your academic field of studies is not education, you published a trilogy on education and pedagogy, the first one titled, “Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom,” to which this project here refers. And you chose politically to use a pen name, bell hooks, in reference to your female ancestors, but also in rupture with the star system, more concerned by who was saying this than what was said. To quote you, you present yourself as a dissident intellectual crossing boundaries, an insurgent intellectual, in reference to your discussion with the black intellectual Cornel West.

“Teaching To Transgress” was published in 1994. It means 26 years ago, and yet, it was just translated into French at the end of 2019. So in the present geo-socio-economic political context, in the context of Trump for you in the states of Bolsonaro in Brazil, and so on, what will you say about the relevancy of this essay? Did you change your reflection with regard to any of your thoughts?

bell hooks (video fragment) 04:38

And I was both a bit awed by how smart it was but also deeply saddened that so much of what it talks about 20 years ago has actually deepened, worsened, and it was hard not to feel that certain deep despair, that what did these words mean? What did these books mean? Who did they educate for critical consciousness? We're gonna open it up and talk with you. Again, I guess…

Nassira Hedjerassi (computer voice) 05:19

In our conversation, bell hooks, I also like to share an interrogation and fear the organizers of this project had. Xavier asked, since almost all of us are white, some identify as male: can't we talk of a form of cultural appropriation? You understand what I mean? If you allow me to use this vernacular language. But let me answer, what is it about? It's more important that Xavier, as a white male, read my work and learn from it. It is more important that you read my work, reflect on it, and allow it to transform your life and your thinking in some way. I find it a major triumph of my work. If my work as a worker for freedom is valuable, if my voice is heard beyond my own boundaries, that's great! As I used to say, when I'm presented as a black, public intellectual, it's like, what a black have to say is just relevant to black people and not to everybody.

You use the expression of “engaged pedagogy.” You refer to progressive, holistic education. Could you tell us a little more?

Specia and Osman (computer voice) 06:51

“Education as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn. The learning process comes easiest to those of us who teach, who also believe that there is an aspect of our vocation that is sacred: who believe that our work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students. “To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin” (hooks 1994, 13) To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin. Engaged pedagogy establishes a mutual relationship between teachers and students that nurtures the growth of both parties, creating an atmosphere of trust and commitment that is always present when genuine learning happens.” (Specia and Osman 2015, 195)

bell hooks (computer voice)

“Expanding both heart and mind, engaged pedagogy makes us better learners because it asks us to embrace and explore the practice of knowing together, to see intelligence as a resource that can strengthen our common good.” (hooks 2010, 22)

Nassira Hedjerassi (computer voice) 07:57

You make the distinction between your engaged pedagogy and feminist pedagogy, critical pedagogy. Now that in the field of education, we talk about pedagogy of privileges intersectional pedagogy, to refer to Kim Case, for example, and queer pedagogy, to refer to Kevin Kumashiro or Dennis Fernandez Nelson, how will you situate your engaged pedagogy?

bell hooks answer expressed through a computer voice 08:27

All efforts to end domination in all of its forms and to achieve social justice are more than welcome. Yet, I think that my engaged pedagogy that challenges white supremacist capitalist patriarchy is also more demanding than other teaching practices. It emphasizes wellbeing. That means that teachers must be actively involved, committed to a process of self actualization that promotes their own wellbeing if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students. In other words, I see the teacher as a kind of healer. For me, spiritual dimensions are central. As you know, the Vietnamese Buddhist Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh, along with the Brazilian Paulo Freire, is a reference for me.

Nassira Hedjerassi (computer voice) 09:25

You devoted a chapter of “Teaching to Transgress” to the language issues. I quote the title: “Teaching New World, Teaching New Words”. As you know, nowadays, huge efforts were made to end with the binaries reproduced and produced in the language. Now that you also mentioned much more heteronormativity in your speech, we did not find trace in your first essays that it was important for you to invite the black transgender actress Laverne Cox to a public discussion at the New School and to invite her to the inauguration of the bell hooks Institute. I'd like to hear from you on these topics. What do you think of these efforts to transform the language?

bell hooks answer expressed through a computer voice

Right. In my first writings, it was much more about sex, class, race. By the way, in my first essay, Ain’t I a Woman, the lesbian and gay issue was absent, and I was criticized. Now, for me, we have to challenge the heteronormativity, the model of heterosexuality that structures our society. And as we are socially shaped by the words, we have to struggle to transform the language as well. In my chapter, I insist on this point, for me, language is also a space of resistance, and a sign of radical possibilities.

Nassira Hedjerassi (computer voice) 11:06

[Something on] the Brazilian pedagogue Paulo Freire. In your life, reflection and practices, in your essay, “Teaching To Transgress,” and the others, hope and love are crucial, as for Freire. Could you tell us a little more?

bell hooks (computer voice)

“Educating is always a vocation rooted in hopefulness. As teachers, we believe that learning is possible, that nothing can keep an open mind from seeking after knowledge and finding a way to know.” (hooks 2003, xiv) “In my own life, school was the place where I could, through ideas, reinvent myself. To speak of love in relation to teaching is already to engage a dialogue that is to go.” (hooks 1994, 3) “Emotional connections tend to be suspect. Both during my student years, and throughout my career as a teacher, I have been criticized for having too much passion, for being too emotional.” (hooks 2003, 127) “In ‘All About Love: New Visions,’ I define love as a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust. When teachers work to affirm the emotional wellbeing of students, we are doing the work of love. For me, Eros has all its place in the classroom. Understanding that Eros is a force that enhances our overall effort to be self actualizing, that it can provide an epistemological grounding, informing how we know what we know, enables both professors and students to use such energy in a classroom setting in ways that invigorate discussion and excite the critical imagination.”(hooks 1994, 195)

Nassira Hedjerassi (computer voice) 12:57

...self as a cultural worker, as an artist, and you also wrote several major essays on culture as learning, race, gender, and cultural politics, black looks, race and representation of black culture, resisting representations. One line is central in your thinking: the importance of the images in the construction of our imagination in the education process.

bell hooks answer expressed through a computer voice

For me, the first pedagogical tool is popular culture. We have above all to work on images, we have to learn and teach thinking critically on the images displayed by the popular culture.

Nassira Hedjerassi (computer voice) 13:47

I would like you to comment on transgression, transformation and liberation — keywords of your essay “Teaching To Transgress,” and of all your work.

bell hooks (computer voice)

“Like for passionate interrogation, the academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom with all its limitations remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility, we have the opportunity to labour for freedom to demand of ourselves in our comrades an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality, even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom.” (hooks 1994, 207) “We have a lot to do to truly create a culture of resistance. Understanding that liberation is an ongoing process, we must pursue all opportunities to decolonize our minds in the minds of our students.” (hooks 1994, 182)

Nassira Hedjerassi (computer voice)

Despite several setbacks, there have been and will continue to be, constructive radical shifts in the way we teach and learn, as mine that stays in freedom to teach to transgress and transform and your project is a step in this way.

bell hooks video fragment 15:23

Cos’ by talking about resistance. I actually had this fantasy that we would all stand up and sing “We Shall Overcome”.

Nassira Hedjerassi 15:35

So let us stand up and sing

Speaker introducing Joan Baez (video) 15:40

The very beautiful Joan Baez

Joan Baez singing (video) 15:45

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome someday
Oh how deep in my heart
I know that I do believe
We shall overcome someday

Nassira Hedjerassi 16:35


A collective interview

Nassira Hedjerassi, TTTT participants, and guest audience

TTTT participant 2:26

Our question is, if there's a whole toolkit for teachers to understand what engaged pedagogy is, shouldn't there be a similar toolkit for students understanding the active and the passive role?

Nassira Hedjerassi 2:46

Am I supposed to answer? Yes! Okay! I will start with one point: I'm not comfortable with the word, “tool”. Even if it's the name of this project. Why? Because as it was, as bell hooks said in the dialogue with me (cf. Playful conversation), the Brazilian Paulo Freire was one of her mentors. He was a philosopher of education, and in his conception of education, the main part was about questioning, about praxis – praxis as the combination of combinations and articulations of thinking and practices. So what is very important both in Paulo Freire and in bell hooks is about praxis. And there is no tool, no recipe (recette in French), we have to work and to try, you know, praxis as a teacher, as an educator, is taking the whole life, both to transgress boundaries, and to work on liberation. So I'm used to this kind of question in my own professional university because my students, becoming teachers, they ask us how to do the best for our students, and whatever it is, there is no key, no tool. The key is the question, the process of questioning all the time, our practices. So if, for example, bell hooks accepted to write her trilogy on education, it was because she was asked again and again on any kind of meetings about her pedagogical actions. So she just wanted to share her experiences.

So we can share our experiences, and this sharing is a way to transform our own practice. I don't know if I answered your question, but that’s the first point.

The second point for bell hooks and Paulo Freire: we have a conception of education as involving a teaching and learning community. It means that you don't have a teacher superior to the students. The main goal of education is to create a space where both educators-teachers learn from students, and students learn, of course, from the teachers. So in the process of teaching, for example, all we expect both from a teacher’s point of view is that students listen and take part of the process of learning. And we expect also from the teachers to teach something specific and so. But in teaching you should stay with both learning and teaching, both dimensions. And if you think about what your question can presuppose, you don't understand bell hooks’ approach. I don't know if I answered your question?

Nassira Hedjerassi 8:20

So no tools, no kits, just practice and reflect on your practice all the time.

TTTT participant 8:31

Hello, my name is Inga. Our question is, “Does the system desire a pedagogy for emancipation? And if so, then, why?” I just added that little for clarification, if you have the questions on paper.

Nassira Hedjerassi 9:00

Yes. What do you mean by the system?

Nassira Hedjerassi 9:02

I guess the society in which we live. Education systems that maybe expect production or productivity. I hope that I'm doing this well for the group here. Okay?

Nassira Hedjerassi 9:30

Yes. I guess you have the answer by yourself? No? If we have to struggle a lot. Partly, I don't know if you can, there was a problem with presentation, it got almost in the beginning of each sentence, but it was cut. bell hooks used, coined an expression: “Capitalist White Imperialist Patriarchy” and I forgot, I guess I forgot some more. It's a big deal to struggle against the social system. Especially in our context of globalization. And I take a short passage from a conference celebrating 20 years of “Teaching To Transgress”: “And we can say that 20 years after it was worse and worse… and we can say, nowadays and 26 years later, ‘It's worse.’” So, we can have a double discourse. We can have a discourse with a friend and another discourse when in society. We have a school system based on the Enlightenment philosophy (cf. XVII century). So, on paper, we are supposed to train our students to be “emancipated”. But by the way, as all the works in sociology of education demonstrate it, and we can refer to Bourdieu, for example, we can observe how class, race or gender is impacting the social destiny of our students. So, we have an ideal written in the text, the reality. So, as teachers in reference to Paulo Freire and bell hooks, we try to work, to put the light on this issue of emancipation. I didn't when I presented myself very briefly, I didn't say that I was the co-founder (with others) of the bell hooks and Paulo Freire Institute in France. So we organized two years ago, an international conference that brought together scholars, artists, teachers, educators, and amateurs. The title of our colloquium was “Emancipatory Pedagogies Education” and our goal was to join our forces in France. And after the creation of this institute, we organized an informal training seminar outside and inside the academy, meaning that my university hosted our sessions. So inside Sorbonne University, we had workshops gathering our experiences: We had teachers in the primary level, in the secondary level and university teachers – we had people from all backgrounds and coming from not only Paris but from everywhere in France. It's a big issue for us and a big challenge for us, too, to fight for emancipation.

Now we noticed that in France, but not only in France, you can hear that the word “emancipation” comes back, showing the political in the academic discourse, but, with a wrong use, I would say. So it's a problem for us. And with the international network of the institute, we are organizing the next forum to talk on the issue of education in the context of globalization and migration, and the walls that are constructed all over the world. So it's a way for us to struggle, because for me, for us, it is a struggle. We have to be involved in a collective process and movement to try to end the globalization and neoliberalization of our education, in all Western societies. I don't know if I answered your question, but this is the key of all the reflections of bell hooks, especially.

If someone wants to make a comment, to react, you can, of course. I don't want to be the only one to speak. Because I’m just sharing with you my own reflections – in dialogue with other scholars or educators. I don't have the answers to all our questions, as you can imagine.

Audience 17:29

Hi. Maybe just for a small comment. I just came here, I didn't even know this was happening, and it makes me feel really good to hear you speaking and to hear your presentation. And I’m really moved, I cried already, I'm gonna cry more. So thank you for… like, like sharing all that. And I just wanted to say that it's answering a lot of questions I've always been asking myself, through all my educations, and I always felt very alone asking myself those questions. So yeah! I'm really moved to share that with all of you tonight. So thank you so much for that.

Nassira Hedjerassi 18:07

Thank you. Thank you.

TTTT participant 18:14

We're the group “Transgression”. Our question is about courage to transgress boundaries. That is something that bell hooks says in her texts, how to deal with structural boundaries in 2020, in an educational factory, which are these structures, timing, outcomes, greatness, etc. and there's no room for experimentation. Boundaries might not be transgressed, but may be made transparent. Is this enough? For example, not pretending [things are] always horizontal? Well, power structures are at play.

Nassira Hedjerassi 18:52

Thank you for your question. Well, I started my playful dialogue with bell hooks in reference to my own biography, saying that when I got a chance to read bell hooks, it was greatly inspiring. Of course, and I was just about to get a position with the academy. When I started, when I got my academic position in Strasbourg, I was partly trained at Sorbonne University, in an elitist setting. I left this university to go to University Paris 8 Vincennes -Saint-Denis, which was historically an experimental centre, disrupting the academic settings, the conventions and so on. So, I had my first experiences as a teacher at the university in Saint-Denis, where on paper, maybe not in real, but on paper, there was no hierarchy between teachers and students. We used to be on the floor. We didn't have an auditorium, we didn't have to evaluate our students. So I was trained in this university, and then I got my first academic official position in Strasbourg. And in Strasbourg, they used the German model. When I entered the auditorium for the first time, I had an audience of only girls, because I had students who wanted to become teachers. So I had only female students. They were silent students and from my experience in Saint-Denis, we were used to sharing the floor with our students, because there was no hierarchy.

Even when I tried to reschedule a class, the students were not answering me. So for me, it was really rude, hard, and I had to figure out how to transform this kind of audience, and it took me a lot of time. And it was very important to read bell hooks’ books on education, and to try to imagine this kind of setting. So for me, even in this kind of context, I tried to experiment.

On the other hand, if I didn't try to experiment, it means that I forgot my values, I forgot the aim of the political sense of being a teacher. So for me, yes, there is just the choice between trying – even in this context – to transform the situation or to just give up.

I'm not sure if I understand what you mean by “being transparent”. I don't think that being transparent – not sure that I understand what you meant by this – is enough. As teachers, we are always intentional. It's very demanding. I just want to repeat what bell hooks said, that it’s very demanding when we try to inscribe our practice in a liberatory pedagogical practice. But if we don't do this work, it means that we will leave, that we give up. Remember that in France, for bell hooks, it was exactly the same as for me, it was very difficult to break through the glass ceiling and get accepted by French academia.

I have always in mind that as a student, I have been longing for teachers who look like me. Because I just had white male, and white people around me. So, it's important that we do the political work we have to do. And because of the violence of this social system, we, even if it's not enough, we have to continue, to continue the work to survive in this violent system, to try to find spaces outside this environment. This is why we created the Institute bell hooks — Paulo Freire, because it's a way to get some air, some energy to face the social system, the structures, our universities.

Can you explain what you mean by your “being transparent”?

TTTT participant 27: 30

Yeah, it’s this boundary that might not be transgressed, but may be made transparent. Meaning that there's always a system or a box and that it is kind of idealistic to think that these can be transgressed. In our group, we were talking about how to make these things transparent. Like the example that you gave about having the students sitting on the floor, and don't have these any more. You as a teacher, and the students on the other side, kind of this, is a way to make these old structures transparent. So for us, it was perhaps not to necessarily transgress them, but make them visible as a structure.

Nassira Hedjerassi 28:10

Yeah. But in the process of making transparent, if I use the Paulo Freire’s vocabulary, the first process is “critical consciousness”. So I don't know if you have this in mind. So far, also bell hooks’ educational work, especially, but not only in the university, is about working on the consciousness of all of these social systems, and it's a step in the process to transgress those boundaries.

TTTT participant 29:02

That's why we asked “Is this enough?”

Nassira Hedjerassi 29:07

It's not enough because that's the reason I refer to Paulo Freire and I talk of praxis. I said earlier “I’m not comfortable with the word tool”, but here I will use it: cognitive and intellectual tools are to be learned by students. So the first step is to develop consciousness. And then we have to critically think about the social systems, and it's a way to transgress because of the two examples that took bell hooks based on her own experience as a teacher to the university. She said that because she started to teach in white universities, and she said that it was harder for her students to accept the work she was trying to do with them. Because usually, we ask girls, people of colour, black people, Korean racialized people to work on their oppression. But this work is more difficult to achieve with white students who benefit from this system, and who take advantage of this system. And bell hooks said that it was more violent for her when she taught only in this context, with this kind of students, because they didn't want to give up all their privileges.

TTTT participant 31:34

I have one or two questions, I'm sorry. Well, first, while preparing the interview with other people, I recall the memories of being a non-white child and being in front of white teachers, like you said, but also, I could recall one exception. And so I wanted to ask you if you have this kind of memory, or not at all? And also, can you tell us about, maybe if you would like to tell us, this kind of story of you, practising as a teacher after having studied bell hooks? And what do you feel is the result, let's say or, I mean, I'm sorry, if I'm not using the right words at all. Thank you.

Nassira Hedjerassi 32:28

Thank you, in my own story, when I was at Sorbonne University, I was a student in philosophy. And I was at Sorbonne University.

TTTT participant 32:55

Sorry, I didn't want to interrupt. Even before University, like from childhood to adulthood.

Nassira Hedjerassi 33:05

I was confronted to mixed people when I left Sorbonne university to go to Saint-Denis University. And before because of bell hooks, I was a smart student. I was among white people all the time. And I had this memory of students in philosophy, we were discussing animals – let’s say a dog. Each of them referred to something and when it came to me, it was the void, I couldn't say one word, because I was confronted with social differences, because all the references about dogs were philosophical, cultural, whatever. And if I have to talk about the dog, it will be about the animal itself. My grandmother was a farmer, for example. So it's just an example among all, that explains why bell hooks was a real inspiration for me. Can you be more explicit with your question?

TTTT participant 34:59

So does it have to do with eraser? Or does this word talk to you? Or?

Nassira Hedjerassi 35:05

Eraser, oui: invisibility, the absence of other cultural nuances. And it's especially important in France and in elitist universities.

To follow on your question, I don't think that in my struggles the point for me is to try to initiate a process, I don't have the potential to think that I'm going to radically transform all the things or whatever, but I try by my practices to confront the students and ask more questions. I know that I disturbed some of my students. And for example, last year, I got an evaluation. In French, we are not supposed to evaluate teachers, but one colleague without telling the other colleagues, she asked the students to evaluate us. Not the practice, but the people. And then she sent us by email what the students said about me. It was a group I just had twice. The first time, it was in an auditorium. And because I dislike this kind of setting, I always tried to engage more dialogue, dialogical practices, and questions. And for these students, it was a little disturbing because they just arrived at school, and it was only adults. So they came, they opened their computers, their smartphones, and they waited for the lesson to end. But I questioned them. And so that was the first time.

The second time, I just had a small group. And I changed the space and tried two narrative practices. And this, once again, was disturbing because it was more demanding.. I didn't, I said no word, I let them organize, and then they were supposed to talk all together. My evaluation was : ”She is the worst teacher”, ”She should be fired.” And I had this kind of evaluation. So it's just to say that with this group, it didn't work at all, but it was just the first time with them. Most of the time, because now I’m working with future teachers, we are staying in touch. After my students have their own classroom experiences and when they come back to exchange with me – in new workshops, we organized – most of them are coming back, because they are not expecting to be involved in pedagogical routines. And for me, if we have to talk about wizards, even if I don't like this word, it’s what I'm expecting in my struggle. But there is a process and the fact that these students are becoming teachers will continue the work, the political work. Because education is the key.

I will quote once again bell books and that's the reason why, even if I could follow philosophy as a subject, I’m choosing education because I think that if we had a work to do it starts in the educational process. And I trust my students, and I'm hopeful that, even if we are not enough teachers following Paulo Freire and bell hooks paths, that the change will happen.

TTTT participant 41:45

We will continue with the questions. We still have three to go, and then we get the commentaries at the end. What do you think? So the next question.

TTTT participant 42:12

Hi. This question is on behalf of the “Glitter” group. I've rearranged it a little bit. I hope it still fits the expectations. I can just read it.

The first question, removing tools: how can we remember how to be transparent with the power relations in the act of teaching?

And the second question: how can we deliver knowledge as well simultaneously giving a space to students to empower themselves?

Nassira Hedjerassi 43:00

so, once again, the question of tools

TTTT participant 43:05

Well, we originally were looking at: what tools could we use? But maybe if we could reframe that: as how can we use tools?

Nassira Hedjerassi 43:20

So, I want to be brief and refer once again to the concept of education and to the fact that if we really want to create learning communities, it means that the position of each of us will change. I was giving this example, some of my students reacting negatively to my practice because they were expecting me, as a teacher, to have the main, the central place to speak and to deliver knowledge. If we accept that while I am a teacher, I'm also a learner, and the learner is also a teacher. For me, it's a way, it's not the only way, but it's a way to avoid reproducing the power relation, and it's a way to empower ourselves and to empower our students.

One way used by bell hooks is to use narratives. Because if we reflect on the issue of invisibility, on erasure, blah blah blah – what is important especially, but not only, for oppressed people is to get access and to articulate his/her own voice and their narratives. It refers to the fact that for bell hooks and for Paulo Freire there is no hierarchy in knowledges and in our practices. We are invited to refer not only to the legitimized culture examples, but also to refer to our own experiences. But the reason bell hooks always refers to her own experiences: it's to make place for self experiences and various social experiences without hierarchization. And one point that is very important, usually when we read bell hooks, we used to think that, okay, in this kind of setting, some students who usually don't speak are going to speak. That's not really the aim, the goal of bell hooks. Each student has to find her/his own voice, and his/her own time to express or not. So it's a very important point. Because we can, it's to avoid the situation, it's to avoid a situation where you put such pressure on some students that you think it didn't work to empower them.

So the main aim is to empower themselves. So we can, and we have a role in the process, but it's a co-construction. It's the main thing to do. For bell hooks, when she had to discuss what goes on in the universities, she underlined the fact that universities are based on competition, and if we want to empower ourselves and our students, we should work on cooperative-collaborative settings, much more than the competitions once… and it's also a struggle. Because we have organizations of the academy, of the school, institutions, etc.

TTTT participant 49:40

I'm Emmanuelle on behalf of the Gold team. But I'm not sure whether it's relevant that we ask our question, because it's practically the same as the previous one. But you tell me. So it was: in what ways can a teacher support their students without creating a power imbalance and create an environment of mutual respect and empathy?

Nassira Hedjerassi 50:09

So once again, in the presentation I am in dialogue with bell hooks. I ask bell hooks about the importance of hope and love. And love is really her main contribution because for her, if we, teachers, or if an educator doesn't love his/her students, the process of education will fail. So it means that's also the reason this conception of education is really demanding. I like bell hooks because she's very honest. And she's not just talking about success and the practices that will succeed. She also questions her practice. And for example, she said that with some graduates, what she proposed worked. And with other graduates, it didn't work that way. For example, as a teacher I might get in your classroom, and for a reason that is difficult to analyse, I will find – on different levels – reasons to dislike you. And hooks said that we have to try to transcend this impression, but this impression is still here. Giving a place to each of our students means for hooks that she will also accept that her student has demands, for instance, to be invited to her private place. The tension here is between the aim of education and our own limits. And if we look at bell hooks' story, she left the university because it was too hard for her: she felt too alone in the university. And she found that her practices had more response in other settings. For example, she was giving lectures in bookshops, in churches, in restaurants, then in the universities. It means that trying to do this kind of work requires being healthy. And it's really the point, she mentioned because she was emphasizing during a panel or workshop the fact that a lot of comrades colleagues were sick, having cancer or whatever. So because of our social system, because of the violence of the social system, we absolutely need to find at least in our environment some friends, otherwise it's too hard.

And if I recall correctly, bell hooks did this work with her colleague, Sun Ra. Both struggled to do this work. And when this friend left for another university, bell was alone. And, partly, within these reasons why she left and went to New York, to have another audience, to have her own family, her sister, to have space over spaces where she can find energy and resources.

So I find it honest that she acknowledges the difficulties to try to do things. To develop this type of pedagogy, made of transgressions, aiming to transform, and to liberate.

TTTT participant 56:56

May I just add something?

Nassira Hedjerassi 56:57

Yes, please add something.

TTTT participant 57:00

Is this why she speaks about the vocation of being a teacher? We must be sacred? Because I found that a little radical, and I didn't understand why she said that.

Nassira Hedjerassi 57:24

She used to be radical. And to answer the previous question about: “We should at least be transparent” – I repeat it – for her, it's not enough to be just transparent. What she calls for and what we want: a revolution, revolutionary movements, not just some changes. And that's the reason it's so demanding. And why we had such a resistance from our students, also, from our oppressed students, I have to confess. With my white students – I know what they can think of me, but I was very disappointed by some of my students. Because they were socialized in this society, therefore they had these conceptions and misconceptions.

And when I got a position as a full professor in the university, I remember, when someone asked me “What are you working?” I used to say, “I work in the university.” And I understood, when I, Nassira Hedjerassi, work in the university, it meant to them that maybe I’m a cleaner. Or, at best, that I work in the administration, but they never thought about me as a full professor. And I also faced these misconceptions from some of my students. And it's partly answering what you asked me: do you have other teachers in your story, you are not used to have full professors from working class, and specially not from racial backgrounds. It was making me sad. I realized, and understood much better the narratives of bell hooks, and her own experiences in the university, as one of the few black professors appointed at the time... So you also have to work with this disappointment, and to struggle against and to work with this process of social critical consciousness in order to transform the situation. That's the reason I said that for me, it's important that I don't give up.

TTTT participant 1:01:33

So, now there's ten minutes left. So, there's one question from the last group? Or we can also pass the mic to the people. As you wish. Are there more questions?

Nassira Hedjerassi 1:01:58

No, not more questions. If you want to comment, you are welcome. But it was supposed to be a discussion between us.

Audience member 1:02:43

You talked about bell hooks, and she talks about the importance of solidarity representation, also sisterhood, and I was wondering whether you think that representation is within the same factor of practice, has solidarity? Do you feel like representation – and you talked a lot about representation – has – I want to see people who look like me giving classes, for instance – do you see those two things has representation and solidarity, has the same, has part of the same toolbox for instance?

Nassira Hedjerassi 1:03:11

It’s about solidarity and not sisterhood! Because bell hooks makes the point: we have to connect on a political level and not have a false sisterhood framed by hegemonic white feminism and blah blah blah… Because, we are socialized, and our socialization is shaped by images, social images. So we have to work on our social imagination. We have to decolonize imagination. So if I go back for example to the first essay by bell hooks, it was all about this black women in your – I’m getting tired and my English disappears – about the fact that the telling of the feminist story tends to ignore other voices. So for me, as a teacher and as an educator of teachers, yes, I think that as education is key, the work based on images is also key.

Audience member 1:05:36

And representation is part of that too? Because I feel like throwing the responsibility at people who are the most uncomfortable and the most oppressed and being isolated, like women of colour, people who are not normative in academia – really isolated – and it's very tough for them. But then how do you try to think about the importance and the focus on representation and solidarity? There must be possibilities to have space for confrontations, I guess, with those who actually are making the space unwelcoming.

Nassira Hedjerassi 1:06:21

Yes, but this has not to be done only by you, or me. bell hooks referred in “Teaching To Transgress”, to a colleague, a white colleague, who included Toni Morrison in her curricula saying, that this is not enough. If this teacher is not engaged in a critical process around emancipatory pedagogies … Take my example, I share such teaching with other colleagues, white male colleagues. They're working with their own references like Freinet, for example, or Montessori or whatever and I invited them to work with bell hooks. And, after that, they’re going back to their own conception of pedagogy, but also having a critical lecture on the pedagogues, they used to teach to their students – we don't need to be in conflict. My strategy is, because I am not tall, I am small, I am fine and thin, people used to think that I'm not dangerous. And with my strategy, I am not at first. When I enter a new institution, I try not to be directly in confrontation. And because I'm seen as a thin person, I managed to introduce my own issues. For example, when I started in Strasbourg after I had taught on topics such as racial discrimination, I invited radical intellectuals to speak inside the university. And the university paid their fee – I blame it on the university’s ignorance, in some way. And when we organized our conference in Paris, two years later, we invited, for example, radical scholars, followers of Paulo Freire, giving a political speech, and again it was paid with university monies. It was possible, because when I was appointed, the direction of the college just thought that I will be in the routines and I will not disturb the social, racial, gender order. I don't know if I will continue, but it worked like this.

Nassira Hedjerassi 1:11:33

But it's a big challenge! My last words: we have to continue this struggle along the years. When I started to teach in the university, I was alone and nobody knew bell hooks in education. Now we have a translation into French and we have a lot of discussions. And so for me, maybe it's not enough, but for me, it's a state and we have to continue with this one. So I am hopeful.

Nassira Hedjerassi 1:12:28

Thank you very much.

References used