Education as the Practice of Freedom

Tamia Arendse-Attoubou
5 min readOct 28, 2020

A journal summarizing and critically engaging the bell hooks reading.

In the beginning, bell hooks explain how she had a dream and she believed that it was a response to the reality that she would be granted tenure. However, when she received the tenure, she felt guilty. One would believe that maybe she felt that she didn’t deserve it. However, that was not the case, she was actually shaped into believing that she would become a teacher but in fact, she wanted to become a writer. This just shows how we should continuously question our reality, question the things that we have been shaped to believe.

bell began to think back to apartheid how black girls already had their careers planned out for them. They could get married, work as a helper or become a school teacher. Also, as a woman, you were not really desired if you showed any sign of intellect. Therefore, she believes that from grade school on she was destined to become a teacher. One can see that her reality has constantly been shaped for her. From the time of being born, she was born a female and black. Double oppression, her life was already planned for her. Her community shaped her beliefs too, being in an all-black grade school teaching was seen as political, as it was rooted in antiracist struggle. It is how she was able to experience learning as a revolution. She learned early that learning “was a counter-hegemonic act, a fundamental way to resist every strategy of white racist colonization” (hooks, 1994). It was a way of uplifting the black race.

In order for teachers to fulfil that mission, they had to know their students. I think is important in general we need to see one's environment, we need to understand their reality, in order to help them question things in their life, help unlearn and learn certain mannerism or ways of thinking. bell hooks explain how her ability to learn was contextualised within the framework of generational family experience. I cannot help not thinking about colonizers and their family, how that mentality is passed down from generation to generation and is dangerous to society.

When schools changed, did they want to racially integrate schools because they knew that it was a way of enforcing their own knowledge specifically onto black students? A way of maintaining control, because the white teachers would reinforce racist stereotypes. Which is something that still happens in schools today as we see on news headlines such as hair politics. Schools were focused on knowledge only. One could not be eager to learn because it would be seen as a threat to white authority. “For black children, education was no longer about the practice of freedom” (hooks, 1994). This means we need to re-evaluate the education system, for example, I remember when I was in high school one of my subjects was history and I just did not understand as to why we are learning about European history when many of my classmates did not even know about the 1994 Rwandan genocide that killed over a million people. Due to the fact that I questioned this curriculum, I realised the lack in knowledge about our own country and this is because we are being forced into learning about Europe and not our own continent, Africa.

Therefore, I have to agree to hooks realization that education is there to reinforce domination.

Education does have the capacity to enhance our freedom. The more we gain knowledge and understand different perspectives, we will be able to question things and change our own beliefs and our reality with the resources given to us. However, then again what about those that do not have access to resources, will they not achieve freedom. What if being free is not allowing external factors to influence one's thoughts, what if not having resources actually makes you free because you do not become a slave to your own thoughts.

In high school, it was hard to become an independent thinker even though I was at an IEB school. Whereas, in university, you’re all of a sudden supposed to change that mindset and become an independent thinker. Classrooms are filled with a huge amount of anxiety because we feel as though we will be judged for thinking in a certain way, we start to doubt our own thoughts. Therefore, I can understand how it begins to feel like a prison for some.

I think fear that hooks had was the fact that she was going to be working in an environment where she hated, the classroom. So, she wanted to redefine how a teacher was seen in the classroom, she knew what she did not want to become.

I have noticed in lecturer rooms how willingly and without any hesitance white males are open to questioning and answering. Whereas not many of the marginal groups are, they often feel the need to conform. You often just take what the lecturer has to say as factual and have no need to question it, so their knowledge is what shapes your beliefs.

It should not only be feminist classrooms that allow students to raise critical questions about the pedagogical process. They should be allowed in all classrooms; they should be encouraged. It allows us to question the practice of freedom.

My thoughts on the classroom being an exciting place have not changed. I do agree with hooks. I found myself loving tutorials because it gave me the freedom to speak my mind and also see different perspectives that I never thought about. It helped me gain a better understanding of other people’s backgrounds too. I personally feel as though I engage better when things are exciting, I am able to critically evaluate. It also helps in remembering concepts and ideas because we are having an interesting debate or discussion about it. It also helps that everyone’s voices are heard and that everyone influences the classroom dynamic.

It is true in saying that “excitement is generated through collective effort” (hooks, 1994) I see that in tutorial groups. If the tutor is full of excitement and the students are not, it will be very awkward. Whereas, if one or two students reciprocated that energy, the other students will follow suit. As seen with hooks, she arrived wired and full of energy and a few students mirrored her energy.

Yes, we have to question our educational system, yet we have to understand that transgressing boundaries is frightening to some. Think about how university is frightening to high school students, besides high school teachers instilling in that fear, a lot of people do not want to question things and are content with how things are. I for one love questioning these pedagogical practices as I said I started questioning the curricula in high school that reinforce a system of domination. Therefore, I enable like hooks, teaching to transgress.


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



Tamia Arendse-Attoubou

Student. Multilingual. Critical thinker.