Sorting Things Out: Sort Of
Engaged Pedagogy? Count Me In!

From Pedagogy to Dramaturgy: bell hooks’ World is a Stage

bell hooks says that there’s a crisis in education. The crisis? Students don’t want to learn; teachers don’t want to teach. Without any specifics, any citations, that statement is too general. We’d spend too much defining the crisis before we got around to working through her solution. For the moment, I will assume there is a crisis and then pose the question, Can we resolve this crisis? Given how the book proposes solutions to the crisis, I will respond, Yes. That makes the book manageable, for me.
She claims that the current state of education is boring. She calls colonial pedagogy white and racist. How it's based on a banking system of deposits and withdrawals of information. It falls short because it doesn’t teach students how to live outside the classroom. Why is that? For starts, she writes that it’s because teachers aren’t self-actualized. Her goal: Disrupt the process. Push against and go beyond status quo boundaries. Re-describe education as freedom. Encourage a collective effort of professors and students. Encourage excitement. Recognition of the presence of all students. And spontaneity (no fixed agenda). This would create a place of promise and possibility. Here spontaneity could coexist with academic engagement.
After one read of the book, I’m still not sure if her crisis is my crisis. That’s what we’re addressing here, how her book addresses our individual classes. I haven’t yet sorted through, much less evaluated, her arguments. I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Why? Because she wrote that Teaching is a performative act. That We need to create a space for experience. Because I understand her argument in theatrical terms.
If we can describe dramaturgy as the relationship between front- and backstage personas (professors & students), we can understand the crisis in education with theatrical terms.
  • A bad script (sacred, unalterable, and anachronistic pedagogy).
  • A segregated, ill-designed designed stage (the physical layout of a classroom).
  • A proscenium stage versus a thrust stage; or a theatre in the round; or a black box theatre.
  • An knowledgeable though errant director (un-self-realized professors).
  • An eager though unengaged - and paying - audience (bored students).


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