... "where my and our voices, can stand clear of the background noise and voice our concerns as part of a larger song"
A Public Dialogue Between bell hooks and Cornel West

Engaged Pedagogy as a Polyphonic Chorus: "Confronting Class in the Classroom"

I liked this chapter because it gave me words to express bell hooks’ pedagogical endgame. She embraces the democratic ideal of education for everyone. But it’s the solution - Coming to voice - that resonates with me. It encompasses everything she proposes, in this chapter and throughout the book.

She notes that class, not race or culture, determines values, standpoints, and interests. In particular, middle class norms shape and reinforce the pedagogical process. The effects are grim. Underprivileged students surrender identity benchmarks that make them them. One benchmark is their vernacular language. Why? They don't want to be called interlopers. She calls this an either/or predicament. Deny class origins or fail, in all aspects of the word. Karl Anderson calls this the most oppressive aspect of middle-class life. That is a profound and chilling statement.

Professors reinforce the schism. They may challenge racial bias and domination ideologies with their material. But they fail to reinforce these outcomes in their classrooms’ dynamics. She suggests a reason for professors’ reluctance. They fear that disruption of their traditional way of doing things implies a loss of control. As this book has shown, the problem, on many levels, is with preservation of and loss of control.

At a more pervasive level, she discusses the structure of academic settings. How they perpetuate class hierarchy. With vigor and clarity, she diagnoses this bleak situation. She also prescribes thoughtful solutions. She advocates for safe, non-judgmental critical thinking spaces. Here, everyone’s voice can be heard. Issues of class can be addressed. To address means to listen. Hearing what other people have to say creates a communal learning environment. This environment provides a way to cross borders. Crossing borders encourages students to become active agents in the pedagogical process. It enables them to move beyond the zero-sum game of Capitalism. The destination? A physical and mental space where they can embrace wholeness.

Create a safe space. Listen without judgement. Acknowledge all backgrounds irrespective of class, race, and culture. Embrace wholeness. Cultivate awareness. Encourage and celebrate voyages through and beyond background noise. Jane Ellen Wilson notes how we can voice our concerns as part of a larger song. hooks’ adds that this is a place where we can come to voice. Engaged pedagogy as a polyphonic chorus. Nice.


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