A Public Dialogue Between bell hooks and Cornel West
"Ecstasy: Teaching and Learning Without Limits"

Love in the Time of Title IX: "Eros, Eroticism, and the Pedagogical Process"

In prior posts, I discussed the stagecraft of bell hooks’ Engaged Pedagogy. The way a professor leaves the podium. Moves around the classroom. Engages students on a physical as well as an intellectual level. This takes the professor off her throne. It shows she’s not a dictator intent on domination but a fellow voyager who shares the learning process. Eros, Eroticism, and the Pedagogical Process takes this enhanced engagement one step further. It took time to come to terms with her argument. But I did.
As she’s written before, a professor is a mind with ideas as well as a body with presence, not to mention functions. She used to wonder, for instance, what teachers did when they had to go to the bathroom in the middle of class. This consideration of the professor’s body extends to other things, as well. To being erotically drawn to students, for instance. And vice versa. This is where things get complicated. hooks wrote Teaching to Transgress in 1994. Long before Tarana Burke began the Me Too Movement. On a regular basis we take online sexual misconduct classes. With that in mind, How a class would respond if, without any context, I asked:
Why do you feel that the regard I extend to a particular student cannot also extend to each of you? Why do you think there is not enough love or care to go around?
And how would I explain myself to campus administration?
That’s why definitions are key here. hooks provides a solution the mind/body split that plagues pedagogy. We should be whole and wholehearted in and out of the classroom. This corresponds to one of Critical Pedagogy’s aims. Professors and students can transform their consciousness to better know themselves. Fair enough.
There are problems, though, with the use of words like eros and eroticism. They could send a mixed message to young, impressionable and vulnerable students. hooks cites Diane Middlebrook who writes that we should not deny eros and the erotic. She herself writes that we should use erotic energy to enhance classroom discussion. She adds, with good reason: Teachers who love students and are loved by them are still suspect in the academy.
Without context, this word choice could lead to a slippery slope. Words like love, passion, eros, and eroticism are suspect in the academy. Students might construe them as less innocent than otherwise intended. She does provide clarification. She defines love as feeling to care and will to nurture. She suggests that eros motivates one to think differently about gender. That passion is rooted in a love of ideas.
In a prior post, I wrote how hooks describes Engaged Pedagogy as a coming to voice. She uses Eros and Eroticism as the means by which students are touched by knowledge. Coming to voice by being touched by knowledge. That’s an eloquent way to describe Engaged Critical Pedagogy.
This reevaluation of one’s self in relation to one’s students is a healthy process. To me, the benefits of self-actualization now are obvious, once I’ve worked through them. She writes how the philosophy of education for critical consciousness empowers her. At the same time, she admits that she still had problems putting theory into practice. So do/did I. Revolutionary though her ideas might be, they are nothing more than common sense. Problem is, common sense tends to be at a premium…
hooks concludes the chapter by writing: To restore passion to the classroom or to excite it in classrooms where it has never been, professors must find again the place of eros within ourselves and together allow the mind and body to feel and know desire. Passion, eros, and desire? Are these inflammatory words? Not if we use them in a different context. Use them as a means by which to live with authenticity and spontaneity in relation to the world. To teach and be willing to be taught means to give, to share, and to nurture with enthusiasm and with love.


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