Embracing a Pedagogy of Love and Grief
Author(s): Sophia Greco
Sophia Greco is a Chilean Californian writer, unschooler, language nerd, and fruit forager. Sophia’s most recently completed project was their senior capstone for Soka University of America, “Care, Community, and Political Writing: Mapping a Pedagogical Blueprint for Liberatory Education.” Sophia is currently exploring theories and practices of liberatory pedagogy through the fields of rhetoric and composition, archival studies, decolonial studies, Black and indigenous feminist theory, and experimental writing. They enjoy life most when collaborating with writers, abolitionists, radical educators, artists, and learners of all ages.Tags: bell hooks, in memoriam
I turn to her when I find myself lost in the process. I turn to her as a fourth-year college student, disillusioned with how rarely I encounter engaged pedagogy at my liberal arts college.
She writes in grounded ways. These grounded ways of writing are vulnerable. She writes and cracks open the mysteries that occlude exactly what it is that makes engaged pedagogy painful, joyful, contradictory. This openness makes space for all that I bring when my heartache leads me back to her: my frustration, optimism, and grief.
bell hooks writes: “In these [classroom] settings, I learned a lot about the kind of teacher I did not want to become” (Teaching to Transgress 13). To me, this sentiment resonates painfully across generations, decades, and racial identities, both as a current student and as an aspiring teacher. Although she writes from a positionality that is significant and different from my own, I find myself feeling the same stress, apathy, and boredom she describes having felt in the classroom over thirty years ago. When she says, “I had never wanted to surrender the conviction that one could teach without reinforcing existing systems of domination,” it aches because when I inevitably return to her, it is with the wounded hope that I might catch in her writing a mirror glimpse of my own exposed nerve (Teaching to Transgress 18). What does it mean when such a cavernous emptiness in one’s own educational experience drives us to become educators ourselves? What lies within the absence(s) in our lives that moves us to action? What does it mean to be a teacher within spaces that reproduce existing relationships of power and oppression?
I am at odds with myself trying to find direction within institutions that perpetuate violence both figurative and literal. I wonder if this sentiment is part of what we call grief; a grief for the liberatory education we seldom (if ever) have; a grief that expands tenfold with the news of her passing. When I am hit with this loss I wonder: do we even know how to process absence and loss? We live our entire lives in various stages and forms of grief, yet we treat it like a one-time event. Grief is expected to remain within a finite sphere of our lives, incompatible with the sudden way that a loss can hit you after weeks, months, years. Despite these unspoken rules, grief is uncontained, uncontainable. In spite of these unspoken rules, grief is incomprehensive, incomprehensible.
What part does grief play in all this pedagogical business, and why is care for life and death cycles important to radical practices of teaching? This grief might be transformative if we honor it. This grief might be central to what she describes as a “pedagogy which emphasizes wholeness,” a pedagogy with space for all that we think, feel, and experience (hooks, Teaching to Transgress 14). Her teachings describe a pedagogy where we can embrace grief, embrace ourselves, and embrace each other wholly.
hooks describes teaching as an act of love; she also says, “To be loving is to be open to grief” (All About Love, 200). I turn to her when I am lost in the process—especially now, in the process of grieving her loss.
hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress. Routledge, 1994.
—. All About Love: New Visions. HarperCollins, 2000.