Notes from a grad student: Epiphanies, frustrations, revelations and why bell hooks rocks
I just got notice that Posterous will no longer exist after April 30th. I posted this on my page on February 4, 2011. It represents a lot of how I feel today about graduate school so I wanted to make sure I saved it:
It’s my second semester in grad school and a lot of the time I feel dizzy. These days, I’m a big bundle of mismatched emotions: frustration, excitement, rage and happiness. When I think about how inaccessible graduate school is, I feel awkward about the privilege I have to be in this environment. I’ve always felt that if you want to pursue more education, you should be allowed to. I think many grad students at one point question why they’re in school and this is something I’ve been trying to grapple with throughout the past school year. When I applied to my masters program I had the intention of working to learn how academia can be blended with grass roots activism. I’m still trying to figure this out and a lot of the time I feel stuck. Stuck in my readings, stuck working to connect abstract concepts to real-life issues, working on creating real connections with other students and working to create a sense of community. This is when I turn to bell hooks. Her words on education completely inspire me and invigorate me. Before starting my masters I was completely sure I wanted to be a journalist. But now, through my Teacher Assistant work I want to become an educator. I take my TA work very seriously. I feel like I have a huge responsibility to collaborate with students in my tutorials and to provide them with the best education I am capable of giving. I try to make the classroom a fun and exciting place; something bell hooks says is essential in the process of education. I really, really believe that education can be a practice of freedom. This week I felt like I’ve hit a wall in my progress; feeling bogged down by the sense of competition that creeps up in graduate seminars. Sometimes I feel like these seminars are not the best learning environment while other times they are spaces of creativity, unfortunately this doesn’t happen often. bell hooks’ words reminds me why I’m in graduate school in the first place. I’ve been given the opportunity to pursue more education, to learn more and I need to utilize this opportunity in a way so I can become the educator I want to be. So I can work to make academia more accessible, to make theories more accessible because I wish it was. The stuff I’m learning should not be reserved for a graduate level, it should be embedded in high schools and undergraduate levels. Learning how to become a critical thinker is not something that should be reserved only for graduate students; it’s something every single person should have access to. With this, I want to leave you with some excerpt from bell hooks’ book Teaching to Transgress Education as the Practice of Freedom:
“In graduate school the classroom became a place I hated, yet a place where I struggled to claim and maintain the right to be an independent thinker. The university and the classroom began to feel more like a prison, a place of punishment and confinement rather than a place of promise and possibility. I wrote my first book during those undergraduate years, even though it was not published until years later. I was writing; but more importantly, I was preparing to become a teacher. Accepting the teaching profession as my destiny, I was tormented by the classroom reality I had known both as an undergraduate and a graduate student. The vast majority of our professors lacked basic communication skills, they were not self-actualized, and they often used the classroom toe enact rituals of control that were about domination and the unjust exercise of power. In these settings I learned a lot about the kind of teacher I did not want to become. In graduate school I found that I was often bored in classes. The banking system of education (based on the assumption that memorizing information and regurgitating it represented gaining knowledge that could be deposited, stored and used at a later date) did not interest me. I wanted to become a critical thinker,” (hooks, 1994, p. 4-5). “The first paradigm that shaped my pedagogy was the idea that the classroom should be an exciting place, never boring…Excitement in higher education was viewed as potentially disruptive of the atmosphere of seriousness assumed to be essential to the learning process…Its is rare that any professor, no matter how eloquent a lecturer, can generate through his or her actions enough excitement to create an exciting classroom. Excitement is generated through collective effort. Seeing the classroom always as a communal place enhances the likelihood of collective effort in creating and sustaining a learning community,” (hooks, 1994, p. 7-8).
“…these essays are celebratory! To emphasize that the pleasure of teaching is an act of resistance countering the overwhelming boredom, uninterest, and apathy that so often characterize the way professors and students feel about teaching and learning, about the classroom experience,” (hooks, 1994, p. 10).
“To teach in varied communities not only our paradigms must shift but also the way we think, write, speak,” (hooks, 1994, p. 11).
“Indeed, the academic public that I encounter at my lectures always shows surprise when I speak intimately and deeply about the classroom. That public seemed particularly surprised when I said that I was working on a collection of essays about teaching. This surprise is a sad reminder of the way teaching is seen as a duller, less valuable aspect of the academic profession. This perspective on teaching is a common one. Yet it must be challenged if we are to meet the needs of our students, if we are to restore to education and the classroom excitement about ideas and the will to learn,” (hooks, 1994, p. 12).
“There is a serious crisis in education. Students often do not want to learn and teachers do not want to teach…The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy. For years it has been a place where education has been undermined by teachers and students alike who seek to use it as a platform for opportunistic concerns rather than as a place to learn…I celebrate teaching that enables transgressions — a movement against and beyond boundaries. It is the movement which makes education the practice of freedom,” (hooks, 1994, p. 12).
In the liner notes of Womb Raider’s cassette tape (a feminist hardcore band from Montreal) they say “read bell hooks” and I couldn’t agree more. This is the best piece of advice I have read in a long, long time.