53rd NCHC Annual Conference | November 7-11, 2018 | Boston, MA

NCHC18 - "Learning to Transgress"

In her 1994 landmark essay collection Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, bell hooks explores the manner in which a critical consciousness can lead to liberatory practices in education. As honors faculty, students, and staff, we can learn much from hooks’s powerful call to resist the “unjust exercise of power” in the classroom, develop learning environments that feature pleasure at their center, overcome the fear of transgressing boundaries, interrogate the privileged positions from which we speak, cultivate true dialogue as a way of crossing boundaries, and take risks by “experimenting with progressive pedagogical practices.” Ultimately, hooks offers a hopeful note about the transformative power of education by identifying the classroom as “the most radical space of possibility in the academy.” Her work poses a key question for our community: are we living up to the promise of that possibility in our theory and practices in honors?

Some topics that lend themselves to these approaches—and which would be rich subjects for exploration in conference sessions—include:

  • Emphasizing process over product in honors learning;
  • Engaging issues of race, class, and gender in the honors classroom;
  • Decentering the honors classroom to minimize power differences and create a “democratic setting”;
  • Overcoming teachers’ “fear of letting go,” to allow true risk-taking and vulnerability in the classroom;
  • Examining the role bias plays in the honors learning process;
  • Focusing on the place of creativity in the learning process;
  • Cultivating systems of support for honors students from different backgrounds;
  • Interrogating the role grades play in honors pedagogy;
  • Positioning professional staff members as central players in the honors learning experience;
  • Exploring the role personal testimony and experience play in honors learning;
  • Creating experiential-learning strategies that transgress traditional educational practices
Home to one of the most transgressive political acts in our nation’s history—the throwing of tea into the harbor—Boston and its heritage remind us that transgression also comes freighted with danger and difficult questions. For example,
  • What are the various restrictions and constraints that exist around progressive teaching and learning?
  • How do certain campus climates impede risk-taking, teaching of difficult texts, and free speech?
  • Given recent debates around fake news and spurious evidence, how can we best help students learn how to make sound arguments?

The honors community has a long tradition of experimenting with student-centered learning, one that “respects and cares for the souls of our students,” in hooks’s words. This resistance to “a rote, assembly-line approach to learning” often calls into question academic convention, one of the key goals of hooks’s work. What will the landscape for these efforts look like in the future?