Recently young activists around the world have come forward in protest of injustices and inequities enacted by our social systems, especially neoliberal and corporatocratic systems that put profit before people. Particularly powerful is the appeal to those who shape political policies, and quite literally, make or break the future of people, places and planet.
Emma González, a 19-year-old survivor of the 2018 Parkland school shooting, advocates for gun control, speaking out against the corrupt entanglement of the United States government and the National Rifle Association. At 6 years old, the now 18-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Indigenous climate activist and current youth director of Earth Guardians, began to bring attention to climate change issues. Greta Thunberg, 16-year-old climate activist, most recently left school to lead protests against government leadership and policies that fail to fight climate change. She was criticized by those who said that she and other young activists should “be in school.” She countered on Twitter saying that their statement “belongs in a museum.” She makes the salient point that if there is no future, then “school” as it is currently taught, seems irrelevant and obsolete. This brings to light an increasingly big question about what is relevant in the Anthropocene, when the future is ambiguous, at best, as governments fail to address ecological emergency through ecological policy. What should we be thinking? doing? Most importantly to me, as a parent and educator, what should we be teaching children?
Feminist scholar and cultural critic bell hooks provides a vital perspective on what proves to be most relevant when powerful governing bodies can make or break futures on this planet. In her book Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (1994), hooks made the case that though many people espouse multicultural values, they participate in the institutions and practices that “help create an unfree world” (27). Quoting Martin Luther King’s Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (1967) hooks warns of the “floundering” that comes of a materialistic culture that values profits over people, and continues to maintain “systems of domination” (28).
Though hooks wrote Teaching to Transgress over two decades ago, we can see that sadly, not enough has changed; those systems are not only still in place but are causing the destruction of people and planet. We can see the crescendo of civilizational floundering wrought by these toxic systems of thought, policy, and practice. Her powerful message that those systems might be changed through loving, transgressive, and transformative pedagogy seems vital in today’s sociocultural and ecological emergencies, toxically entangled through the neoliberal program. Where traditional pedagogy keeps those systems in place, hooks offers a vision of pedagogy as “liberatory” education, a chrysalis for a truly equitable and emancipatory society.
Her later book Teaching community: A pedagogy of hope (2007) suggested that love could be the “foundation on which every learning community can be created” (137). In her newest book All About love: New Visions (2018), hooks suggests that love has always been and remains an essential ethical ground for any community or society, for social change and societal transformation. Great social justice movements, she points out, have emphasized the “love ethic” (xix). As Anthropocene upheavals grow, the call to social justice and ecojustice becomes urgent, as marginalized people and their places will suffer most from the effects of climate change. Beyond that, all children born into the Anthropocene are at great risk of losing their futures.
To address our “civilizational floundering” that perpetuates what hooks calls “systems of domination,” the idea that love and transgression go hand in hand seems vitally relevant to Anthropocene pedagogy and society as a whole. Transgression against societal systems that perpetuate harm and violence to people and planet is ultimately, now more than ever, an act of love.
An important note: bell hooks does not capitalize her name because she wants to emphasize her works rather than her identity, and because language (and grammar) that has been constructed by dominant power structures can serve to maintain violent power dynamics; rejecting grammar prescriptivism subverts the power dynamic. In my book, Future Sacred: The Connected Creativity of Nature, the name bell hooks was mistakenly capitalized during the editorial process. I apologize profusely for this error, and unequivocally state that I respect her name and its significant meaning. The reprint has been ordered, digital media corrected, and all previous and future references to bell hooks have and will appear in lower case letters.