Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive book summary of the book Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by bell hooks. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski. Supporting Members get full access and a downloadable/printable version of the summary.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

A collection of essays on teaching and education by the one and only bell hooks. An author devoted her life towards encouraging students to open their minds and hearts so they can see past the limiting boundaries set by society. Teaching to Transgress offers refreshing concepts that reveal what really happens in the classroom – how students are taught obedience, not encouraged to think critically. And most importantly, what can be done by teachers so youngsters, regardless of race and gender, can find their path and “transgress”.

The Core Idea:

Education should be enabling. It should provide us with the means to fulfill our intellectual destiny. To find freedom. To uplift ourselves and others. Not reinforce racist stereotypes. The work of bell hooks is heavily influenced by the thinker Paulo Freire. The current volume uses Freire’s work to battle the so-called banking model of education. A concept stating that students are viewed as empty containers into which educators must put knowledge. Hooks uses critical pedagogy to free students from the created school prison, so they can view the other side of knowledge. Namely, that learning could be liberatory.

Reason To Read:

For parents, the book offers an insightful view of what happens in the classroom – in case they have forgotten. For teachers, it offers a new teaching framework where students are not seen as passive objects absorbing information. Rather, individuals with a heart and a soul who should be inspired to think critically. For students, the book provides a vision of what education really is – a tool that allows us to think critically and enhance our capacity to be free.


  • Professors treat students as passive consumers, careless of their thoughts on the subject.
  • Encouraging critical thinking happens by creating a safe environment where everyone feels welcome to share.
  • Education should be approached not as an obligation, but as a tool to reach freedom.

5 Key Lessons from Teaching to Transgress:

Lesson #1: Teaching Should Encourage

Teachers are not stage performers. You won’t see a crowd of screaming fans following their every move and begging for autographs. Yet, they are more important than the most famous rock bands in the world.

The book opens with a personal story of the life of bell hooks.

The author shares how her relationship with the classroom decayed. Transformed from exciting to, in her own words, “feel more like a prison.”

The reason for this drastic change of heart was her realization that schools, and teachers for that matter, treat students as objects.

They don’t try to build relationships with their students. They primarily exist to “throw” information at them. Careless of the opinion of students and what they think about the discussed subject.

Quite normally, this creates a place of firm boundaries. The teacher is this authority figure whose views cannot be questioned and the receiving party is simply there to consume, not to think.

Despite this crippling realization, bell hooks graduated and kept her beliefs on how education should approach.

As she writes:

“I graduated from school still believing that education was enabling, that it enhanced our capacity to be free.” bell hooks

Her passion for the subject led her to extraordinary realization.

She adopted the theory of critical pedagogy. A view where the classroom is not this dull place where only one person speaks. But an exciting place where students are obligated to participate in the conversation, to share their views and comment. Not remain silent.

While other professors thought that creating “excitement” in the class will disturb the subject matter. Bell hooks believed otherwise. That by creating a safe environment where everyone feels welcome to share enables students to learn and leads to intellectual and spiritual growth.

The presence of everyone in the classroom should be valued. And when people are encouraged to speak. They find pleasure in learning. Students become active participants. Not passive consumers.

“To begin, the professor must genuinely value every one’s presence. There must be an ongoing recognition that everyone influences the classroom dynamic, that everyone contributes. These contributions are resources. Used constructively they enhance the capacity of any class to create an open learning community.” bell hooks

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