Empowering Teaching: Challenging Hierarchies For Social Justice (Book Review)

(Reposted from: Forbes. April 3, 2024)

Amani, W. H. M., Huskić, H., Noto, C. M., & Darder, A. (Eds.). (2024). Disrupting hierarchy in education: Students and teachers collaborating for Social Change. Teachers College Press.

By Marybeth Gasman

Hakim Mohandas Amani Williams, Hana Huskić, and Christina M. Noto have written a new book titled Disrupting Hierarchy in Education: Students and Teachers Collaborating for Social Change. In the book, they work to dismantle education as we currently see it. Guided by Paulo Freire’s classic book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, they turn many of our traditional ways of thinking on their heads. How, you might ask?

First, they challenge banking education — which they describe as a model of education in which students are seen as “receptacles of knowledge” from a teacher. Students are expected and pushed to uncritically reproduce knowledge given to them by the teacher. They suggest, instead, problem posing education, which they describe as the inverse of banking education. It is a collaborative approach in which the teacher and students are in “critical dialogue” — they are learning from each other. They are “co-investigators” in a world that they are expected to transform for the better.

Second, they advocate that “there is no such thing as neutrality in education.” They believe that education is either being used to “foster conformity to the present system” or serving as a “practice of freedom.”

Third, much like researchers writing about “funds of knowledge” they believe that students’ experiences and knowledge are important, valid, and integral to their learning process. With this belief, they see the teacher as a student as well and the student as a teacher. They want to dismantle the hierarchies in the classroom environment.

Fourth, they think that critical feedback in the classroom between the student and teacher is essential to learning. Teachers must continually be learning and “correcting” their teaching based on student feedback and professional development. Related to this idea, they advocate for “praxis” — a form of critical feedback and action during which the teacher and student work together to make meaningful change in the world.

Fifth, they advocated for a consciousness about social, economic, and political conditions in the world, believing that students and teachers together should strive for liberation.

Lastly, they urge teachers to decenter “Western, colonialist, and imperialist hierarchies.” They want students to learn new, different, and alternative ways of knowing.

In Disrupting Hierarchy in Higher Education, the editors draw on Freire’s work but are also critical of it. Unlike the well known author and theorist, they weave race into their analysis rather than dealing with it indirectly or centering class related issues primarily as Freire did.

According to Henry Giroux of McMaster University, “At a time when critical and empowering forms of education are under siege by far-right extremists, it is crucial that educators make visible the nature of this threat and how to deal with it.” He added, “Disrupting Hierarchy in Education embraces pedagogy as a practice that disturbs, troubles, and unsettles hierarchical formations rooted in colonial forms of oppression.”

Although the book is quite theoretical in nature, the editors (and authors writing throughout), provide many examples that help the reader understand their ideas and recommendations. For instance, they showcase teachers working in South Africa with working-class students to write op-eds that amplify their voices. They also highlight a school in New York City that co-created a radio show about the legacy of the Black Panthers to help students understand the work and impact of the organization.

For teachers reading the book, there are discussion questions and activities at the end of each chapter, making it a book that can be actionable and put into “praxis” as the authors suggest. Overall the book emphasizes student-teacher dialogue and action, and promotes consciousness of social injustices and diverse perspectives.

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