The Struggle Continues: Thoughts on Transformative Education
By: Xicana Ph.D.
I became a high school Latinx Studies teacher this year and in doing so it made me think back to all the years I dedicated in school to learning about education combined with what I have learned from the classroom that is the world. I was reminded of a class I took called Race, Democracy and Transformative Education during graduate school and how the Professor would often ask, what is humanly at stake? One could apply this question to all aspects of life: school, work, family and so many other spaces. I recall this time (as much of graduate school) as challenging as I attempted to navigate multiple spaces and was trying to learn to love education again, (which is different from school) but I saw how even in these challenging spaces one can transform.
I found very few academic homes in my graduate institution, but this class became one of them. I saw this time as a place to ask questions amongst friends, peers and a Professor. A place to question, to heal my own wounds, and to write away the anger, frustrations, pain, among laughter, tears, and smiles. I did this questioning beneath cherry blossom trees outside Miller Hall, at the College of Education and in between from there to my house in Beacon Hill, South Seattle. I continued to question while in the coffee shop, in courtrooms, standing up to police harassment and while finding funding for school. I would often sit in class and struggle to stay focused as I felt overwhelmed with the world outside of school. Was I not supposed to let these things get to me? How can I leave these parts of who I am outside the ivory tower? Or is it that I never felt free to share the things I am going through. Was I just supposed to forget the things that make me incredibly human?
I remember how sometimes the preoccupation of these things would prevent me from wanting to speak, from wanting to lend my voice and heart, but I learned that in these crucial moments silence means death. Education and learning can be something that is incredibly transformative where one discovers their passion again and purpose. I did much of this inner work in solitude, but I have realized that even in solitude we are never truly alone and this is where the greatest transformations can occur.
Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, investigates his own solitude in his book Pedagogy of the Heart. Freire states he sees his solitude as comfort as he sits under the shade of a mango tree, he asks himself questions. “What I should do is totally let myself be taken by the feelings of being under it, to live it, and to make this experience more and more intense to the extent that I prove its existence” (p. 29). To Freire education is a process of becoming more fully human and to question, he continues, “It is obvious the mistake inherent in an education that forms only in giving answers does not reside in the answer itself, but in the rupture between the answer and the question” (p. 31). Education for transformation then becomes the place where we answer the question of what is humanly at stake, and then continue to answer it again and again.
The Struggle is Like a Circle, it Never Ends (The Zapatistas)
I remember this quote (I roughly translated above) as I studied/lived in Zapatistas communities in my undergrad years and how it has been a common thread in my desire to be an educator. I think of struggle or la lucha as the Zapatistas also say questioning while walking. I don’t have all the answers and often as I continue to walk through life, degrees and all, I continue to question my role as an educator in this society especially in this current climate. I think of the question, that Professor Kerr would ask, What is Humanly at Stake?
Now as I move forward many years later as a High School educator, I find myself asking myself these questions more and more as I deal with the day-to-day reality of not just my own life, but my students lives/lived experiences as well. I realize that none of the uncertainity or questioning I do of myself everyday is really new, just a continuance of the lessons I always carried with me. We must keep questioning as we walk this road and as Paulo Freire says to take the time, the solitude and sit peacefully under the mango tree. “In that afternoon, it was as if I had discovered that the longing I was feeling was for my homeland, had begun to be prepared by the lived relationship I had with my backyard…In certain moments, our love for our backyard is extended to other places and, it ends up fixing itself in a large place where we make our home, we plant our seed, our city” (p. 39). I realize that even on the darkest days, I still have hope for education and its’ possibilities even while we who stand for social justice have much to fight against we also have so much more to fight for. Freire writes about the idea of a homeland, I pose that perhaps it doesn’t have to be just one particular geographic or physical location but perhaps can be many, “My homeland is also pain, hunger, misery. It is also the hope of millions who remain hungry for social justice” (p. 40).
Gloria Anzaldua also writes about home and how this bridge where we transform is a place where we also come to know ourselves, it becomes our home through a process she calls “conocimiento”. This process is a form of spiritual seeking, creative acts and spiritual activism (p. 542). In this process there must be a rupture, a shift of realities in order to carry out our vision (p. 568). She ends by offering a prayer for transformation.
“We are ready for change
Let us link hands and hearts
together find a path through the dark woods
step through the doorways between world
leaving huellas for others to follow,
build bridges, cross them with grace, and claim these puentes as our
si se puede, que asi sea, so be it, estamos listas, vamonos.
Now let us shift” (p.576)
Now let us shift, Gloria says. I felt these words today as much as I did from the places where she once walked. In Santa Cruz where I attended school as a transfer student, there is a tree where I would sit to take in the sun and ocean. The same tree were Gloria would write. I would feel her spirit and that of those who came before, especially now, as we enter a month soon that is the 50th anniversary of the Chicano Student Walkouts of 1968. I realize we have to continue walking and we have to continue questioning. We have to continue to be brave, to write, to transform because 50 years later the struggle for Chicanx/Latinx educational equity and social justice for our communities continues. We have no other choice. For those of us who believe in social justice, it is a responsibility.