I have attended conferences where I have felt a bit removed, an invited guest but not quite a committed participant. Often it has to do with the focus of the conference; a conference on institutional leadership does not speak to me as strongly as one on literacy curriculum. Sometimes, though, my degree of involvement has to do with the quality of information and depth of camaraderie in the room.

Last fall, as I sat at a round table in the Indigo Hotel conference room, I knew I was in the right place. The speakers were energetic and knowledgeable; the participants were interested and experienced. More than that, however, was the love that was palpable in the room. I am not referring to a syrupy Hallmark love, but to the revolutionary love that the Brazilian educator Paolo Freire tells us is essential for a critical, liberatory education.

To discuss love and education, especially in a higher education setting, is to welcome disdain. Even I instinctively lift my eyebrows. I honestly do not want to talk about love and education. Love is too connected to compassion, and I have compassion fatigue. I am hardened against the mandate that I should care more because I believe that too many of the people telling me to care more could care less about what educators and students experience in the classroom. And as an educator-activist-writer, I do not believe that compassion will resolve the systemic inequality that affects education in America. 

But Freirean love is not compassion. Freirean love is commitment to the students and to the work of critical pedagogy, and critical pedagogy requires dialogue, the constant back and forth of reflection and practice to engage in the construction of self and knowledge. Without this dialogue, we do not know ourselves and why we do what we do, and we do not know our students, who they are, what they know, what they fear, and what they desire. And if we do not know our students and their worlds, we cannot help them build knowledge and engage with the obstacles that an unjust socio-economic system places in their paths.

At the Ascender fall conference, I witnessed and experienced this commitment to dialogue, to discussing the world inside and outside the classroom. That is the revolutionary love I felt. Presenters and participants not only shared theory, statistics, and best practices but also frustrations, fears, and heartaches. One presenter, a political science professor, shared assignments that asked his students to engage personally with our country’s political system. The assignments were innovative and interesting, but more impressive to me was his joy – his joy for his subject matter and his joy for his students. Many participants discussed their frustration and sense of inadequacy, of trying to fight the good fight in a system that set us and our students up to fail. Both joy and pain are rooted in love. 

According to Freire, “If I do not love the world – if I do not love life – if I do not love people – I cannot enter into dialogue.” This love for the world, for life, for people was evident at the Ascender conference. It was evident in the dialogue that took place as we shared and gathered new knowledge and motivation so that we could go back and dialogue with our students and help them dialogue, gather new information and engage with the world and with themselves. With this love and dialogue, we establish the foundations of critical, liberatory education.

I became involved with the Ascender Program on my campus because I believed Ascender’s mission to provide academic, emotional-social, and community supports for Latino and underserved community college students aligned with my pedagogical beliefs. Attending the fall conference, which was my first, confirmed my belief.

Related Posts

Our Training Has Helped Professors Close the Opportunity Gap

Students taught by CTN-trained faculty earn more degrees and spend less on their education.