A Letter from Dean Shabnam Koirala-Azad

by School of Education

Dear School of Education Community,

Our mission to advance justice through education builds on the legacies of many that came before us at the University of San Francisco’s School of Education, along with others in the field of education who have helped shape a critical understanding of the larger purpose of education. Last fall we commemorated the centenary of the birth of one such figure, Paulo Freire, who visited USF in 1989. Freire reminded us that “there’s no such thing as neutral education. Education either functions as an instrument to bring about conformity or freedom.” In further examining this connection between education and freedom, no one has offered a more compelling vision than bell hooks. Extending Freire’s ideas, she asserted that education is “the practice of freedom” and offered important extensions with deep analyses of gender, race, class, and spirituality in the quest for freedom. In her book Teaching to Transgress, hooks highlights her connection to Freire, ways in which she was inspired by him and ways in which she challenged his ideas but described their meeting as one that “had that quality of sweetness that lingers.”

bell hooks passed away on December 15, 2021 at the age of 69. As we mourn the loss of someone so significant to the mission of our school, it seems appropriate to highlight, celebrate, and strive to live the legacy she leaves behind. hooks gave us the language, the courage, and the audacity to articulate our realities and then to seek to transcend them despite real struggles. In all her works, she tried to teach us to love and to strive towards freedom with love. In her book All About Love, hooks says, “LOVE REDEEMS. Despite all the lovelessness that surrounds us, nothing has been able to block our longing for love, the intensity of our yearning. Like all great mysteries, we are all mysteriously called to love no matter the conditions of our lives, the degree of our depravity or despair. The persistence of this call gives us reason to hope.”

hooks challenged us to think of love as a radical act and a tool against oppression. She reminded us that to learn to love, and in fact to learn anything at all, we have to first “dare to acknowledge” how much we don’t know. This wise counsel—to assume a posture of learning—seems especially relevant in this particular moment when so much of what we thought we knew is in question, and learning together to formulate more humanizing ways to think and act seems so urgent. hooks urges us to engage with education as a “practice” of freedom and to embrace “praxis” as a mode of learning so that ideas can be enacted, embodied, realized, and refined. An approach that allows us the vulnerability and the humility to test ideas, to learn together, and to do so with love. In a 1992 interview with Tricycle Magazine, hooks said, “To commit to love is fundamentally to commit to a life beyond dualism. That is why love is so sacred in a culture of domination, because it simply begins to erode your dualism.”

As we embark on another semester of teaching and learning in SOE. As we continue in this global pandemic that started over two years ago. As we celebrate our triumphs and acknowledge the deep struggles. As we systematically strive towards a better future for everyone, who better to invoke than beloved bell hooks to remind us of why we persevere in the education and mental health professions? She says, “Learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labour for freedom…to transgress.”

bell hooks, thank you for inspiring us to love and to understand education as the practice of freedom. Rest in power.

Dear SOE community, thank you for a meaningful, fulfilling, and inspiring year even in these difficult times. To our graduates: congratulations and please stay connected. To our returning students: we look forward to carrying on the important work. To faculty and staff: thank you for all you do for our intellectual, spiritual, and collective care. Let’s remember, “It is love that allows us to survive whole.”

With deep gratitude,

Shabnam Koirala Azad
Dean, School of Education