Transforming Education with a Praxis of Love
Mia Glionna, Division 3, College sophomore #ws18e-s3d3

The current state of the United States education system is a result of inherently flawed monetary influences. Schools, being funded by property taxes paid by surrounding residents, are deliberately put at an unequal balance with each other in terms of funding and subsequent programming, faculty, and services. If I could change anything about the education system, I would change the way the wealth is distributed when funding these schools, ensuring equity among all public schools in terms of access to resources and higher education. In my theory, bringing disadvantaged schools to par with their better-funded counterparts is deeply intertwined with a praxis of authentic love—for without true regard for the students they educate, there is no way for administrations to understand how to help their students succeed.

I propose using tactics of love to bring underfunded schools to equity. However, in order to do so, it is important to remind ourselves of the difference between equality and equity. Whereas equality refers to giving two entities the same resources in equal amounts, equity refers to providing entities the resources they need in order to obtain equal standing. Here’s a classic example used to demonstrate the difference between the two: a short person and a tall person are standing next to each other. Providing equality would be to give them both a chair to stand on; while the short person is now taller, the tall person is now even taller and thus still taller than the short person. Equity, on the other hand, would be to only provide the short person the chair to stand on, so that they meet the height of the tall person standing next to them. Current laws have rules that schools all must equally provide, yet not all schools provide the same quality of those basic needs. In the case of funding, all schools equally receive funding from property taxes of their surrounding areas, but since average incomes differ greatly between low-income and high-income neighborhoods, schools in predominantly low-income neighborhoods simply do not receive the same funding as public schools in more affluent areas. This is an issue of equity in terms of economic distribution; better-paid teachers with job security are more likely to care about their students. Thus, it is not only important to pump funds into the infrastructures of underfunded schools, it is also important to channel funding into providing faculty who care more deeply about the students they teach.

To change make schools better, I would change funding to go towards assisting schools, and ensure a love-based theory of change for them. Property taxes should go to the state, where the money can be divided into equal allotments. That doesn’t solve the problem by itself—it also includes putting some extra funding into reparations for schools that had previously been susceptible to less funding before the change. This additional money can go to hiring more full-time teachers, providing more teachers with AP Training, and fixing the schools’ physical infrastructures. These changes should be exclusively made to what were previously less-funded schools, and should be made with the schools’ current demographic in mind—not in an effort to attract students from new areas. This part is important, because it is important for the schools’ current students to feel that these changes are being made for them. As educator and philosopher Paulo Freire writes, solidarity with the oppressed (in this case, disadvantaged public schools) can only be expressed when oppressors “stop regarding [them] as an abstract category and sees them as persons who have been unjustly dealt with” [1]. Freire expresses the importance of authentic love in this process, for without true regard for those who are oppressed, any attempt to uplift them is poorly grounded. Within the context of uplifting student bodies, this means change can only be made by teachers who enact a praxis of love in their classes.

To inform what the practice of real love might look like in an educational context, I would like to highlight bell hook’s differentiation between cathect and love. In terms of interpersonal relationships, hooks describes “cathect” as the act of investing emotion in another individual, “even if they are hurting or neglecting them” [2]. In other words, cathect is one’s feeling of care without necessarily carrying out actions that correspond with love. hooks emphasizes “love” as an action, rather than a feeling, because love has consequences [2]. This idea is crucial in education—the feeling of sympathy from teachers is useless if they don’t actively think of ways to better suit their topics to their students. A praxis of love is one with real, tangible changes that better students’ learning experience. Actions of love that school administrations are able to do include hiring teachers who draw classroom topics from students’ firsthand experiences, which may stray from the textbook standard. Adjusting curriculum to the needs and experiences of the student is a tangible change that results from a theory of love; it is not just recognizing the experience of the student, it is using those experiences as a framework to enable the student succeed.

The way the US educational system has been funded until now, students of inadequately-funded schools have consistently been shown that the system does not care for them. The meaning of school is different among different populations; while it serves as a place of social climbing for wealthier and the privileged, school was the alternative to the streets to children in dangerous neighborhoods, as West Baltimore native Coates describes in Between the World and Me:
“When our elders presented school to us, they did not present it as a place of higher learning but as a means of escape from death and penal warehousing…Fail in the streets and the crews would catch you slipping and take your body. Fail in the schools and you would be suspended back to those same streets, where they would take your body.” [3]

When placed in opposition to the streets or jail, it is important that schools function as liberatory spaces rather than spaces that repeat or further endorse incarceration among targeted demographics. The opposite effect is achieved when disadvantaged schools have characteristics such as heightened police presence, a lack of full-time, tenured staff, and a lack of art and music programs. Distrust and punishment only further students’ oppression, and in these situations especially, conversion to a theory of love is crucial. While all students in all schools need love, it is important to focus on the improvement on demographics who have suffered the most due to a lack of it.

The solution to changing education for the better is to take an extra step to help inadequately-funded schools. Education holds a different significance within the contexts of race and class in the United States. For schools to actually serve as liberatory spaces for disenfranchised folks, as they should, educators must fully recognize their students’ lives and needs, and use that information to form praxes of authentic love. Praxes of love based on the needs and experiences of a student, rather than an ‘objective’ educational agenda, will truly transform the lives and educations of disenfranchised students for the better.

Works Cited
[1] Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970. p. 50.
[2] hooks, bell. All About Love, 2000. pp. 6, 13.
[3] Coates, Ta-Nahesi. Between the World and Me, 2015. pp. 26, 33.
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