Last night, Dr. Bettina Love, the William F. Russel Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, gave the education department’s annual Brodie Family Lecture. Her talk, entitled “We Gon’ Be Alright, But That Ain’t Right: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Education Freedom,” focused on committing to educational freedom by taking an abolitionist approach to education, moving beyond reform to create an educational system that allows all students to thrive.
Love’s advocacy and scholarship is far-reaching. In addition to publishing three books, most recently “Lessons in Liberation: An Abolitionist Toolkit For Educators” in 2021, she has seen her work featured in publications such as “Educational Researcher,” “Urban Education,” “The Urban Review” and “The Journal of LGBT Youth.”
Love’s visit to campus was largely facilitated by Professor of Education Doris Santoro, for whom Love’s work has been a major source of inspiration. Santoro shares Love’s drive to transform educational institutions into places where Black and Brown students can flourish and heal.
“I think that Dr. Love talks a lot about both recognizing Black excellence and fostering joy, and those are things that I definitely try to do in my teaching,” Santoro said. “My question is, ‘what do I do in my role as a teacher and teacher educator in order to create conditions where my BIPOC students and future teachers can thrive?’”
Love’s talk centered on the idea that our educational system is so broken—specifically when it comes to its ability to serve Black and Brown students—that to make improvements to the current framework would not be sufficient. Instead, she advocates for abolition, or the complete rebuilding of education upon a foundation of principles of antiracism, humanity, healing and joy.
“We can’t try to keep reforming this thing,” Love said of our current education system. “Why would you want to reform oppression?”
For Love, a major part of educational abolition is widespread curricular overhaul. This doesn’t simply consist of creating inclusive curricula, but curricula that anti-racist ideas at the forefront and actively challenges oppressive narratives.
“When you have a curriculum that denies, omits and erases the contributions of Black and Brown people, that is the hand of white supremacy,” Love said. “When somebody erases you, they don’t have to apologize to you. When somebody erases your culture, they don’t have to own up to what they’ve done to you.”
To combat this erasure, Love stressed that the time for inaction and idle “allyship” is over. In order to ensure that true transformation can occur, both in educational spaces and beyond, Love urged white members of the audience to act as “co-conspirators”—to be willing to sacrifice their own power and comfort for change and to confront opposition head-on.
“If you’re going to be an educator who fights for social justice, the first thing you need to understand is that resistance is coming,” Love said. “And when you are met with the most fantastic—the most brutal—resistance, you must understand that it is time for you to go for broke.”