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Abolitionist Teaching: A Conversation with Bettina L. Love

January 4, 2021

Bettina L. LoveBettina L. Love, the Athletic Association Endowed Professor at the University of Georgia who coined the term “abolitionist teaching,” will discuss race, education, and activism in a Jan. 27 webinar hosted by Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy.

Pre-registration is required for the event, which will begin at 4:30 p.m.

Prior to Love’s appearance, the School of Education and Social Policy community will discuss her award-winning book, We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom” at 4 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, and again at 12 p.m. Monday, Jan. 25. Though Love will not be present at the book discussions, the forum offers a space for thoughtful reflection and discussion before her virtual appearance.

The conversation with Love will be moderated by Kavita Matkso, (MS97), associate dean for teacher education at the School of Education and Social Policy (SESP); and Golden Apple Award winner Corey Winchester (BS10), a history teacher at Evanston Township High School, who is currently pursuing his doctorate in learning sciences at SESP.

Winchester credits Love with introducing him to “abolitionist teaching” or the idea of bringing the rebellious spirit and methods of abolitionists into the education world. He called the approach an important way to “push as educators…and challenge businesses and government structures to center, foster, and steward revolutionary change in our schools and communities.”

For Love, abolitionist teaching is not just a practice; it’s a way of life, one that tries to restore humanity for kids in schools. In 2020 she co-founded the Abolitionist Teaching Network to help educators–in collaboration with parents and communities–build civically engaged schools with “the goal of intersectional social justice for equitable classrooms that love and affirm Black and Brown children.” 

In We Want to Do More Than Survive, described as “part memoir, part manual, part manifesto,” Love argues that educators must teach students about racial violence, oppression, and how to make sustainable change in their communities through radical civic initiatives and movements.

She calls the current education system an "educational survival complex," one that is “built on the suffering of students of color in which they are never educated to thrive, only to survive.”

To dismantle this system and to achieve educational freedom—not merely reform—teachers, parents, and community leaders must approach education with the imagination, determination, boldness, and urgency of an abolitionist, she argues. “Abolitionist teaching looks different in every school,” she said  in an interview with ACSD. “It comes from a critical race lens and applies methods like protest, boycotting, and calling out other teachers who are racist, homophobic, or Islamophobic.

“It's also about Black joy and always putting love at the center of what we're doing,” she added. “[Abolitionist] teachers know how to talk about racism and homophobia in their classrooms; they organize marches and boycotts. So often, people are waiting for a leader to come along. You don't have to wait for someone else.”

Love’s research focuses on formal and informal educational experiences of marginalized youth, including queer, urban, African-American, female, male, or a unification of these identities. She uses non-traditional educational curricula such as Hip Hop-based education, critical media literacy, Hip Hop feminism, and popular culture.

In 2018, Georgia’s House of Representatives presented Love with a resolution for her impact on the field of education. She has also provided commentary for various news outlets including NPR, Ed WeekThe Guardian, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution. 

We Want to Do More Than Survive won the 2020 Society of Professors of Education Outstanding Book Award. Her other books include Hip Hop’s Li’l Sistas Speak: Negotiating Hip Hop Identities and Politics in the New South. Her work has appeared in numerous books and journals, including the English Journal, Urban Education, The Urban Review, and the Journal of LGBT Youth.