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Bettina Love: 'Eliminate Oppression From the Root'

January 29, 2021

Bettina LoveBettina L. Love, author and the Athletic Association Endowed Professor at the University of Georgia, recently spoke to nearly 400 members of Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) community during a wide-ranging conversation focused on race, racism, justice, joy, love, and equity.

Love, who coined the term Abolitionist Teaching – the idea of bringing the rebellious spirit and methods of abolitionists into the education world – discussed themes from her award-winning book, We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom.

We Want to Do More Than Survive is equal parts history lesson, autobiography, and call to action. Love, the co-founder of the Abolitionist Teaching Network, said she wrote the book to really say that “to be a person of color in this country – particularly to be Black and Brown and Indigenous – is to live in a constant state of perpetual survival mode. And that is no way to live. That is no way to be.”

Prior to the virtual event, SESP purchased nearly 200 copies of Love’s book and distributed them to SESP students, faculty, and staff. Two book discussions gave space for SESP community members to discuss topics from the book, including the educational survival complex, white rage, homeplace, and the move from ally to co-conspirator.

Love’s special appearance and the community discussions around her work follow several other books the SESP community has engaged with since 2019, including Eve L. Ewing’s Ghosts in the Schoolyard; Anthony A. Jack’s The Privileged Poor; and Sally Nuamah’s How Girls Achieve. These discussions have helped to inform and challenge SESP’s scholarship, research, learning, and teaching.

The conversation with Love moved between the past and the present, often times settling on the current moment. “So much right now around anti-racism and social justice work is around what happened this summer, and we should be talking about what happened this summer and what keeps happening every day,” Love said.

“But if all you know about Black folx is our pain and our trauma, you don’t know us. I would argue that if all you know about Black folx is our pain and our trauma, you can’t do social justice work – because our history does not start with this pain and we do not fight and find our way out of it because of that pain and trauma. It comes from a joy, a love, creativity, and ingenuity.”

Blackness is too often framed as a problem in educational systems, Love said. When this happens, “you will see more police in schools, you will have low expectations, and you will have discriminatory school funding policies. When we don’t educate Black and Brown and Indigenous children to their full humanity, to who they are, to their highest potential – then we lose as a society.”

The event’s question and answer segment was moderated by Kavita Matkso, (MS97), associate dean for teacher education for SESP's Master's of Science in Education Program; 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. Love answered questions from abolitionist frameworks and the communities we serve to wellness and self-care.

“It behooves us to really ask ourselves if the work that we’re trying to do is penetrating to the lives, and the people, and the communities that we say we want to invest in,” Love said. “How do they see the work? Do they actually see the commitment? Because we feel like the commitment is being made, but do they feel the commitment?”

In a call to be moving toward abolition, Love said, “The idea is that we are going to tear down our system being built through a carceral state lens, which means always about punishment, and move toward the idea that we’re not going to try to reform this thing, and we’re not going to try to reimagines it. What we are going to do is try to eliminate oppression from the root. So, it’s not just about closing prisons, it is about closing and eliminating the conditions that create prisons.”

Love said there is a need to do this work together out of love and solidarity, because the work can only be done out of rage for so long. “We don’t have a framework that says Black folx and queer folx and trans folx and rich folx and white folx and Indigenous folx all get together and try to move toward justice. We have no framework for this, so it’s going to be hard – feelings are going to be hurt – but we have to know that we are doing this work because Black people are worthy, Brown children are worthy, Indigenous children are worthy – and we do it knowing that there’s a joy in uniting us all.”

Love's appearance and the accompanying book discussions were part of the ongoing SESP Equity Book Club series.