Living, Breathing, and Teaching with Radical Love: What It Means, What You Need, and Where to Start

Living, Breathing, and Teaching with Radical Love: What It Means, What You Need, and Where to Start

by Dr. Dana Stachowiak of The Educator Collaborative

Dana will be presenting with Christopher Lehman, Sara Ahmed and Chad Everett at the NCTE Annual Convention, a session titled, “Radial Love: Courages Conversations about Race, Religion, and Gender Identity with Our Students,” and in our online Study Series with Katharine Hale on December 7 at 6PM EST in a session titled, “Pairing Literacy and Technology to Open The Curriculum to More Diverse Perspectives.”


Regardless of your political affiliation or whom you voted for, what is happening with the disunity, unrest, and violence in our country is heartbreaking.

The day after the election, my wife and I held each other and cried, like so many other Americans. We cried for a myriad of reasons, but mostly because the threat to our already “othered,” minoritized bodies (she is mixed; I am gender non-conforming) began to mount. And this was suffocating. And sad. And down-right scary as hell.

I am lucky enough to surround myself with amazing people. People who have sent, “I love you; I’m so sorry,” or “Whatever you need, I’m here,” or, “I stand in solidarity,” messages; people who have said they’ll go to the bathroom with me, roll up their sleeves and fight against oppression with me; and people who have reminded me over and over again that the fight for equity is nothing new, and that “we’ve got this;” it just is going to be a little (okay, A LOT) harder. I am continually lifted up by the love that abounds. I am so incredibly grateful and hopeful.

Of course, there are those folks who have penetrated my bubble to mansplain, straightsplan, whitesplain, cis-splain, Christiansplain, TRUMPsplain to me how it will “be okay” and that I should “wait and see what really happens.” Their privileged bodies do not know what it’s like to not have the luxury to wait. They do not know my and so many others’ reality of having a body and a being that is not safe – not yesterday, today, but especially, not tomorrow or after January 20, 2017. I cannot forgive their ignorance, and I’m too tired right now to educate them, but what I can offer is a call for radical love.

Radical love is love amplified. It’s love with a double shot of social justice. Paulo Freire’s vision of radical love is one that is “never about absolute consensus, or unconditional acceptance, or unnecessary words of sweetness…instead, it is unconstructed, rooted in a committed willingness to struggle persistently with purpose in our life…to be lively, forceful, and inspiring, while challenging and insistent…and intimately connected to what it means to ‘be human’” (Darder, 2002, p.g 34). Radical love isn’t about violence and silence; it is about peace and action. It’s about courage, not fear, and it is about a commitment to others.


When we live radical love, we embody this definition. When we teach with radical love, we embody this definition too. In Teacher’s as Cultural Workers (2005), Freire gave us seven indispensable qualities that teachers who embody radical love should possess:

  • a commitment to humility
  • Dialectical ability
  • Courage
  • Tolerance
  • Decisiveness
  • the ability to recognize the tension between patience and impatience
  • joy of living

heart-21281_1280In turn, this calls us to build and sustain our classrooms on a kinds of radical love that encompasses tenets of critical community building, dialogic space, and critical reflective practice.  And, these aren’t just qualities and tenets of radical love for teachers; these are qualities and tenets for all human beings committed to radical love to aspire to possess.

I’ve seen a lot of great articles circulating about what we should tell the children or how we should teach the children after the election. I encourage you to turn back to those with a heart for radical love. I encourage you to then (and continuously) ask yourself:

  • How much risk am I willing
    to take?
    Choosing radical love requires commitment to new ways of thinking and challenging that status quo; these things require risk-taking.
  • How much am I invested in the well-being of the whole? Radical love demands the mutual recognition of one another, and this means a deep investment in inclusion, access, and equity for all.
  • What does building a critical community mean for me, and what will this look like in my classroom (in my streets, in my home)? Critical community building is more than about kindness and friendship in a space; it is about thinking through critical issues of equity and justice with others in all kinds of spaces.
  • How will I foster a dialogic space that privileges minoritized voices? Radical love calls us to look at our own biases, listen to others’ realities, and challenge the dominant rhetoric.
  • Where does critical reflective practice come into play for me and my students, and how do I incorporate this throughout my life and work? This isn’t just a trip down memory lane, thinking about ways you will do something different next time. It’s about remaining in the present, constantly and consciously reflecting on how you embody radical love.
  • What will I do for self-care? This work is hard work, and you need to take care of yourself while you do it.

Radical love means leaning in to vulnerability and struggle, solidarity and liberation, and organization and action. Radical love is the conversation we need to be having right now, the strong commitment we need to make, and the revolution we need to spearhead.

The work I do as a social justice/equity literacy consultant with The Educator Collaborative, and the work I do as a professor of curriculum and instruction, has always been rooted in and committed to radical love as a movement in education.

screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-12-10-31-pmTogether, Chris Lehman, Sara Ahmed, and Chad Everett, and I will be fronting this conversation in our session at NCTE 2016. We’ll detail what radical love is; demonstrate the embodiment of Freire’s indispensable qualities; guide you on how to build critical communities, dialogic spaces, and critical reflective practices; and offer you a space to practice radical love and set intentions for how you will incorporate it into your everyday.

I should be working on that presentation right now, but instead, I wanted to invite all of you who will not be there (and those who will, of course!), to join in this conversation today. How will you live, breathe, and teach radical love?


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