Love Pedagogy

Classroom of Ed Factory Teaching Fellow and mathematics teacher Morgan Fierst at South High School in Minneapolis, MN.
Classroom of Ed Factory Teaching Fellow and mathematics teacher Morgan Fierst at South High School in Minneapolis, MN.

What is a love pedagogy? It's something you need when the country in which you live says it'll only accept 10,000 refugees from a region in which its CIA led coups and fomented “campaigns of hatred” since the days of Eisenhower. A love pedagogy is like a requisite counter in a country whose linguistics allow it to invest with character and dignity the title chokehold and articulate that imperfect conception to determiners like a legal or an authorized police act. A love pedagogy is something necessary in a nation-state whose Congress agrees to fund a $362 million “special registration” program targeting Muslims.

A love pedagogy is also something crucial for neighborhoods with schools beholden to the production of poor and working class black, brown, and white subjects who will learn to accept all of what the country is right now as true and good and right; as the defining characteristics of some warped evolution of humanity––all while they learn to un-see the reasons and people responsible for the conditions of their lives.

Ultimately, the purpose of a love pedagogy is to make kids better adults. It’s a serious art; a real science of teaching that comes with particular instructional methods––and it's one I use and also show teachers how to practice.

I teach kids just out of high school, who are, yes, handcuffed to smartphones, tweets and subtweets, snaps, and posts. They make up something the polls call Generation Z. These polls have doomed Gen Z to a list of contrasts, one being that although Gen Z accepts greater racial diversity, they have less potential for humanity. This is just plain wrong. "Yes," my students tell me, "We feel socially disconnected," but they've also admitted, “We’re desperate to connect” and “without an electronic device between us.” But, and they stress, "No one has yet shown us how.”

It is this same generation who, after about 12 weeks of a love pedagogy, gave me one-sentence definitions of love to read at the recent Love Rally held just outside the doors of NYU, which lies a quarter mile from where a police raid on a gay bar failed to stonewall gay love. Like the protestors of 1969, who demanded that their innate humanity be recognized, my students want the same.

My students come from Irish and Pakistani, Polish and Boricua, Colombian, Guyanese, Lebanese, and Haitian families who can't afford the 75% increase in Manhattan rents or the $60K tuitions of Syracuse, NYU, and Columbia. They hail from rural New York, and what we New Yorkers call The Boroughs, i.e., everywhere in the city but Manhattan. They are beautifully righteous, dignified; they need you to believe in their humanity and respect their identities.

From Pedro who began smoking cigarettes after his family was evicted: Love is ”the ability to deeply care for someone regardless of where they come from or who they are."

From Mariela who can't decide between a business major, so that she can one day get a job to support her family, or a degree to allow her to fight for social equality: Love is ”unconditional acceptance of another's faults."

From Harry, who watches Fox News and used to believe everything it teaches: Loving someone is when ”you'd run through a brick wall for them."

From Tayari, whose mom cares too much about how she looks: Love is ”feeling the need to provide for someone you deeply care about without expecting anything in return."

From Noah, who’s seen his father “taken out in handcuffs,” and now pumps iron every day yet believes love is “something we are all capable of, and it’s the strongest connection between people."

From Melanie, a biracial young woman who is sick and tired of being asked What are you?: Love is “an individual who motivates you to be the best version of yourself that you can be."

And from Jason, a football player, who at the beginning of the semester argued “emotion is irrational”: Love is “leaving your trust, affection, and satisfaction in someone else's hands in spite of everything else that may be going on."

Andrew Cutrone, my 18-year-old co-teacher, and I started a print and an online student-run journal that catalogues the responses of young people to a love pedagogy and global/local issues. The students named it HME (the Human Modernization of Education). We encourage you to tweet at @lovepedagogy or hmecatalogue@gmail.com other young people’s one-sentence definitions of love to be published online and (some) in print. Names are optional, but including age, gender, race/ethnicity, and country or region of US will help our readers gain an understanding of how broad and deep the practice of love runs. Perhaps, with your help and with a little more love pedagogy, we can rename Gen Z, Generation Love.

Lisa Arrastia teaches at State University of New York, University at Albany. She is the founder of and senior consultant for The Ed Factory.

CONVERSATIONS