Written by Caroline Cheung, PhD candidate in the Department of English 

Every semester, I ask my students to follow the work of Robin Kelley and “freedom-dream” a new education. Students’ responses vary from “why am I doing this” to depictions of an education system where their humanities are cared for through times of rest and joy. When I have students of color, LGBTQ+ students, first generation students, and other students from marginalized positions, their dreams are often inseparable from the systemic struggles they face in their bodies and identities. Their dreams constitute a duality of lack and abundance: a lack of white supremacy, police, borders, and trauma; and an abundance of love, care, autonomy, and community. Their dreams are filled with hope, conviction, as well as frustration. Who is willing to help us in manifesting these dreams of a new education? Who is willing to take the risks necessary to materialize an equitable reality for marginalized people? Who is willing to weaken the institutions that harm us all, but especially those of the Global Majority (BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disabled, first generation, undocumented, etc.)? Is it you? Because it can be you! The thing about systems is that they’re comprised of people and those people can choose to act differently. We can transform these systems.       

I believe that as educators we should fight for not only the freedom of our students, but also the freedom-dreams of our students. This means ensuring that our students are safe and protected in a sense of complete belonging. This also means ensuring that our students are empowered as autonomous co-creators of their education (and worlds). And, to ensure either of these promises, we must dismantle a lot. If we’re serious about liberation, equity, and justice, then the education and world we all forge together will be radically different than what we have. Education is conversations between elders and youth, political zines, mutual aid projects, community garden practices, skills-sharing in collective spaces, Indigenous knowledge and repatriation of the land, revolutionary study groups, protests, family reunions, and new friendships. Imagine a world that recognizes and even funds these practices as “sites” of education. Trisha Remetir writes about this beautifully in the post, "Notes on the Next University." Fortunately for us, there are people (like Remetir) leading the way towards these liberatory spaces of education and transformed worlds. These leaders are abolitionists and, specifically, abolitionist teachers.  

Dr. Bettina Love defines abolitionist teaching as the following in her book, We Want To Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom: “Abolitionist teaching is the practice of working in solidarity with communities of color while drawing on the imagination, creativity, refusal, (re)membering, visionary thinking, healing, rebellious spirit, boldness, determination, and subversiveness of abolitionists to eradicate injustice in and outside of schools” (Love 2019). Read that again. Pause after every word and breathe them in. This is our practice as educators fighting for freedom and freedom-dreams. We must do and we must dream, and this is our lens for how we make those dreams reality. We teach against the state and we teach that which weakens the state.  

So, for anyone reading this, I end by asking you: what are your freedom-dreams for education? What are your students’, especially marginalized students, freedom-dreams for their worlds – and how do you know? How would education look, feel, sound, and work in your freest of dreams? What can you do and change with your roles, positions, and resources right now? What is in your power now to get us closer to that dream?