The following post is by Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski, NCTE members and editors of English Journal.
Finding love in a hopeless place. This is an inversion of a post by Tressie McMillan Cottom, who blogged about the November 2016 election that resulted in Donald J. Trump being named president of the United States. The post, titled “Finding Hope in a Loveless Place,” reveals the deep knowledge that oppression and racism impart, a kind of knowledge that yields erasure, decimates hope, and yet inspires continuous struggle. How can we find love in a hopeless place? How can we seed hope in a national soil saturated in the blood of the oppressed?
We must ask such essential questions before they can ever be answered, but the asking is hard, lonely, uncomfortable yet courageous work. As English teachers, we understand that language and text are embodied tools that can serve either oppression or freedom. Spoken and written words reflect power and foment resistance, and schools—as political institutions— can proliferate oppression or nurture hope.
Hope, however, is not an innocent concept. As an expectation to those for whom hope in our existing system is irrational, hope is hypocritical. It becomes what Cottom calls “transactional hope,” and she argues that hopelessness is superior to transactional hope:
My hopelessness is faith in things yet seen and works yet done. Hopelessness is necessary for the hard work of resisting tyranny and fascism. It is the precondition for sustained social movements because history isn’t a straight line. It is a spinning top that eventually moves forward but also always goes round and round as it does. Those erasers applied post-mortem confuse us to this, blind us to the defeats that will come and ill prepare us for the reality that most of what we believe in will not come to pass in our lifetimes. A transactional hope is anathema to social progress.
In this issue, guest edited by David E. Kirkland, we seek to continue the struggle for hope. We are honored to share the work of authors who generate and engage with texts that have risen from the soil of bondage and execution. These texts invite us to rethink the myths of meritocracy and inclusion. They are written with the blood and bones of people who forged their own ways to read and write, while being prohibited from literacy learning, and for whom school achievement has required rejection of cultural values. In this issue, we aim to raise questions and to listen for questions that are not raised, because often the binding of a text excludes perspectives. We aspire to scrutinize the margins, give voice to the silenced, and read deeply between the lines. We plan to press the “undo” key until erasures are visible on the page and voices of students, families, and ancestors are amplified. And we dig into difficult texts to cultivate hope through language and action, and through the action of language. Hope grows as we struggle together.
As English teachers who will help students discover and hone the tools of literacy that will either oppress or empower, we ask that you open your heart to the challenges of this issue, and we hope that you will find love there.
Cottom, Tressie McMillan. “Finding Hope in a Loveless Place.” tressiemc. 27 Nov. 2016. https://tressiemc.com /uncategorized/finding-hope-in-a-loveless-place/
David Gorlewski works with preservice and practicing teachers and conducts research on literacy and professional dispositions. Both are former English teachers and members of NCTE, Julie since 2004 and David since 2001.