Radical Love and UDL

“Love is an action, a participatory emotion. Whether we are engaged in a process of self love or of loving others we must move beyond the realm of feeling to actualize love. This is why it is useful to see love as a practice. 
When we act, we need not feel inadequate or powerless; we can trust that there are concrete steps to take on love’s path. We learn to communicate, to be still and listen to the needs of our hearts, and we learn to listen to others.”    bell hooks

When Kass Minor and I get together and chat about education and life, our conversations often center around love. Not the mushy kind of love – you know the one where you stomach flutters as you think about the person you care about – but the kind where there’s action behind it. As we discussed submitting a proposal to the UDL Symposium: Expert Learners in early 2019, I don’t even remember our initial ideas. Kass had some really great ideas but I definitely didn’t feel equipped to discuss those to a crowd. We agreed that love was a topic that was necessary to discuss. We knew it was easy to talk about love but we needed to create some sort of resource for folks to return to as they worked on planning, reflection, and putting things into practice. 

We look at bell hooks’ work All About Love and began to intersect with the UDL Guidelines. Hooks is not as “clear” as many practitioners might like – there are no easy steps to love, even her definitions of love aren’t prescriptive. Hooks defines love with 5 words: Showing Care; Respect; Knowledge; Integrity; Will to Cooperate. We found that word respect is filled with cultural misunderstanding and rife with issues and confusion so we shifted that word/idea to be commitment. We also found the word knowledge was confusing as well so we shifted that to be Clarity: Use Love Words. 

Here’s how hooks “defines” these words: 

Showing Care: “It is no accident that when we first learn about justice and fair play as children it is usually within the context of telling the truth. The heart of justice is truth telling, seeing ourselves and the world the way it is rather than the way want it to be.” (Pg 33)

Commitment (changed from Respect): “Bringing love into the work environment can create the necessary transformation that can make any job we do, no matter how menial, a place where workers can express the best of themselves” (Pg 65)

Clarity: Use Love Words  (changed from Knowledge): In a 1967 lecture opposing war King declared: “When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I’m speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as  the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.”(Pg 75)

Integrity: “If all public policy was created in the spirit of love, we would not have to worry about unemployment, homelessness, schools failing to teach children, or addiction.” (Pg. 98)

Will to Cooperate: “A love ethic presupposes that everyone has the right to be free, to live fully and well. To bring a love ethic to every dimension of our lives, our society would need to embrace change.” (Pg 87)

Pulling out these words and quotes was the “easy” part, now to figure out how to weave it into the UDL Guidelines. The Guidelines are wonderful but they are also quite sterile and academic. They can be overwhelming to folks who are new to them and those who have quite a bit of experience with them. They aren’t always the first thing I pull out when introducing UDL to people. But they are a fantastic tool to use when planning. So we looked towards the UDL Progression Rubric by Katie Novak and Kristan Rodriguez. The format is helpful and easily utilized. I got to work on creating a template.  As I worked on the template and we discussed throughout, we realized that a “progression model” or a continuum isn’t necessarily the language we wanted to express because you don’t “love more”. We want this love ethic (as does bell hooks) to be the everyday, like breathing – it’s not about more or less, it’s about being. 

If you be love, as a teacher, then what you model is the belief – through the everyday things you do – that no human being deserves to suffer any threat to or assault on her personhood.
Carla Shalaby

When we look at our instructional practice whether in the classroom or as a coach, we should be looking at the resources, activities, and moves with a critical lens. One that looks deep at the truth of the systems, one that doesn’t sugar coat or deny the harmful practices that are embedded, foundational to the educational system. This lens provides clarity around the need for a love ethic – another lens or stance that is integral in shifting the system. We looked to Abolitionist Educators, Bettina Love and Carla Shalaby as we named the lovelessness within the educational system, through exclusionary practices such as suspensions and expulsion.  We also named the lovelessness within our common classroom practices such as read alouds using only texts with cis, white, hetero-normative characters. 

Kass brought her expertise and experience using the Praxis of Critical Inclusivity developed by (Watson,  Schlessinger, & Oyler 2018) which helps to define the nuance needed to develop and examine our current systems and the people who experience education within them. 

Curricular and Pedagogical Acts:  All we do and say in classrooms

Structures:  Our classroom and school systems such as grading, tracking, grouping, labeling, leveling, sorting, evaluating, assessing, ranking, disciplining, rewarding, communicating with families, etc.

Ideology:  Our beliefs, values, world-view. What we think is good, normal, natural, smart, etc

Affect: The feelings, emotions that circulate among people and objects that are often felt in the body

Along with the cultural contexts and practices within the community as well the sociopolitical context (for e.g. it’s very different to work in education under an Obama administration than the current administration no matter your political stance). 
“Love is as love does, and it is our responsibility to give children love. When we love children we acknowledge by our every action that they are not property, that they have rights – that we respect and uphold their rights. Without justice there can be no love” bell hooks

“Love is as love does, and it is our responsibility to give children love. When we love children we acknowledge by our every action that they are not property, that they have rights – that we respect and uphold their rights. Without justice there can be no love” bell hooks

So we had created the foundations for a container for this work. We knew that it couldn’t be only our understandings, experiences, and examples of this love ethic with UDL. That the collective voices and experiences were where the real love would lie. 

In our very short presentation at the UDL Symposium: Expert Learners, UDL Guidelines & Radical Acts of Loveful Pedagogy Remix: How to Nourish In-School Relationships Centered in Critical Inclusivity, we shared this journey and had folks begin the process of unpacking the brilliance within bell hooks definitions and words while also beginning to document and share their own love ethic. 


So we invite you to also share your stories, your experiences. This can be from a teacher perspective, a parent perspective (Kass has shared some beautiful ways that she and her partner are working on this within their parenting), a coaching perspective, and an administrative perspective. A love ethic is needed in all areas of education. 

Please use this form to share your experience – feel free to do it in writing, as a recording, or a video. 

Please explore the beginnings of what we’ve created in order to help inform your work. Don’t hesitate to contact if you need support in sharing! 

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