Book Reviews

Kevin M. Gannon. Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2020. 166p. Paper, $19.99 (ISBN 978-1-9491-9951-2).

Book cover for Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto

Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto by Kevin Gannon is a small, moving book that demonstrates the power of praxis by synthesizing theories within the scholarship of teaching and learning into concise, frank, easy-to-read, practice-focused chapters. The intended audience is teachers: folks in higher education who are face-to-face with students every day while simultaneously navigating administrative structures. Librarians who teach, whether primarily one-shot instruction sessions or credit-bearing courses, will be reinvigorated by discussions of meaningful reasons to teach, recognize familiar challenges, reflect on thought-provoking big-picture questions, and identify immediately applicable practices.

The pedagogical praxis the book is named for, radical hope, is defined as “one that fosters openness and inclusivity, critical reflection, dialogue and conversation, and a commitment to making higher education accessible and meaningful for all our students” (6). Each chapter opens with a story that demonstrates praxis in the current context of higher education, forcing readers to consider what their actions would be in similar circumstances. Gannon then moves into explicitly discussing the importance of more inclusive practice, identifying barriers or challenges practitioners might face, and closes with short reflective prompts for readers. The first three chapters are slightly more theory-focused than the following seven, but Gannon’s conversationally direct tone and authentic enthusiasm make an excellent case for reading theory. He summarizes N.F.S. Grundtvig’s critiques of Danish folk schools in the 1800s as “revolutionary hot takes that he is here for all day” (10), synthesizes those with the work of Freire and hooks, then directly connects them to current events, debates, and contemporary calls for access and inclusion. 

As a demonstration of praxis, reality is never far away from the theory, and librarians will quickly recognize recurring areas of discussion our profession grapples with. For example, “is it possible for a learner to both successfully move through the academic and intellectual spaces of a college or university and march in support of violent white nationalism? And if it’s possible, should it be?” (14) This question is typical of the no-nonsense approach to discussing operationalized hope throughout the book, and readers will find themselves interrogating their own beliefs and practices. Statements of pedagogical purpose throughout the text are useful at the individual level for librarians who teach, but they are also applicable for libraries at the institutional policy-making level. Librarian readers can decide to make compassion their default pedagogical stance and treat students as allies rather than adversaries in the classroom. That commitment can be demonstrated in other ways throughout the library. We can communicate through our policies that we trust all students, that we recognize them as fully human, and that we know they belong in our spaces. 

Part of the strength of this text as a tool is that it directly names realities of higher education rather than dwelling in hypothetical scenarios. Facing a discomforting statement like “simply introducing knowledge into the public sphere and then abdicating any role in what happens to it afterwards is at best highly problematic; at worst, it’s wildly irresponsible” (16) pushes us to shift our focus on information literacy from merely reflecting and letting “neutral” inaction shape our practices to enacting ethics proactively in our teaching.

In his storytelling, Gannon is upfront about his own learning process as a teacher, honest about the need to assess professional and personal privilege and safety when challenging the agreements of neoliberal higher education, and clearly articulate about some mundane actions that teachers can take to make learning a better experience for all students. He does not offer a singular or universal solution to the problems teachers face. The core of this book is that “teaching is a radical act of hope… an assertion of faith in a better future in an increasingly uncertain and fraught present” (5). The clear principles outlined by Gannon will help folks answer “why am I doing this?” when faced with the real and consistent work of trying to teach better for all students. Librarians overwhelmed by the literal work needed to operationalize hope may want to hold onto the power of “I don’t know, let’s find out” (142) and ask themselves “what is my next action, now?” (83)

For this reader, Radical Hope was downright enjoyable to read and offered an oddly positive perspective in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying socio-political crises.—Shanti Freundlich, MCPHS University

Copyright Shanti Freundlich

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