Pedagogy of Love: Teaching for Humanity

an image of a woman representing love and social justice

All Rights Reserved, Jose Ramirez, La Maestra, 2004. Image used with permission.

Love is Essential

Valentine’s Day celebrates love.  Whether it’s romantic, fraternal, familial or personal, many recognize the power of love. No matter how you splice it, love is essential in building humanity.  And building humanity takes work.

Musicians, activists, academics, to name a few, invoke their perspective on the power of love in their work.  John Lennon simply sang, “All you need is love.” Argentinian revolutionary and political activist, Ernesto Che Guevara, explained love as a personal philosophy when he stated, “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”  Now, of course, Che Guevara did believe in armed revolution, but I’d like to think he was conveying a balance between compassion and making hard decisions without flinching.  Feminist writer bell hooks stated in Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, “When teachers teach with love, combining care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust, we are often able to enter the classroom and go straight to the heart of the matter, which is knowing what to do on any given day to create the best climate for learning.” And then there is the work of Paolo Freire, which deserves a deeper consideration.

Love as a Learning Theory

Paolo Freire’s learning theory invokes a profound position on the efficacy of love. His theory is grounded in educators teaching with love. It promoted love as a necessary component for humanization and liberation.  In his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, love is essential when students are introduced to oppression through problem-posing education.  When faced with the truth of oppression, love is the act of courage that enables students to find their freedom to dialogue about humanization and love.  Freire states, “Only by abolishing the situations of oppression is it possible to restore the love which that situation made impossible. If I do not love the world—if I do not love life—if I do not love—I cannot enter into dialogue.” His theory of education incorporates love as a conscious act in the pursuit of humanity through dialogue in the classroom.

Many of our students arrive in our classes with some form of internalized oppression.  If we, as educators, ignore this variable, our students may not recognize their potential to contribute to the world.  In Mike Martin’s self-help book,  Love’s Virtues, he states, “Internalized oppression violates the procedures that promote mutual autonomy through subtle forms of inner coercion, both from negative attitudes toward oneself and ignorance about one’s possibilities.”  Yet according to Freire, education can be an act of love because educators themselves can intentionally choose to value and present love onto their students and into the pedagogical process.  The pedagogy of love humanizes learning by engaging students in an ongoing process of self-exploration. When love is embedded in our pedagogical practices, we enable students to recognize that their needs, their desires, their wants, or whatever it is that motivates them, matter. And when a human recognizes that those things matter, life is forever changed.

Strategies for a Pedagogy of Love

How does this translates to our lesson design?  How can the heart and the brain be encouraged to connect? Zaretta Hammond focuses on culturally responsive teaching and brain-based learning strategies from neuroscience in her book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain.  She provides six core design principles for learning:

  1. The brain seeks to minimize social threats and maximize opportunities to connect with others in community.
  2. Positive relationships keep our safety-threat detection system in check.
  3. Culture guides how we process information.
  4. Attention drives learning.
  5. All new information must be coupled with existing funds of knowledge in order to be learned.
  6. The brain physically grows through challenge and stretch, expanding its ability to do more complex thinking and learning.

Although culturally responsive teaching is about empowering systematically disenfranchised students through challenging our teaching practices, Zarettta Hammond states, “We have to create the right instructional conditions that stimulate neuron growth… by giving students work that is relevant and focused on problem solving.”  Only then can we build brain power while affirming and validating our students’ ongoing pursuit of full humanity. That is what makes us human and enables Freire’s vision to create “a world in which it will be easier to love.”

This year, fall in love all over again with teaching by reading these books. Do it for yourself, for your students, and for humanity.

  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition 30th Anniversary Edition, by Paulo Freire
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students 1st Edition, by Zaretta L. Hammond
  • Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope 1st Edition, by bell hooks
  • Love’s Virtues Paperback, by Mike W. Martin


Posted in Articles, equity, Online Teaching.

Fabiola Torres is an online Ethnic Studies professor at Glendale Community College, an Equity facilitator for the CVC/Online Network of Educators (@ONE). During the pandemic, Fabiola collaborated with a number of colleges throughout the country in offering professional development workshops and keynote presentations focussing on applying equity-minded methods such as culturally responsive teaching in the online environment, and humanizing online teaching and learning. Fabiola’s teaching principles are inspired by her M.A. in Chicana/o Studies from California State University, Northridge and M.A. in Learning Technology from Pepperdine’s School of Education and Psychology. She was awarded the Online Learning Consortium Advocate Award for Diversity and Inclusion in July of 2020. Fabiola is a fur-mommy of Luke, Leia and Wookie.


  1. Pingback: Love. The only constant in times of change. - MICHELLE PACANSKY-BROCK

  2. I love that Freire quote: “….if I do not love—I cannot enter into dialogue.” That is so timely! Not just for Valentine’s Day, but for this political time. As an online instructor, what kind of strategies do you use to integrate the third design principle, “Culture guides how we process information”?

  3. Thank you Julie for asking this question.

    In Communication Studies, Ernest Bormann developed Symbolic convergence theory (SCT). SCT explains effective and transformative connections when individuals share common emotions, motives, and meaning. In the classroom (online or face to face), desiging with intention to create a convergence of meaning is the beginning of empathetic communication. In Culturally Responsive Teaching, enabling connection to a student’s life, makes learning matter. Learning will be more effective if procssed using common cultural learning aids such as stories, music, art and performance. As Zaretta Hammond argues, when cultural learning aids converge in the learning process, they help “… neurons fire and wire together in ways that makes learning ‘sticky.'” So, Julie, it requires you, me, all of us to bring in stories, music, art and performance into our design. But guess what? You have a chance to learn MORE ABOUT Digital Story Telling on February 22, 2018. It’s CCC Digital Learning Day! Register for Digital Storytelling: The Why, What, and How of Creativity, Learning, and Assessment, 1:00-1:50pm PT –

  4. Speaking of music and learning, I just picked up a fascinating tidbit that some learners with attention-deficit disorders really benefit from listening to music when working – and that particular rhythmns are more effective than others. The pace if a heartbeat is one. (I’m learning more about this after one of our kids received an ADD diagnosis.) These sorts of strategies can make or break it for some students.

  5. Pingback: Teaching: What’s Love Got to Do with It? | Studently

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  7. Thank you so much for sharing your philosophy. The music in the background made it easy to watch yoru video. Yes, I for getting rid of the assessment mentality with all perfect grades.

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