Carl Leggo, Ruminating on Love and Schools

A colleague at the University of British Columbia invited me to visit his doctoral seminar on February 14, 2018. Questions had been asked about the role of love in schools. My colleague remembered that I had written at least a few articles about love and schools. An invitation to speak about love on Valentine’s Day was a delightful treat. Prior to my visit I asked the class to read my article “Living Love: Confessions of a fearful teacher (2011). In this article I address Michael Fisher’s thoughtful and inspiring work on fearlessness and love:

I lean into the strong words of Fisher’s writing. I am glad he is calling out his erudite and energetic vision for an education of fearlessness. He knows that “Perfect Love, like perfect non-violence (i.e., non-revenge, non-hate, non-ego) is a highly demanding ethic and consciousness to attain” (pp. 161-162), but he sustains the hope that “if we look and trust radically and deeply enough” (p. 191), we can replace the “Law of Fear” with the “Law of Love” (p. xii). This is a timely and complex vision for education in our globalized and cosmopolitan world. (p. 127)

A day or so before the class, I received an email message from one student in the doctoral seminar. I have met the student a few times, and he always impresses me as theoretically sophisticated, insightfully rigorous, and thoughtfully dedicated to asking big questions about urgent issues of education and human becoming. He especially raised questions about the notion of “Perfect Love” and whether or not it is attainable. He expressed his clear concern that “Perfect Love” is simply not attainable. I was struck by the difficulty of language in discussing love.

In the seminar I shared anecdotes and ruminations about love and schools. And I distributed a list of several quotations I have been mulling over, including the following:

hooks, bell. (2013). Writing beyond race: Living theory and practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

“When describing the political system that we live within here in the United States, more often than not, I use the complicated phrase imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. This phrase is useful precisely because it does not prioritize one system over another but rather offers us a way to think about the interlocking systems that work together to uphold and maintain cultures of domination” (p. 4).

“As we move away from dominator culture towards a liberatory culture where partnership and mutuality are valued we create a culture wherein we can all learn to love. There can be no love where there is domination. And anytime we do the work of love we are doing the work of ending domination” (p. 37).

hooks promotes: “education for critical consciousness that re-shapes thought and action” (p. 185)

Kogawa, Joy. (2016). Gently to Nagasaki. Halfmoon Bay, BC: Caitlin Press.

“For my part, I hold with a fierce and painful joy my trust in a Love that is more real than we are” (p. 42).

“The life of which I was a part, my family’s life, my community’s life, everything that was done to any of us or by any of us—everything—all the good, all the evil, all the shame, all the secrets, all the kindness, all the sorrow, all all all, was fully known. A tide within me surged forth and I acknowledged the Knowing as the Presence of Love” (p. 70).

Finney, Sandra, & Sagal, Jane Thurgood. (2017). The way of the teacher: A path for personal growth and professional fulfillment. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

“The profession of teaching is one that calls us to be lovers of wisdom, to love learning new things, to more deeply understand old ideas we hold, and to ignite this spark of curiosity and wonder in our students” (p. 107).

Heller, Chaia. (1999). Ecology of everyday life: Rethinking the desire for nature. Montreal, PQ: Black Rose Books.

“In love, there is a paradox. In order to know and understand that which we love, we must first know ourselves. We must engage in a continual process of becoming conscious of our own beliefs, prejudices, and desires if we are to truly see that which we love. When we fail to know ourselves in this way, the beloved can be nothing more than a projection of our own desires, a projection that obstructs our vision of the desires, history, and distinctiveness of those we love” (p. 35).

Nonnekes, Paul. (2001). Three moments of Love in Leonard Cohen & Bruce Cockburn. Montreal, PQ: Black Rose Books.

“Structures of love are created not through the fixing of desire in secure borders and boundaries, but through establishing frameworks of intersubjectivity, the activity of subjects reciprocally recognizing each other’s independence and freedom, recognizing each other’s difference, establishing a big space for the entertaining of diversity” (p. 174-175).

Taylor, Barbara Brown. (2009). An altar in the world: A geography of faith. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

“…the hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbour as the self…” (p. 93).

In the course of my conversation with the seminar participants, I asked, How can we learn to live with one another in our diversity? That has always been one of my main commitments as an educator—learning to live with the other, with one another, with others, with myself in relation to all the others who are not me. What does it mean to experience Perfect Love in relation to all the others I know as you?

I don’t think the participants in the seminar were ready to take up the kinds of issues and questions I offered. Conversations about love are messy! I drew the class visit to a close with a recent poem, full of memories of my brother.

Apple Tree

growing up on Lynch’s Lane

my brother and I always loved

fall when apples sparkled

on Old Viv Drover’s tree

and we slipped over the fence

from Cec’s backyard to stuff

our pockets full of apples like

sour stones after a season

too short for anything but

potatoes carrots turnips

but we still stole the apples

because they hung on a tree free

ate a few and threw the rest

like grenades in the war games

we fought constantly like

democracy depended on our defiance

slipping over the fence in October

dark like we were winding through

barbed wire on the Berlin wall

intent on espionage and escape


last August I remembered the raids

on Old Viv Drover’s apple tree

while standing in the backyard

of my brother’s house in Mt. Pearl

outside St. John’s Newfoundland

where an unlikely apple tree stood

in the corner because my brother’s

six-year-old grandson suggested

with infectious hope they plant

an apple tree since an apple a day

will keep the doctor away but no

apples could battle cancer and on

the day of my brother’s funeral

he and I are still sneaking over

the fence in the cool dark autumn

evening to steal the last apples

on Old Viv Drover’s tree bulldozed

decades ago for an arterial highway

even though the apples still taste

hard sour stomach-slaking as always



Leggo, C. (2011). Living love: Confessions of a fearful teacher. JCACS (Journal of

     the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies), 9(1), pp. 115-144.


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  • I'm delighted Carl (who was co-supervisor of my dissertation at UBC 2000-03) would ruminate poetically and in a scholarly way on "love" as messy as it is... (same with fear)... lots for good discussion still to be had on love and fear... no doubt. And how timely, in contradistinction with recent FM blog on Gun Problem: Fear Problem and mass murdering trends in American schools... 

    My own latest take on this dialectic (trialectic) of love, fearlessness, fear go to my FM blog and pdf article on Paulo Friere's "radical love" in critical pedagogy and my critique


    Applying Fearlessness to Paulo Freire's "Radical Love"
    The following article, just published in the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy (2017), I wrote as a critique of "radical love" (a la Paulo F…
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