Cultivating Genius

Blog Post by Brent Gilson

Wakelet archive of this chat can be found here

“We must start their stories and identities with their excellence.”

Dr. Gholdy Muhammad

Why this book? Why now?

The problems and absences in education were my motivations to write this book. These problems and absences include the lack of mandates and policies responding to the needs of children of color. I am tired of seeing the same state standards and mandates for teaching and learning. These do not fully give all youth a chance to have a full and quality life. Often times, these same standards do not include a clear equity model for teachers or leaders. I was tired of all youth not getting what they deserve. I wanted to present what a different way could be—one that reframes education for all. This new model uses Black historical excellence as a way forward.  We have to create a new foundation and system for youth to be better educated—one that is anti-racist and anti-oppressive. The theories and practices offered in this book will rejuvenate teaching and learning practices and will benefit students, leaders, teachers and teacher educations.

Dr. Gholdy Muhammad

I am currently reading Cultivating Genius by Dr. Gholdy Muhammad. This week I was excited to participate in our chat on #G2Great about her book. The chat was electric but that is what happens when looking at such a powerful text. Growing up in Canada I have a very limited view of American History, and what I did receive was definitely the white washed version. I most certainly was never introduced to anything about Black Literary Societies which are a key focus of this powerful text. The rich literacy history was carried out largely away from the view of the white-controlled education system. As I sit reading I am constantly amazed at how little I really knew and also the fact that these Black Literary Societies were so far ahead of their time when we look at the practices of today. A key point that came up many times in the chat and the book, is the success of our Black and Brown students in the traditionally Euro-centric schools. How these systems were not created to celebrate their excellence but that traditionally schools were created to keep that excellence down.

A question has been stuck in my head since the first few pages of this text. Why did white decision-makers not embrace these early literacy practices? The short answer, of course, is white supremacy but I feel it goes beyond just that.

We have students who have been left out of the educational decision-making process because of a desire to have a one size fits all approach. This has left our Black and Brown students to struggle within a system that was not created for them to succeed.

As I read and learn about the Historically Responsive Literacy Framework I can’t help but wonder how following this would not be best for all students.

So where do we go from here? Accepting that we have been underserving our Black and Brown students, what are our next steps? How do we begin to repair the damage and begin to Cultivate Genius? Dr. Muhammad presents this path in embracing the Historically Responsive Literacy Framework.

The ideas we need to embrace

The biggest takeaway is to steer away from Eurocentric practices and ways of being and instead move toward teaching and learning grounded in the excellence of Blackness. Blackness is a diverse group and no other group of people have our histories. For this reason, it is key that we use models offered from these rich histories of Blackness. Teaching with the historically responsive model (identity, skills, intellectualism and criticality) offered in the book will enable teachers to teach the whole child. This model will enrich pedagogy and teach youth to know themselves, to know others and be socio-conscious beings in the world.

Dr. Gholdy Muhammad

As I read and learn more about Anti-racist pedagogy Identity keeps coming up. If it is in Tiffany Jewell’s This book is anti-racist, Sarah K. Ahmed’s Being the Change or in this AMAZING post by Dr. Erica Buchanan-Rivera which lays out steps for parents to teach their kids about racism and starts with identity work. Identity seems key and as we look at the work of Dr. Muhammad we see Identity is a key piece of the historically responsive framework.

Once we come to a better understanding of both our identity and that of our students we must begin looking at the ways we will approach the skills that our students need to learn. It is not secret that at #G2Great we are not advocates of the worksheet so we hope that all work students are given is worthy of their brilliance. Dr. Muhammad offers her thoughts,

Skills instruction is a necessary piece of the framework. As we shared we looked at how those skills were taught. As I read Cultivating Genius I see the authentic manner of which skills were approached, as a piece of authentic learning. Why is it that we can’t do that more? What is getting in our way as educators? Who benefits from skill work in isolation? Beyond Worksheet publishers? So how do we build our intellect? How do we build our skills? The answer is one we know but in this framework it seems so powerful.

We read. So simple and yet so powerful.

We can’t stop at reading. Lately, we see so many educators talking about the books they are reading often offering up lists but stopping there. The final pillar in this framework is Criticality. How we look at, think about and question what we read and the situations we are faced with. There are no better words than Dr. Muhammad’s here

With Cultivating Genius Dr. Gholdy Muhammad has provided us with a framework that honours the history of Black Literary Societies. In doing this we also have a pathway to helping not just our Black and Brown students but all of us reach our potential through following this work. To close, Dr. Muhammad reflects on what in her heart she would like teachers to keep in mind as they begin to reflect on her work.

Love our children. Love our Black children. Love the ways they are silent, loud, and all the spaces in between. Love their culture and Blackness. If you are going to teach Black lives, say the words, “Black Lives Matter” and authentically infuse activism and criticality into your teaching practices. Use Blackness as a model to understand other youth who have been marginalized or underserved. Don’t treat students of color as if they have deficiencies or as if you need to save them. We need to see the genius in them and start their stories off with genius and not with the things the system has created.

-Dr. Gholdy Muhammad

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