Continuing to Widen the Lens: Learn More, Do Better

Cultivating Genius Book Study

This is the second post in our summer book study; see all contributions here. If you are reading Cultivating Genius with us, share your thoughts in our discussion board.

The challenge for me in writing my thoughts here is honing in on just one thing to write about…there are so many opportunities within Cultivating Genius that cause one to pause, reflect, and ruminate upon.

I had the unique opportunity to participate in a book study on Gholdy’s book earlier this spring. From this experience, I can attest that one reading, nay, even two readings of this book are not enough to fully grapple with the content. I am still working on wrapping my head around how we got where we are, or maybe it’s more…why in the $@# are we still here!?! By “here” I mean the current, ongoing, inequitable and systemically flawed education system. 

The more I read, dialogue with others, and continue to learn, the more urgency I feel to fix the system. The dysfunction of our education system reminds me of a podcast I listened to where Brene Brown was conversing with Ibram X. Kendi. At one point in the conversation Ibram says,

“To grow up in America, is to grow up, and for racist ideas to be rained on your head and you have no umbrella and you don’t even know that you are wet with those racist ideas because the racist ideas themselves cause you to imagine that you are dry. And then someone comes along and says, ‘You know what, you’re wet, and these racist ideas are still raining on your head, here’s an umbrella.’”

How many of the “educational things” being done to children, educators, even administrators stem from racist ideas? Yet many of us go about our day in the education system without even knowing that we are wet. Gholdy’s book really brings a lot of this into perspective for me. “Thank you for the umbrella!” 

Her framework for culturally and historically responsive literacy is critical in order to change the current monolith and create a truly equitable system for ALL students.

Far too many things in education are decided by those who are not actually in the classroom, in many cases have never been in a classroom, interacting, teaching and learning alongside children. Yet they are in control of making decisions that affect children on a daily basis. 

Here are just a few examples:

  • Legislation that privileges a few, yet affects all.  

  • Tests written with bias and used to gauge the effectiveness of a school and/or district.  

  • Textbooks, standards, and/or prepackaged curricula are written and distributed that may or may not reflect the unique identities of all the children in the classroom and likely don’t have solid research to stand on.

And yet...there is hope. Gholdy’s book and her framework for equity bring hope.

I absolutely love the depth and richness of the history Gholdy tells regarding Black Literate Societies, how they brought people together, lifted one another up, engaged in dialogic conversations all the while celebrating black joy. Powerful! It’s hard, after 25 years in education, to just be finding out now about practices that were in existence in the 19th century which propelled learning forward, and at the same time developing the identity, intellect and critical thinking necessary to survive and thrive in an ever changing global world. These are things that should be celebrated, cultivated, and lifted up...not hidden away! 

So...what if we took the framework from Cultivating Genius and began our own principled resistance, engaging in action research to truly make a difference in the education systems we live and work in?  To intentionally recognize and value the identities of the children before us? To use that knowledge to create learning opportunities that are responsive to each child’s unique needs, interests and cultures? To intentionally provide time, space, and energy for them, and ourselves, to be fully present in our humanness?

Let’s get a new perspective on standards, programs, curriculum boxes, and one size fits all agendas and instead embrace Gholdy’s language of  “Literary Pursuits” (vs. “standards to master”). Literary pursuits seem much more fitting for a culture of learning. Let’s push back against mandates, legislation and curricula that privilege some and harm others, and move forward with practices that work toward equity for all. As Gholdy states (pg. 132), 

“Criticality is not just something that is fun or interesting to do at the end of the semester as a time filler.  It is an intellectual practice of studying the state of humanity.”  

If we immerse ourselves and our thinking in the lesson samples and ideas in Chapter 6 that encompass criticality, identity, and intellect with cross curricular thinking and doing, we truly could begin to hone our craft to embody these ideas and see a shift for the better in education.

I have long stood by the Maya Angelou quote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” Let’s do better!

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