Reviewed by Nicole Warchol
Like most teachers in America, I am white. Our teachers don’t even come close to reflecting the racial diversity of our students, where about 80% of the educators are white, but more than half of our student population are not.
Years ago, one of my former students said when the teachers told her that they did not see color, she felt they did not see her. She also added, “There is nothing wrong with being black.” In order to teach children well, we need to really see them and their experiences.
As our country reconciles with its past and struggles with who it wants to be in the future, now is the time to reflect and review our own teaching practices and school policies in order to create a fairer school community for our black students.
How historically appealing literacy can help
Cultivate genius Former K12 teacher and associate professor Gholdy Muhammad is a text that can be used in support of this endeavor. It contains eight chapters and is divided into three parts. The teaching examples span content areas and are both accessible and reader-friendly.
In addition, at the end of each chapter, Mohammed contains separate questions aimed at educators / teachers and school principals in order to generate personal reflection or discussion depending on how the text is used.
The book begins with an introduction to the theory and model of historically appealing literacy (HBW). In essence, HBW is a shift in programming where the social context and cultural identities become more relevant or central to our work. This switch only increases student engagement.
“The HBW framework improves the Common Core State Standards by going beyond mere skills and knowledge. This requires a shift in the school curriculum and lesson planning to include black history as we prepare preparatory teachers and support practicing teachers. If these four learning objectives [identity development, skill development, intellectual development, criticality] are taught with excellent teaching methods, learning becomes humanizing. . . Taken together, these four aspirations are also intended to restore the strength, energy and originality of teachers and leaders ”(157-8).
Move to the fore for justice
Muhammad wants us to take action. She calls out to “armchair revolutionaries who are committed to change, but only look at them from the comfort of their chairs. We need teachers who are at the forefront of modeling, guiding, participating, and doing what we ask students to do ”(78).
It will be different for all of us. Some of us may envision the full curriculum. for others it can only involve a shift. Some of us will begin changes in our own classrooms and departments while others may expand into our school community. Are you ready to answer Muhammad’s call?
Cultivate genius is based on the work of the black literary societies, and I am sure our black students will benefit from the implementation of historically appealing literacy. Muhammad advocates a celebration of learning where educators overlay texts through a multimodal approach, showing that using this framework can benefit all students on your roster.
Ultimately, Gholdy Muhammad is looking for a collaborative transformation in an education system that is largely stagnating. I have gained critical insights from this book and I continue to love it. As an educator, if you are looking for ways in which you can contribute to racial justice, you may want to start reading Cultivate genius.
Nicole Warchol has taught middle school for more than a decade. She is a former NCTE Ambassador and current board member of the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English. She is an Aquarius and therefore from birth she was destined to receive a wide variety of people. Nicole is also a Ravenclaw who occasionally writes poetry and does yoga with puppies. She tweets from @MsNWarchol.
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