By Vince Puzick
Note: I emailed Hollyanne Bates (CCIRA’s blog curator) on January 1, 2021 to ask if I could submit a blog about our current “book study.” Like many of you, I have read and re-read Gholdy Muhammad’s Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy over the past several months. I envisioned writing a blog focused on identity and equity and to invite CCIRA members to email me with your reflections in May for a blog to close out the book study. Then, January 6, 2021 happened.
Gholdy Muhammad writes, “I define text as anything that can be read – both print texts and nonprint texts. Society members were reading print texts but they were also reading the world as texts (Freire and Macedo, 1987). They read images and the social times as texts” (emphasis mine, 33).
And, oh my. We have been handed a lot to read when we consider the current images and the present social times as texts.
We are inundated with competing voices, multiple perspectives, hostile rhetoric, and (occasionally?) reasoned argument. Our screens load visual images that have us questioning, and maybe leave us anxious and unnerved.
I have immersed myself these past few days in considering Muhammad’s concept of criticality: “Criticality enables us to question both the world and the texts within it to better understand the truth in history, power, and equity” (117). We must interrogate the world and its texts. Passive, disengaged consumption of texts is not enough. It has never been enough. But today, students must “interrogate the world not only to make sense of injustice but also to work toward social transformation” (120).
It’s a tall order.
Gholdy Muhammad’s definition offered at the beginning of her book stayed with me each time I re-read: “Literacy is not just about reading words on the page… Reading and writing are transformative acts that improve self and society” (emphasis mine, page 9).
When I embrace the idea that literacy is a “transformative act,” and when I broaden the definition of text to include “anything that can be read,” her Framework rises to a whole new level of importance beyond another “literacy framework” focused on decoding and comprehension of complex texts.
If I truly believe – and I do – that authentic literacy empowers students, then in what ways will I think and act as an educator? I hold Muhammad’s statement to be true: “Teachers must ask if they will be transformed by the learning as they expect and want students to be transformed” (emphasis mine, 78).
The classroom must be a transactional environment as well as a transformative one: “Criticality does not believe in hierarchies in teaching and learning” (122). What instructional decisions do I make to disrupt that hierarchy? What does classroom discussion look and sound like? What texts are students reading – and who is making the decision for those texts? And what criteria drive those decisions?
I am a learner within a community of learners as I work with students in the interrogation of the texts in front of them – print, nonprint, visual, oral, and digital. Further, I learn the identities of my students: identities as readers, identities in cultural contexts, in historical contexts, and in the context of an educational system that has not served all of our students in equitable and meaningful ways.
Ultimately, at this moment in time marked by anxiety, uncertainty, and fear, I understand Gholdy Muhammad’s declaration that “Who we are is connected to historical, institutional, political, and sociocultural factors” (69).
If teachers are to be “transformed by the learning,” then we must center student voices; we must honor and value all that they bring to the classroom. We must read and listen closely to learn “the realities and lived experiences of persons experiencing the moment, which equally contribute to the same narrative” (120).
We are, all of us, connected to, and can be connected through, this moment in time.
I invite you to share your reflections and responses to Gholdy Muhammad’s Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy. My goal is to gather many (if not all?) of your responses in a blog later in the spring. Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org and please, for ease in gathering, use “Cultivating Genius” in the subject line.
Vince Puzick served in public education for over 32 years as a college composition instructor, high school English teacher, and K-12 content specialist in literacy and language arts. He now provides professional development in standards-based curriculum design and instructional practice. When the weather is nice (which is every day), he is fly fishing on one of Colorado’s rivers and probably daydreaming. He is working on a series of literary nonfiction pieces tentatively titled Americana. Vince lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, Jannetta, his daughter, two stepdaughters, a dog, and a cat named Trout.