Niemeyer Series Welcomes Dr. Gholnescar Muhammad

On October 20, Dr. Gholnescar Muhammad, Associate Professor of Literacy, Language, and Culture at the University of Illinois at Chicago, presented an informative lecture at Bank Street College of Education titled “Cultivating Genius and Joy in Education through Culturally and Historically Responsive Pedagogies.” Her presentation was part of the College’s Niemeyer Series, an annual forum that explores contemporary issues in education.

In her presentation, Dr. Muhammad offered a culturally and historically responsive approach toward the goal of cultivating genius and joy in education. This approach accelerates the growth of all students and, uniquely, youth of color, who have been traditionally underserved in learning standards, policies, and school practices.

Muhammad spoke about cultivating genius and joy as she unpacked ideas about what equity, access, and anti-racism can look like in practice. She started by asking the audience to “check in with their hearts” before describing a student as struggling or at risk or minority or non-White.”She reminded the audience that when educators start the story with anything but genius, they rob students of their dignity and break their spirit.

Instead, she encouraged educators to love all students as if they were your own children while focusing on creating genius and joy—and the spaces for that genius to emerge.

Muhammad gave many examples about the history of American education that are not taught, including a story about the Black literary societies of the early 1800s, where young Black men and women met for what they called “intellectual feasts.” She related the story of one these events in 1837, where a Black man named James Forten spoke about education in a way that resonates with today’s progressive learning. She told us that in his address, he showed that literacy was for learning mathematics and science, that improving your mind will bring you joy, that our limbs were never made to wear chains of servitude, that equal rights were intended to all. Muhammad reminded us that these ideas are now called project-based and inquiry-based learning. She reminded the audience that when education connects the mind and the heart, that is now called social-emotional learning. She explained that this man did not state that these ideas about education were just for Black people, but for all people, which speaks to today’s anti-racist drive to make the world better by disrupting and dismantling hurt, pain, and harm—an idea that today is called culturally responsive teaching.

Dr. Muhammad used many detailed historical and curricular examples throughout the presentation to outline the five steps of her equity framework: the development of identity, skills, intellect, criticality, and joy. After the lecture, she shared the lesson plans she referenced with attendees for their own use. As she concluded, Muhammad reminded the audience about the educator’s purpose: to create joy while building a better world for a future that will be managed by—and belongs to—their students.

Cecelia Traugh, Dean, Bank Street Graduate School of Education, said, “Dr. Muhammad’s best-selling book, Cultivating Genius: An Equity Model for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy, is used in many courses at Bank Street, and her presentation, with its accessible ideas and sample curricula, gave us inspiring ways to carry forward her body of thought and work, which could not be more urgent and of greater interest than it is today.”

The Niemeyer Series comprises lectures and symposia focused on urgent matters of educational interest. The Series is dedicated to the memory of John H. Niemeyer, Bank Street’s second president, for his leadership in helping Bank Street College of Education become a national voice for children beyond practice and into policy.

To learn more, visit our Niemeyer Series webpage.