How parents are protecting Black genius

Creating learning environments rooted in community wisdom



Village of Wisdom parents and children in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo from pre-Covid times before masks.) Photo credit: VOW

How can we help all teachers unlock the gifts, talents, and prior knowledge of Black learners? How can parents protect the Black genius of their kids — and transform the U.S. education system in the process?

Few groups are thinking more deeply and creatively about this than Village of Wisdom, a community of parents, educators, and changemakers in Durham, North Carolina. As Village of Wisdom gears up to launch a new project — a clearinghouse for culturally-affirming instructional materials that are validated by Black parents — we tapped the core team for insights. Watch the full conversation in our Welcome Change series! Here are a few highlights:

Why prior knowledge matters

Learning is the process of connecting prior knowledge — the set of experiences and knowledge students bring to the classroom — to new information. So when a Black learner’s culture is ignored or invalidated, that child cannot be expected to learn, says Will Jackson, founder and Chief Dreamer, and an Ashoka Fellow.

The journey of Black parents

Black parents come to Village of Wisdom from a “place of disappointment, or straight-up anger,” says Taylor Webber-Fields, Orchestrator of Parent Leadership. Here’s Taylor on the journey of Black parents and what they gain — community, affirmation, and the Black genius framework that validates their experience and helps them take action.

The wisdom of Black parents

What do parents say they want? “They want to see change in their children’s classrooms,” says Amber Majors, Research Manager, reflecting on some of her early discussions with parents to inform the Black genius framework and, now, the clearinghouse. “Black parents have a lot of wisdom to offer. Why don’t we lean into it?”

The power of curiosity

Some 80% of all teachers in the U.S. are white (while 40% of students are non-white). Assumptions about Black learners can block change, says Taylor, who advises teachers: “Be curious about people, about individuals; don’t let the Black part intimidate you to the point that you can’t see a human — a student learner standing in front of you.”

Classrooms where kids can love and create

What makes educators and learning environments effective? Will shares three things: tap students’ intrinsic motivation; make sure students can see themselves in what they are learning (i.e., lift up the contributions of Black greats like Ella Baker, Fred Hampton, Bayard Rustin, Fannie Lou Hammer), and create learning environments that children can trust, where they can love and create.

You can watch the full conversation here. We encourage you to! You will get inspired and learn a lot — and you will also hear about Amber’s and Taylor’s grandmothers, and Will’s mom — the Black geniuses whose inspiration they brought to this conversation.

This conversation is part of Welcome Change, a “news hour” series of Ashoka that taps the world’s social entrepreneurs as experts on timely topics. You can browse upcoming and past conversations in the series here.




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