Conversations around education tend to focus on the achievement gap, failing public schools, and international competition. While all of these things are important, we often fail to focus on what families can do to aid their children’s development. When a friend sent me a link to a video of his son the other day, I assumed I’d see his son toddling around, saying the darndest things, or even rapping. Instead, I was stunned (and heartened) to see 2.5 year old Romanieo Golphin Jr. answering questions on chemistry and physics, alternating between eating his Cheerios (one at a time as he apparently likes to do) and telling his dad the structures of different elements. This short video reminded me that sometimes we underestimate our children’s highest potential and that genius is only a few steps away.
Romanieo Golphin, Sr. and Cheri Philip, Romanieo Jr.’s parents, created the video as part of their work with the Robeson Group, an organization dedicated to closing the achievement gap. They created the video to showcase the learning tools and technologies that they’ve begun pioneering with their son and hope to deliver to other families, particularly families of color to improve children’s academic development and thinking. Across the nation, educational experts and concerned heads of industry are becoming more interested in increasing the number of scientists of color and have been stressing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) educational courses and tracks accordingly.
Tremendous barriers continue to keep students of color and women out of STEM fields, with student skill sets being one of the most damning. Golphin and Philip believe they may have found a way to build strong and diverse skills sets for children: a method that they call TEAM2S (Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math, Music, and Science). Through use of the iOS platform (iPhone, iPad, etc.) they have been using tactile engagement to help their son learn scientific concepts that are hard for many to engage even in high school and college. They not only rely on touch and technology, but also weave in the arts to their training of their young son. Golphin is a composer and orchestrator and Philip holds a PhD in psychology. They have combined their backgrounds with the goal of making learning more than simply filling in bubbles on standardized tests; they hope that TEAM2S will get families and schools to think about educating all dimensions of young people’s minds so that they develop flexible skill sets to utilize in whichever path they pursue.
Through the Robeson Group and TEAM2S, they are interested in recreating dynamic learning systems and communities like those of like the Invisible College: sites of great learning, creative engagement, collaboration and innovation. The costs of tuition did not catapult students into debt like the modern university; instead these fertile learning environments catapulted students into breaking new scientific and artistic ground. The Robeson group, named for Paul Robeson, is an incubator for renaissance activities that challenge dominant narratives and stereotypes about Black communities. In the coming months and years, Golphin and Philip would like to expand the work of TEAM2S to other parents and educational communities. They are working on a book about their approach tentatively titled, A Little Like Einstein: Rebirth of the Polymath. They hope to show that Romanieo Jr’s “genius” is not due to his genetic stock; rather it comes from creating culturally rich and nurturing learning environments.
For centuries, communities of African descent have taken education into our own hands to ensure literacy, citizenship, and the innovation of solutions to dilemmas we have faced. As I re-watched the video of Romanieo Jr. answering questions with ease I could not help but notice the smiles that stretched across his face as his father congratulated him on correct answers. The learning technologies that Golphin and Philip use may be new and will be further tested, but at their core they are based on timeless principles of love, creative educational engagement, and a belief in the genius of all children. The blossoming of a multitude of Black geniuses could be just a few years away if we use new technologies to connect to the lessons of old.
Dr. R. L’Heureux Lewis is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York. His work concentrates on race, education and gender. You can follow him on Twitter at @dumilewis or visit his offical website