Creating better teaching environments starts with reexamining the norms within them. That is one of the defining principles of the highly anticipated new book from TC’s Christopher Emdin, Ratchetdemic: Reimagining Academic Success.

Emdin, Associate Professor of Science Education in TC’s Department of Mathematics, Science & Technology, defines “ratchet” as the unique, inchoate knowledge and embedded genius of Black, brown, queer, Indigenous or other marginalized students. “Ratchet” is often dismissed, rejected or even feared by teachers and schools. But if it is discovered, valued and allowed to flourish in an academic setting — if it is made “ratchetdemic” — it can produce success at school, even for students whose basic needs for adequate food, clothing and shelter are not always met, Emdin tells Larry Ferlazzo in a new interview with Education Week.

“The child who has been robbed of security, safety, belonging, and love is still very capable of creating new and original work,” Emdin says. “The issue becomes whether or not schools (teachers, school leaders, academics) can see the imaginative, creative, and nontraditional ways that they do so and create opportunities in the classroom for their genius to be expressed.”

To value the “ratchet” in their students, Emdin says teachers need to reject the deficit view of their students’ capabilities that is supported by schools themselves. “Our work is to face what we do as well as what we are explicit in accepting,” encouraging teachers to “read more diverse perspectives. Leave your neighborhood and go into other communities, talk to children when class is over about things other than the content. Most importantly, know who you are first before trying to find out who someone else is.”

Teachers should be trained to focus on the inherent assets of their students — “the mathematical genius on the sports field, the creative genius, the storytelling in youth poetry, and the critical thinking in the games they play,” Emdin says. “When teachers have learned to see youth genius, we can reintroduce the realities around poor outcomes.”

Ratchetdemics “opens up a new dimension of teaching and learning,” Emdin says. “There is no time more essential for us to embrace this approach. The lives of our children and the future of our society depend on it.”

Read the full interview in Education Week.