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Nicole Cush Lives Her Work

by The Urban News
Nicole Cush, Principal of the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences (SILSA) of Asheville. Photo: Carol Spags

Nicole Cush is the principal of SILSA, the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences embedded at Asheville High School.

She describes how her graduate work at Western Carolina University has broadened her knowledge and her philosophy of curriculum and instruction.

For a large part of her career, she taught American Literature, often beginning with the concept of “rugged individualism,” working through the American Dream, and ending with the Green Light concept—an approach that encourages new ideas and strategies with the potential to transform teaching and learning through removing barriers to broad-based collaboration.

From Teacher to Leader

“As a young teacher,” she writes, “I bought into the notion that anything is possible with hard work, education, and grit. But as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., asserted, it is cruel to ask a bootless man to pull himself up by his bootstraps.”

Her graduate studies deepened her understanding of the impact on the American education system of such assumed realities as meritocracy, self-determination, and individualism; the more she learned, the more her philosophy of education took a left turn.

“I’ve gained a fresh perspective and the desire to go deeper with my staff to understand the pitfalls of ideas about what grit and determination look like. As [Harvard Graduate School of Education] Professor Jal Mehta asserts, ‘We will face trouble when we examine the word grit and realize the profound and negative impact the concept can have on Black and brown students.’

The Past is Prelude

“If we don’t concern ourselves with where our students came from, culturally speaking, and what they face on a daily basis,” it becomes far harder to reach them, Cush asserts. “For example, many of our students are descendants of indigenous people who, historically, have demonstrated a tremendous amount of grit. Yet they…

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