How Can We Move Toward Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies?

The PDCRT project is driven by a commitment to changing an unjust, Euro-dominant status quo in pedagogy, policy, and practice. Through the development, implementation, and documentation of teaching practices, dyads and board members worked to stay true to the theoretical constructs of culturally relevant teaching as outlined by Ladson-Billings (1995), which meant that they focused on developing students’ cultural competence, critical consciousness, and achievement. It was not until after this cohort’s two-year participation in the PDCRT project that many of us began reading about Paris and Alim’s (2017b) conceptualization of culturally sustaining pedagogy, which is grounded primarily in work done in secondary education. We wondered how we could move our work toward their tenets as we continued to explore the implications of this work in early childhood classrooms.

As this book’s editors note in Chapter One, the theory of culturally sustaining pedagogy was constructed as part of a “loving critique” (Paris & Alim, 2014, p. 85) of Ladson-Billings’ articulation of culturally relevant pedagogy and an attempt to “shift the term, stance, and practice of asset pedagogies toward more explicitly pluralist outcomes” (p. 87). CSP moves beyond culturally relevant pedagogies to center the cultural and linguistic riches of children of Color, their cultural dexterity in moving within and across cultures, not as a means to meet the colonized and colonizing objectives of education today, but as the foundations of disruptive and transformative curriculum and teaching. We see this as constituting an overhaul of the institution of education through “explicit resistances that embrace cultural pluralism and cultural equality” (Paris, 2012, p. 95) as the norm in schooling and in society. Paris and Alim (2017b) argue that “CSP, then, is necessary to honor, value, and center the rich and varied practices of communities of color, and, is a necessary pedagogy for helping shape access to power in a changing nation” (p. 6). Recapped below are characteristic features of CSP provided by Paris and Alim (2017a) and laid out in Chapter One:

  • 1. A critical centering on dynamic community languages, valued practices, and knowledges [that must be] centered meaningfully.
  • 2. Student and community agency and input (community accountability).
  • 3. Historicized content and instruction [that] connects] present learning to the histories
  • 4. of racial, ethnic, and linguistic communities, and to the histories of neighborhoods and cities, and the histories of the larger states and nation-states that they are a part of.
  • 5. A capacity to contend with internalized oppressions (and counter messages and systems that suggest that marginalized students and families are the problem and value White, middle-class, monolingual, monocultural values above all else).
  • 6. An ability to curricularize these features in learning settings.

Paris and Alim also emphasize that these pedagogical features are not enough. In a 2019 presentation, Paris explained that they must go hand-in-hand with a willingness “to resist and refuse when school, district, and state curriculum, policies, and practices reinforce these false and damaging beliefs in superiority” (Paris, 2019).

As can be seen in Figure 6.2, the work of the dyads described in the preceding chapters consists primarily of elements representing features #1 through #4 and are examples of #5, the cumcularization of those features, that is, honoring and extending those features through normalizing them in the curriculum. We see these PDCRT activities as intentional efforts to “resist and refuse” normalized Eurocratic curriculum, policies, and practices. However, because they were implemented during the course of two school years, the degree to which the dyad work is actually sustaining is not yet clear. We are left to ask: Will multiculturalism, multilingualism, and criticality be sustained in the dyad schools, students’ lives, and surrounding communities when these committed teachers and administrator leave? If not, why? And without committed educators, what will it take for the ideology underlying this work to take hold as foundational to institutions? With those questions in mind, the work of PDCRT—which is culturally relevant and an important contribution to literature on pedagogy in early literacy and early childhood education—moves “forward with love” (Paris & Alim, 2014, p. 95) toward culturally sustaining pedagogy, toward offering “education for the human soul” (Cooper, 1892). We move forward, however, with sober hope (Bell, 1992), a kind of hope that “allows people to see the realism of the situation and to not expect miraculous, uncomplicated changes” (Boutte, 2015, p. 89). We feel confident that the work ofPDCRT plays an important role in the movement toward cultural and linguistic pluralism as a pedagogical norm, recognizing that this involves challenging and transforming the monocultural and monolingual goals of our Eurocratic systems of education.

When studying Figure 6.2, it is also important to note that, while some practices may be aligned with principles of CSP, they do not constitute a template to replicate. Instead, they were co-constructed by the dyads and their students and families and

Features of CSP (Paris &Alim, 2017b)

CSP features evident in PDCRT unrk

1. A critical centering on dynamic community languages, valued practices, and knowledges [that must be] centered meaningfully;

Honoring community language practices & parenting strategies when teaching

Supporting children’s translanguaging Sc reflecting translanguaging in the classroom environment

Grounding mothers’ group & other school-parent interactions in their languages, practices, knowledge, & concerns, not “teaching them how to” Selecting & creating books reflecting children’s languages, cultures, races, & interests & discussing them with parents

Valuing & organizing children’s study of revered figures in

community, of sports teams, popular culture, music & literacies, heritages & countries of origin

Integrating parents as participants into learning activities

2. Student and community agency and input (community accountability);

Engaging family members as active participants in school community

Communicating consistently & constructively about children’s strengths & challenges with family Providing parents with resources & preparation for school encounters with other teachers, administrators, special services teams

Using multiple means, modalities, and sites for communicating with families & for families to use Creating literal & figurative space for families in schools &


Teaching to students’ strengths and possibilities for growth not perceived developmental level

Working from ecological, contextualized view of learning & development that understands them as embedded in family/cultural/sociohistorical contexts Establishing con fanza, a community value/practice based on mutual respect

Organizing children’s research & presentations to community on family assets & histories

Organizing children’s interviews of family members Providing multiple ways for children to demonstrate learning

Using authentic, contextualized, translanguagcd, culturally relevant assessments

Preparing children for standardized assessments

Features of CSP (Paris &Alim, 2017b) CSP features evident in PDCRT work

  • 3. Historicized content and instruction [that] connects] present learning to the histories of racial, ethnic, and linguistic communities, and to the histories of neighborhoods and cities, and the histories of the larger states and nation-states that they are a part of;
  • 4. A capacity to contend with internalized oppressions |and counter messages and systems that suggest that marginalized students and families are the problem and value White, middle-class, monolingual, monoculture] values above all else];
  • 5. An ability to curricularize these features in learning settings (Paris & Alim, 2017b).

Disrupting colonized history of school relationships with families & communities

Welcoming families regardless of immigration status Organizing children’s research into family histories, heritage countries, languages, music, & literacies Creating opportunities for children & families to discuss racism, immigration, fairness, & justice Introducing community sites to children and families through field trips that connect with family experiences

Creating multilingual curricula that reflect children’s families & communities

Insisting on & modeling correct pronunciation of children’s and families’ names Confronting English-only school policies and discourses & furthering parents' abilities to understand and challenge them Strengthening mothers’ abilities to advocate for children

Standing up to biased assessments and providing alternatives

Advocating for children & families with colleagues & administrators; countering deficit assumptions Fostering children’s ability to speak back to others’ deficit perspectives of them

Validating children’s interests, questions, expertise, & heritages by centering them in the curriculum Providing opportunities for teachers, teacher educators, and students to engage in inquiry, debate, research, discussion, analysis, questions, & arguments Fostering children's positive understandings of race, heritage, language, and modeling language to discuss those issues with others

Fostering children's autonomy & choice, including with student-led lessons

Fostering colleagues’ understanding of culturally relevant teaching & abilities to use it by offering and providing professional development

The examples above represent ways the dyads curricularized

features #1—#4 during the time they were in the PDCRT project.

FIGURE 6.2 Features of CSP and Summary of CSP Features from Chapters 2-5.

grew out of their experiences together, infused with their cultures, in their specific schools and communities, at particular social-historical conjunctures. Thus, while some practices, for example teaching “to the potential and not the perceived developmental level of our children” (Diaz & Flores, 2001, p. 31), as described in Chapter Three, may apply to all settings as challenges to Eurocratic early childhood practice, the multiple ways it can be implemented will depend on each educator’s experiences, students, families, and context. Other examples such as the use of consejos in Chapter Two were very specific to the teacher’s culture and that of the children in her class and can provide inspiration and insights about ways in which the cultures of teachers, students, and families can be foregrounded in classroom work.

With these thoughts in mind about the characteristics of CSP, the potentially tenuous nature of the work, the importance of avoiding formulas, and the work of four PDCRT dyads reported in this book, we consider what we would need to do in order to move toward culturally sustaining pedagogies. To do so, we revisit Paris and Alim’s (2017a) questions paraphrased in Chapter One (questions 1-4 below) and we add additional questions drawing on our PDCRT work (questions 5—10 below). We offer these questions to provoke self-reflection as we and other educators seek sustainability:

  • 1. How can our pedagogies be culturally sustaining and what is it we seek to sustain?
  • 2. How does our answer to that question influence what we decide to read, write, speak, and teach?
  • 3. What and who are the sources of knowledge we must be in critical conversation with?
  • 4. How are we critically learning within communities? (Paris & Alim, 2017a)
  • 5. When is our teaching a supportive, culturally relevant moment in time and not necessarily sustaining of multiculturalism and multilingualism in the lives of students and their communities or sustainable in our own institution? What will it take for our culturally relevant work to be sustaining and sustainable?
  • 6. Can one teacher’s practice lead to sustaining culture and language in the life of a child? In the life of a school? In the life of a community?
  • 7. When committed educators leave a school setting, how can the commitment be sustained? What does it take for educational settings to avoid slipping back into Eurocratic practices that silence and degrade the work toward normalized multilingualism and multiculturalism?
  • 8. What additional knowledge, shifts in understanding and ideology, and risktaking actions are required of educators individually? Collaboratively?
  • 9. What changes are required institutionally and what are the drawbacks of institutionalization?
  • 10. What might schools and classrooms, especially those with young children, look and be like if culturally sustaining pedagogies were fully implemented?

As mentioned earlier, at the core of this work is a willingness to identify and give up/dismantle unjust power structures, which brings us to a final set of self-reflective questions. These are relevant to all educators but imperative for those of us who are White—including this chapters’ authors—who “must be willing to give up the false and damaging belief that who we are (and the unjust power that may come with our identities), that what our nonns and beliefs are, somehow deserve more attention in schools” (Paris, 2019). We ask:

  • 1. In what specific ways am I (or is my school) perpetuating and fostering “linguistic, literate, and cultural pluralism as a part of schooling for positive social transformation and revitalization” (Paris & Alim, 2017a), recognizing that, for this to truly be a part of schooling, it must be seen and enacted as foundational, daily, and the norm?
  • • What has to happen in my classroom and my institution for that to occur?
  • • What barriers do I see to making this happen?
  • • What do I need to do next to move us toward that goal?
  • 2. In what ways am I willing to divest from “the ways whiteness castes normed practices and bodies as superior ... what spaces am I willing to relinquish to make necessary space for centering others, other life ways in [my] classrooms and schools?” (Paris, 2019)
  • 3. In what specific ways will I “resist and refuse when school, district, and state curriculum, policies, and practices reinforce these false and damaging beliefs in superiority?” (Paris, 2019)
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