Last week we read Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies: Teaching and Learning for Justice in a Changing World, edited by Django Paris and H. Samy Alim. Various contributors in the book advocate for pedagogical paradigm shift through chapter-length discussions where shedding light on the diverse experiences—linguistic, cultural and literate of the marginalized people is argued as a way to rethink dominant classroom practices. Such pedagogies, namely culturally sustaining pedagogies (CSP) may also effectively circumvent erasure of other people’s lived experiences. Personally, culturally sustaining pedagogies and culturally relevant pedagogies (CRP) are new. Some of the distinct threads of discussion that dominated our conversation in class about the book were a) the humane and touching rationale behind these pedagogies, b) the kairotic urgency to incorporate CSP-focused themes and action plans in the form of assignments and curriculum now more than any other times and c) last but not the least, the practical challenges that come along the way.
Thematically, Paris and Alim’s book aligns with last week’s read—Eric Pritchard’s Fashioning Lives: Black Queers and the Politics of Literacy. Pritchard's book also makes a similar urge to focusing our attention to love and compassion to fellow human beings. Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies added that incorporating these emotions in pedagogical practices can bring students closer to the authority figures—the teachers. Centering them can narrow the agency gap between the two parties—teacher and students. We also agreed on the role of teachers in opening up to the students as the book identifies that (opening up) as a key step in reaching out to the students. In connection with this theme, chapter 6 in particular, highlights the idea of “sacred truth spaces” where students feel safe “to engage in the often vulnerable act of telling and hearing multiple truths” (103). Classrooms in this context can be the “space” to foster this sense of safety which enables students and teachers to have “humanizing dialogues”. However, we also stressed on cautions teachers should exercise while opening up to their students, being rhetorical about it—knowing when and to what extent. Regarding caution, we also added how teachers sometimes can reinforce the existing racism even if they are well-meaning and trying to center marginalized students in the classroom. For example, sometimes a well-meaning teacher’s attempt to discuss indigenous/minority cultures may alienate those students in class as they may not be comfortable discussing those issues publicly. Also, they may not identify strongly with their heritage cultures. Considering the tentative complications associated with this issue, teachers may then be rhetorically strategic in approaching them. For example, talking to them in person about their interests and associations may be one way to go about doing this.
The introduction of such pedagogical theories in many cases and incorporation in some may only be a start in the long way that we need to go before we see tangible changes. This led the class conversation to the challenges that lie in incorporating them in the curriculum. One of the challenges teachers face in integrating these pedagogies to their classroom practices is the rigidity of institutional curriculum that hardly leaves any room for diversifying them. Another problem is the standardized tests that students have to take, and teachers need to teach them to. However, we all agreed that we can make individual steps, as small as they are, and insignificant they may seem. Even reading these books are part of the change we desire since they help us shape our own ideas about the desired changes.
Towards the end of the class, we talked about how love and compassion centric pedagogies such as CSP can be a way forward. This pedagogical approach does have the potential, for lack of better terms, to make a dent in the status-quo of the turbulent times we live in. The session concluded with positive vibes, hoping for a better (classroom) future. For personal resonance with themes like sacred truth spaces, humanizing classroom spaces this book really hits home with me. The book and subsequent class conversation got me thinking about situating CSP more in the classes that I teach since they are populated increasingly by students with diverse backgrounds.