Joining the Work of Sustaining Our Futures

By Django Paris

Dr. Paris is the inaugural James A. and Cherry A. Banks Professor of Multicultural Education and director of the Banks Center for Educational Justice  in the College of Education at the University of Washington on Coast Salish homelands. His most recent collaborative books are Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies: Teaching and Learning for Justice in a Changing World and Education in Movement Spaces: Standing Rock to Chicago Freedom Square. He is also the editor of the new Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies series with Teachers College Press.

His article in the current KDP Educational Forum, “Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies and Our Futures,” is available for free in the month of November.

I write this as climate-crisis disasters wreak havoc on two places dear to my family.  Hurricane Ida has barreled over New Orleans, leaving the city without power and water. Raging wildfires have scorched the Lake Tahoe region and large areas of forest in Northern California. As is always the case, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, and other global majority communities are disproportionately affected by such disasters.

It can sometimes be hard to make necessary connections between this continued violence against the Earth, ongoing movements for racial justice and decolonization, the global pandemic, emboldened white supremacy, and our role as educators in working with young people and families toward more just and sustainable futures. And yet, here we are: the world on fire, a virus variant tearing through communities, just as children, families, and educators are being required to return to in-person instruction, all in the midst of a continued movement to ban the teaching and learning of past and present truths about race, colonialism, gender and sexuality, disability, migration, and more.  

In my own ongoing journey as an educator seeking to join the work of sustaining our futures across this heavy time, I have found inspiration and community in contemporary movements for Black Lives and Indigenous Sovereignty that center and love and fight for communities, lifeways, and lands that will ultimately benefit all people, all beings, and a possible future for us together on this Earth. Although this has meant learning alongside the leadership of elders, young people, families, and the land on the frontlines of social movements, I have also learned to internalize the frontlines in the classroom. I have learned that, indeed, our P-K through university classrooms, community organizations, and other education spaces must be understood as part of, not apart from, social movements. The students with whom I currently have the honor of learning, in the culturally sustaining pedagogy (CSP) courses I teach and across the communities and university where I work, have powerfully brought this truth home. The questions they are asking, the projects they are embarking on, and the organizing they are doing seek a way out of a system that is fundamentally unsustainable.  

Foundational to my learning within social movements and from students has been understanding that, for educators to invest in centering and sustaining communities, we must divest from whiteness (and the ways whiteness casts White-normed practices and bodies as superior­­) and settler logics (and the way dispossession, extraction of the Earth, and damaging logics of competition and individuality are normed as the right and only ways to be). Whiteness and settler logics are, indeed, baked into nation-state education systems, across state-sanctioned institutions (from health to law) and are foundationally linked to racial settler capitalism (most commonly called “capitalism”), the violent system of economic, social, and cultural exploitation and dispossession that emerged from and perpetuates the colonial legacies of land theft, genocide, and enslavement.

As more of us argue not for the return of nation-state education to what it was before the pandemic, but rather for reclaiming and reimagining a radically different vision of education, it is time to double down on joining the leadership of the students, families, and communities we learn with. The current moment, full of so much pain and loss, but also brimming with possibility for a more loving and just future, has invited us to better understand what we must divest from and invest in to more completely embrace such needed reclamation, transformation. In my article in the current issue of The Educational Forum, I more fully share and cite the confluence of research, theory, and practice that undergirds the ways CSP and other strength-centered approaches to teaching and learning can and must be part of such divestments and investments. I remain thankful to all the families, communities, elders, and young people who are leading the way, to the lands, and to our CSP collective. May we be part of building the world we need.