Culturally sustaining pedagogy: Expanding culturally responsive theory and practice

By Toni Dancu - July 2014


Paris, D. (2012). Culturally sustaining pedagogy: A needed change in stance, terminology, and practice. Educational Researcher, 41(3), 93–97. doi:10.3102/0013189X12441244

In this paper, Paris urges educators to actively value and preserve our multicultural and multilingual society while creating space for growth within and across cultures. This recommended change from culturally responsive pedagogy to culturally sustaining pedagogy entails a shift in both terminology and stance.

Theoretical Argument 

Paris’ paper is grounded in resource models for equity in education. Resource models seek to create more relevant educational experiences and more equitable futures by folding non-dominant students’ home and cultural practices into the practices of the dominant school system. Specific examples of these resource models include Gloria Ladson-Billings’ (1995a) seminal work on culturally responsive pedagogy, Moll & Gonzalez’ (1994) funds of knowledge, and Gutierrez and colleagues’ (1999) third space. Historically, these resource models were a much-needed response to the deficit models that aimed to replace students’ “deficient” practices—such as their home languages. Resource models also countered the difference models that aimed to bridge different but equal practices by giving non-dominant students access to dominant practices.

As such, the resource models form the building blocks for Paris’ proposed shift in terminology and stance. Though these models allude to a need to sustain cultural diversity, they are not as explicit about it as Paris is.

Paris identifies two ways to improve on the resource models. First, he questions whether being responsive goes far enough in not only valuing but also maintaining multiethnic and multilingual diversity. He notes that sustaining diversity is implicitly part of culturally responsive theory but that it is not typically made explicit or extended to practice. Second, he suggests that new models need to add to the resource models’ focus on supporting traditional heritage practices by actively making room for the dynamic nature of the cultures of youth and their communities. Examples of culturally sustaining pedagogy in practice are provided below.

Implications for Practice 

Practitioners can incorporate Paris’ model to further develop equitable approaches to teaching and learning. To address Paris’ first suggestion, practitioners can focus educational experiences on maintaining and enhancing cultural variety, pushing the boundaries of equity beyond those that incorporate students’ homes and cultures. In order to maintain the many languages of our communities, for example, educators can work hard to ensure that multilingual access is included not just as an entry point, but also throughout the school years. Further, educators can incorporate these languages in the classroom to ensure that students speaking the dominant language also learn the non-dominant languages, thus extending reach and meaning for all.

Similarly, museums can incorporate multiple languages on exhibit labels without prioritizing the dominant language. Allowing all learners to use all (or a variety of) languages to access exhibit content can extend their knowledge of both content and languages. This practice may even strengthen cultural connections among various communities with science content.

To address the second suggestion, practitioners can begin to look for and understand the fluidity of cultures. Paris cautions us to avoid viewing cultural heritage and language as pre-determined and static. Practitioners should be open to the ever-changing youth culture that develops within and between cultures and communities.

Paris provides examples of African American youth, Latina/o, and Pacific Islander youth navigating their identities in and through participation in African American Language and Hip Hop culture (Irizarry, 2007; 2011). Specifically, the author references Irizarry’s study of a teacher whom students viewed as providing access to culturally relevant material. The dominant language in Mr. Talbert’s classroom was African-American English (also known as Ebonics). The Latino/a and African-American students expressed appreciation that the classroom language was congruent with the language used in their own communities, acknowledging that they could “speak how we speak in our neighborhoods,” (Irizarry, 2007, p. 25). Similarly, Talbot recognized that “Latinos have a long legacy in rap music, and it is directly connected to the experiences of many urban Latino youth” (Irizarry, 2007, p. 25). He therefore built on Ladson-Billings’ (1995b) work, employing rap music as a tool for content learning. Paris’ message is for educators and researchers to remain open, to make an effort to sustain both the traditional and the current cultural practices of the youth we are engaging.


Gutierrez, K., Baquedano-Lopez, P., & Tejeda, C. (1999). Rethinking diversity: Hybridity and hybrid language practices in the third space. Reading Research Quarterly, 43, 148–164.

Irizarry, J. (2007). Ethnic and urban intersections in the classroom: Latino students, hybrid identities, and culturally responsive pedagogy. Multicultural Perspectives, 9(3), 21–28.

Irizarry, J. (2011). The Latinization of U.S. schools: Successful teaching and learning in shifting cultural contexts. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995a). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32, 465–491.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995b). But that’s just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory into Practice, 34, 159–165.

Moll, L. & Gonzalez, N. (1994).Lessons from research with language-minority children. Journal of Reading Behavior, 26(4), 439–456.