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USH Case Study Shares Benefits of Culturally Sustaining Curriculum

Friday, September 03, 2021

Unlocking Silent Histories recently published a case study that highlights the adoption and benefits of their program in Perú in order to inspire educators looking to incorporate culturally sustaining pedagogy into their classrooms. Heather Bronson, Senior Communications Manager at the NC State College of Education’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, recently interviewed Donna DeGennaro and Blake Wiggs about the project.

Story provided by Heather Bronson:

Respect. Listen. Learn. These are the three things WCE Associate Professor Donna DeGennaro recommends educators do first when building an inclusive classroom that recognizes students’ cultures and languages.

DeGennaro is the founder of the nonprofit organization Unlocking Silent Histories (USH), which provides a leadership and curriculum toolkit that young leaders can culturally and linguistically adapt to their communities. USH recently published a case study that highlights the adoption and benefits of their program in Perú in order to inspire educators looking to incorporate culturally sustaining pedagogy into their classrooms.

The case study, Unlocking Silent Histories in Perú: Confronting Colonization, was written by Quecha youth leaders Lised Sullani Soria and Ruben Apaza Quispe, DeGennaro, and Watson College doctoral students Kaylan Ganus and Blake Wiggs.

“This is not a linear process. This is not a how-to. This is really developing and learning within yourself how to make decisions, how to ask questions, how to drive your own path. That’s very difficult to facilitate as an instructor, but as a student, it opens spaces for personal and group agency. Students realize, ‘Oh my history matters. My voice matters. My language matters. My culture matters,’” DeGennaro said. “We have always been a very culturally diverse world, and so it’s more interesting to allow these different conversations to come into a classroom. To be able to see differently, to see the world through multiple lenses, then we see things more beautifully.”

Wiggs is a research scholar at the Friday Institute who traveled to Perú to gain firsthand research experience with DeGennaro and to imagine and create new pedagogical theories that reflect Indigenous context and communities.

“I was there as a learner, and what was really fascinating for me was being in that space, witnessing and seeing a culturally sustaining curriculum play out,” said Wiggs. “I was also grappling with what this looks like in an American context. In some ways it confirmed and affirmed practices that I believe in, practices that I did as a teacher. Also, I saw the limitations where I wish I went further as both a learner and as a teacher.”

In the case study, the authors discuss the USH approach to focusing on framing education within a local context. USH’s curriculum and leadership toolkit depart from common deficit approaches to Indigenous education by positioning youth as authorities of their own learning and expression. The curriculum includes critical education, technology and cultural documentary activities that complement each other to support youth as they engage in a video ethnography process that results in short films. It equips participants with digital tools and training to capture and share their ancestral heritage and “initiate community-led action to support language, culture and land reclamation.”

The authors’ preliminary findings suggest that USH’s platform provides a “critical space in which Peruvian Indigenous youth leaders and participants assert their agency to tell meaningful stories demonstrating their lived truths, identities and perspectives.”

WCE’s Office of Teacher Education and Outreach, UNCW’s Office of International Programs and the Office of Applied learning provided support for the project.

Read the full case study here: Unlocking Silent Histories in Perú: Confronting Colonization