Sustainable Literacies: Shaping a Shared Global Future in U.S. Secondary English Courses

Conference: The European Conference on Education (ECE2022)
Title: Sustainable Literacies: Shaping a Shared Global Future in U.S. Secondary English Courses
Stream: Education, Sustainability & Society: Social Justice, Development & Political Movements
Presentation Type: Oral Presentation
Paula M Carbone, University of Southern California, United States


Sustainable literacies are grounded in authentic, relevant, and critical life-long literacies, supporting students in realizing their aspirations – personal and collective, for the betterment of humanity’s shared futures. Yet, the infantilization of students in U.S. secondary English classes occurs regularly through use of reductive literacies, which patronize and block youth from engaging with topics of importance and participating fully in the world. In these difficult times, grappling with the pressing issues of climate change, political upheaval, the COVID-pandemic, and the persistent struggle to realize racial, economic, gender, and environmental justice is difficult for adults, more so for youth. Youth need viable, meaningful approaches with which to make sense of this rapidly changing world and to find their place in it as active, productive participants. When presented with injustice, youth are often eager to make a difference. To do so, they must have a sense of purpose, which current English classes rarely offer. Sustainable literacies put youth first, and acknowledge their abilities as critical thinkers, intelligent enough to develop needed skills to make a difference in authentic issues disparately impacting theirs and others’ quality of life. Qualitative research with pre-service teachers enrolled in a tier-1 research university enacted sustainable literacies in their fieldwork classrooms. Their students participated in identifying injustice, analyzing it, and planning for actionable solutions. Findings showed an increased sense of purpose and capacity to understand the multiple, intractable problems they confront daily equips them to believe they can help shape a world of possible justice for everyone.

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