Public Talk and Reception in Honor of Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings
A Multigenerational Legacy
|Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings has impacted a generation of
teachers and academic administrators.
Billings wanted to know what was right.
“I dared to ask, ‘What is right with them,’” Ladson-Billings said. “What do we know about the teacher, the classroom, and the parents who get it right? My work,
essentially, was about helping teachers, administrators and researchers see Black children not as a stereotype, but as a prototype. The question about what was
right with Black children led to a chain of inquiries with teachers that I call dream teachers. I did this work not merely to showcase the amazing pedagogical skills of
these teachers, but rather to help the hundreds of thousands of white teachers who are and will be charged with educating Black children, how in the midst of this
inquiry, I kept seeing how race was operating and being deployed to tell a very different story about Black students, Black parents and Black culture writ large.”
The other was to apply Critical Race Theory to the field of education, to explore how the educational system keeps Black students in their place in society.
“One of the real conundrums with which we are faced is that we are, according to Harvard historian Walter Johnson, telling at least two very different stories,”
Ladson-Billings said. “Mainstream America believes theirs is a story of democracy grounded in the fight for freedom. Black America’s story of democracy is one of
fighting and release as former prisoners of war. You cannot talk about fighting for the same things when the cause of the subordinating group’s anguish is at the
hands of those whose freedom relies on Black people’s lack of access to the resources for freedom. If one group’s access to high-quality housing relies on
displacement of the other group’s access to affordable housing, that’s not fighting together for freedom. You cannot talk about fighting for the same things when one
group’s access to something as basic as access to fresh water is linked to the reality of another group continuing to have lead-based water that is flowing into their
homes. You cannot talk about fighting for the same thing when one group’s access to quality education relies on continuing to underfund schools and sending
inexperienced and poorly-prepared teachers to the other group. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that we are in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single knot
Part 3 of 3
By Jonathan Gramling
Dr, Gloria Ladson-Billings is a Woman for All Seasons: professor, researcher, theorist, author, wife,
mother, soror, church deacon and overall community activist. Ladson-Billings came to UW-Madison
26 years ago and made her mark on the UW-Madison School of Education, UW-Madison, Madison and
the national education scene.
In January 2018, Ladson-Billings retired from UW-Madison, but has been anything but retiring for her
intellectual legacy will go on for generations to come through the people whom she has touched as a
teacher and professor.
In her intellectual pursuit that led her to UW-Madison, Ladson-Billings looked at two critical areas.
One was while almost all researchers wanted to know what was wrong with Black students, Ladson-
of destiny. What affects one directly, affects all indirectly. The optimistic
exegeses of their fate is to see us sinking and rising together. However the
manifest station of the statement is the society that positions us as either
winners or losers suggests that in order for some to win, others must lose.
Critical race theory regularly points out this dialectical relationship as a
purposeful, deliberate way of reinforcing the racial fault line.”
In many ways, Ladson-Billings’ work has been the flip sides of coin, pointing
out what is positive in education that stimulates the academic excellence of
Black students and the things in society that are keeping them down.
My research operates on both the empirical documentation of successful
school outcomes for Black children and the theoretical challenge of making
race a totally nonsensical concept make sense in our understanding of
persistent and egregious inequality,” Ladson-Billings said. “On the one hand,
I am presenting strong examples of what democratic classrooms can and
should look like. On the other hand, I have another set of examples of what
our young people call receipts for the way that inequality and undemocratic
practices are baked into the society that students confront beyond the doors
of their classrooms.”
At the conclusion of her talk, Ladson-Billings reflected on her legacy.
“I considered my research legacy — 10 singly authored and edited books,
more than 100 journal articles and book chapters, hundreds of public
presentations, scores of honors and awards, five honorary doctorates — and
I think of them as filthy rags,” Ladson-Billings proclaimed. “They may be the
currency of the academy. But they mean nothing to the everyday realities of
Black children who are abused and violated in our schools. My real legacy
for distinction in the academy is the number of students that I have had the
opportunity to teach, advise and mentor, hundreds of them in public schools
in Philadelphia and East Palo Alto, California, scores of them at Stanford and
Santa Clara University, dozens at three summer school classes at the
University of Washington, hundreds of undergraduates and graduates at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison over my 27 years, 63 doctoral students, 21
of them who are Black women. They all represent my real legacy. They are the
dream that I had in public. And they are our best hope for a true democracy.”
It is a legacy that will impact the education of Black — and all — children for
generations to come.