African-Centered Schooling in Theory and Practice

By Diane S. Pollard; Cheryl S. Ajirotutu | Go to book overview

9
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in African-Centered Schools: Possibilities for Progressive Educational Reform

Gloria Ladson-Billings

In the early 1990s there were rumblings in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, about the growing dissatisfaction African American parents and community members were feeling toward the condition of public education for their children. Predictably, solutions from both progressive and reactionary forces were proposed. On what this author terms the progressive side, parents and community members were advocating secession from the system in an attempt to construct a separate school district, free from the antagonism of the central office bureaucrats and beyond the scope of white disinterest. On the reactionary side came a call for public school choice that would support vouchers allowing low-income, urban children to attend private schools. Ultimately, both sides got some, but not all, of what they wanted. The school choice advocates lobbied for and won the only school choice arrangement in the state. The independent district forces won the right to establish two African American Immersion Schools. This chapter focuses on the efforts of the latter and the need to employ a culturally relevant pedagogy ( Ladson-Billings, 1994, 1995b) to ensure the success of these schools and similar efforts.

At the time of this writing, the governor of Wisconsin has made Milwaukee Public Schools one of the foci of his education agenda. At the annual State of the State address, Governor Tommy Thompson demanded that Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) make some dramatic turnarounds or face a state takeover. Briefly, the governor has given MPS two years, until the year 2000, to have at least a 90 percent graduation rate, a 91 percent attendance rate, and a dropout rate no higher than 9 percent. The district's scores on the third-grade reading test also must be at least 90 percent of the statewide average ( Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 1998).

The governor's "threat" suggests that Milwaukee Public Schools could do better if someone just made them. However, those of us who have spent considerable time in

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