The Routledge International Handbook of the Sociology of Education

By Michael W. Apple; Stephen J. Ball et al. | Go to book overview

3
Education and critical race theory

David Gillborn and Gloria Ladson-Billings


Introduction

CRT’s usefulness will be limited not by the weakness of its constructs but by the degree
that many whites will not accept its assumptions; I anticipate critique from both left
and right.

(Taylor, 1998: 124)

One of us recently gave a keynote lecture that formed the centerpiece for a conference dedicated to new approaches to understanding race/racism1 in education. The address focused on Critical Race Theory (CRT), a relatively new approach pioneered by scholars of color in US law schools in the 1970s and 1980s, which has grown quickly since its introduction into US educational studies in the mid 1990s (Ladson-Billings and Tate, 1995) and is now an increasingly popular approach that is building an international profile (see Hylton, 2008; Lynn and Parker, 2006; Taylor et al., 2009). At the end of the lecture the chairperson invited questions, and a White professor, sitting on the front row, raised his hand. Once invited to speak, the man stood, turned his back on the chair and speaker, and addressed the audience for several minutes on the “danger” posed by CRT. It was, he explained, a retrograde step in the search for educational equity because it gave primacy to race and diverted attention from the “real” issue, which, he informed us, was social class inequality as diagnosed by his chosen version of Marxism. After a spirited exchange and several other questions, the session came to a close and, as the audience began to filter out, a Black woman practitioner approached the podium to ask the lecturer a question, explaining that she didn’t like to ask it in front of the whole audience. Before she could pose the question, however, the White professor strode to the lectern and physically positioned himself between the questioner and the lecturer, keen to explain more about his view of the current state of social theory. The incident reminds us of similar episodes reported by Trina Grillo and Stephanie Wildman, who describe some of the “guerilla tactics” used by Whites to “steal back the center” (1991). By arguing that race/racism be placed at the forefront of social critique, CRT challenges the assumed right of White people to see their perspectives and their interests placed center stage, and, hence, CRT has not been universally welcomed as an addition to critical theory in education.

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