Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

Harambee: Pulling It All Together

by Adrienne D. Dixson & Gloria Ladson-Billings - 2017

The articles in this special issue represent both our attempt as editors to survey the field and provide some clarity for practitioners and teacher educators on fundamental ideas that frame CRP, not to limit its implementation or future research directions, but to ensure that as a community of educators and scholars, we share a common understanding of exactly what it means to be culturally relevant. The articles in this special issue provide both that clarity of the field, and vision for the future.

Since the inception of the Common School, educators have been looking for the most effective methods to teach the nation’s children. Historically, the notion of “best practices” in teaching has been premised on what is “best” as it pertains to mostly White, middle-class, English-speaking, heterosexual, and able-bodied students. The Brown v. Board of Education decision (1954) amplified the shortcomings of “one size fits all” approaches to pedagogy and curriculum that are decontextualized and ignore cultural differences; they can have devastating effects on the intellectual development and academic success of all students, especially students of color.

Within the broad field of education, policy-makers and educators have attempted to address the disparities in achievement between students of color and White students—known as the achievement gap—by essentially “fixing” students of color. Gloria Ladson-Billings (2006) recast this so-called achievement gap and called instead for the education community to recognize that students of color are owed an education debt (p.5). While Ladson-Billings imagined a number of ways that the education community can help to repay this debt, scholars, including Ladson-Billings, have advocated for a pedagogical framework based, in part, on a long-ignored body of research on teaching and culture— rightly identified in this special issue as culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP)—as a way to make teaching and learning more relevant for students of color.


The articles in this special issue represent our attempt as editors to both survey the field and provide some clarity for practitioners and teacher educators on the fundamental ideas that frame CRP, not to limit its implementation or future research directions, but to ensure that, as a community of educators and scholars, we share a common understanding of exactly what it means to be culturally relevant. The articles in this special issue provide both that clarity of the field and a vision for the future.

Several scholars who contributed to this special issue examined the relationship between CRP and race. CRP has long been a part of larger discussions on training teachers for diversity, with scholars often conflating culture and race when discussing diversity and equity in teacher education. Both Howard and Milner, in their separate articles, address the lack of specific training for teachers about racism and remind us that this renewed interest in CRP should not be at the expense of rendering racism insignificant or working with teachers to understand the power dynamics related to cultural differences. That is, rather than encouraging teachers to “celebrate” the cultural differences of their students, these authors remind us that not all cultural practices are treated equally (Yosso, 2005). Similarly, several scholars offer a critique of the way that CRP has been depoliticized. Proponents of CRP often fail to name a core component: socio-political consciousness on the part of both the teacher and the students. With the focus on the celebration of culture, authors Royal & Gibson and Starker-Glass, Hancock, Lewis, & Allen note that social justice and equity are erased from CRP in favor of an approach that highlights superficial cultural differences, thus reifying problematic stereotypes of communities of color and doing very little to raise the consciousness of students of color, an essential feature of CRP. This depoliticization of CRP is not surprising in light of the history of the “nice” field of education.

Annette Henry and April Warren remind us of the importance of teachers of color and CRP. Henry reflects on her early research on Afro-Canadian women teachers and their practices and commitments to students of color in Canada. Henry’s manuscript is important because it offers an insightful transnational perspective on CRP, lays bare the limitations of multicultural and diversity policies that render Black students invisible, and demonstrates the ways that many Black teachers, wherever they are located globally, commit themselves to equity and social justice. Warren’s piece raises an often neglected perspective in research on students of color: students and teachers of color in suburban school districts. Warren’s work adds complexity to our understanding of how students of color continue to be underserved even in suburban districts that we presume to be better because of the perception of wealth and better resources. While it may be true that in many metropolitan areas, suburban districts are better resourced and wealthier, Warren’s research suggests that students of color in general, and Black students in particular, may need Black teachers to serve in roles that she describes as “cultural navigators.” For Warren, Black teachers who were cultural navigators helped Black students “travel” through suburban schools that were often hostile and unwelcoming places for them. These teachers served an important, but under-studied role in the educational lives of the Black students with whom they worked and often did so outside the context of regular school. In Warren’s study, all of these teachers started formal organizations that were designed explicitly not only to offer academic tutoring, but also to help students cope with and develop strategies to survive their schools. This adds an interesting perspective to the way we have typically conceptualized CRP as operating within the context of a traditional school day. Warren’s research highlights the additional ways that Black teachers work to be culturally relevant and accessible for Black students.

Celia Rousseau Anderson, Erica Bullock, Beverly Cross, and Angiline Powell examine the contradictions of education policymakers and district administrators using the rhetoric of CRP in the context of expanding education reform. Their article highlights the challenges of implementing or attempting to implement CRP in schools and classrooms that adopt the “No Excuses” philosophy that is narrowly focused on behavior management and rote memorization, rather than on creating learning environments that are joyful, academically rigorous, and socially just. Indeed, as education reformers look for ways to become more “relevant” to local communities, it will be incumbent on them to fully embrace and implement CRP by shedding practices and governance structures that contradict respectful engagement with communities of color. It is important to raise this point here because CRP is not merely confined to the classroom. Exemplary culturally relevant teachers understand the importance of and the need to work with and in communities (Beaubeouf-Lafontant, 1999; 1994; Tate, 1995). For CRP teachers, this notion of community engagement is necessary and important, not only as a means to build relationships with students and families, but also to help broaden our understanding of academic rigor and what counts as knowledge. Thus, by working in and with communities of color, CRP teachers expand our conceptions of knowledge production and speak back to the narrow measurements of their students’ intellectual abilities that has become a hallmark of the education-reform movement.

The field of CRP is in an exciting and interesting phase. This growing interest in CRP from policymakers and school-district leadership presents an opportunity for classroom teachers and CRP scholars to develop the next phase of research on CRP. It is no longer necessary to establish a research base on CRP; the previous 25 years have laid a significant foundation on which to build. We have the opportunity to build on that knowledge base and continue to innovate. The scholars in this special issue have helped to give shape to a research agenda for CRP that will carry us for the next 25 years.


Beauboeuf-Lafontant, T. (1999). A movement against and beyond boundaries: Politically relevant teaching among African-American teachers. The Teachers College Record, 100(4), 702–723.

Dixson, A. D., & Dodo Seriki, V. (2014). Intersectionality and pedagogy: Teachers and the quandary of race, class, and culturally relevant pedagogy. In A. D. Dixson (Ed.), Researching race in education: Policy, practice and qualitative research (Critical cultural studies series). Charlotte, NC: Information Age.

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection. Theory Into Practice, 42(3), 195–202.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1992). Reading between the lines and beyond the pages: A culturally relevant approach to literacy teaching. Theory into Practice, 31(4), 312–320.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers for African-American children (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995a). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465–491.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995b). But that's just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory Into Practice, 34(3), 159–165.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2000). Fighting for our lives: Preparing teachers to teach African American students. Journal of Teacher Education, 51(3), 206–214.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2001). Crossing over to Canaan: The journey of new teachers in diverse classrooms. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). It's not the culture of poverty, it's the poverty of culture: The problem with teacher education. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 37(2), 104–109.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2009). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers for African-American children (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2012). Getting serious about education: Cultivating culturally relevant teachers for new century students [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbZilu7wVJw

Ladson-Billings, G. (2014). Culturally relevant pedagogy 2.0: A.k.a. the remix. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1), 71–84.

Milner, H. R. (2011). Culturally relevant pedagogy in a diverse urban classroom. The Urban Review, 43(1), 66–89.

Tate, W. F. (1995). Returning to the root: A culturally relevant approach to mathematics pedagogy. Theory Into Practice, 34(3) 166–173.

Yosso, T. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race, Ethnicity, and Education, 8(1), 71–93.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 1, 2017, p. 1-6
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21706, Date Accessed: 9/26/2020 9:48:05 AM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Article Tools
Related Articles

Related Discussion
Post a Comment | Read All

About the Author
  • Adrienne Dixson
    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
    E-mail Author
    ADRIENNE D. DIXSON is an associate professor of critical race theory and education in the Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include educational equity in urban educational contexts primarily in the urban South. Her recent publications include Researching Race in Education: Policy, Practice and Qualitative Research (Information Age Publishing, 2014) and the Handbook of Critical Race Theory and Education (Routledge, 2013).
  • Gloria Ladson-Billings
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    E-mail Author
    GLORIA LADSON-BILLINGS is the Kellner Family chair in urban education and a professor of curriculum and instruction and educational policy studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue