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Critical Race Theory in Education: A Scholar's Journey

reviewed by DeMarcus A. Jenkins - March 21, 2022

coverTitle: Critical Race Theory in Education: A Scholar's Journey
Author(s): Gloria Ladson-Billings
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 080776583X, Pages: 256, Year: 2021
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In A Scholars Journey, Gloria Ladson-Billings takes readers to the origin story of critical race theorys introduction in education and guides us through an understanding of its evolution and extensions. At a profound moment when CRT is in the minds of many conservative and liberal politicians, as evidenced by the various legislative CRT-bans and other prohibitions as well as declarations of a nationwide racial reckoning that suggests that America was prepared to contend with its history of racial injustice, this volume articulates reforms required to reduce racial injustice in education. Ladson-Billingss prolific writings reminds us of the importance of confronting structural racism as both an intellectual and pragmatic project towards greater justice, equity, and humanity.

The volume is divided into three parts: (1) Critical Race Theory, (2) Issues of Inequality, and (3) Epistemology and Methodologies. The first part of the volume examines critical race theory and includes the article that introduced CRT to the field of education, Toward a Critical Race Theory of Education, coauthored with William F. Tate IV. Also included in this part of the book is Ladson-Billings' corrective to education scholars who took up CRT in its infancy but failed to adhere to the central tenets of the theory. Given the way that CRT has been taken up in popular discourses, this article anchors readers to the intentions of CRT.

The second part of the volume deals with issues of educational inequality as a set of complex systems. This section features the article that formed her groundbreaking 2006 American Educational Research Association presidential address, From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools, where Ladson-Billings considered how achievement gap discourses overlook the historical, economic, political, and moral debt that has been accumulated due to failures to educate students of color. Her notion of education debt continues to inform how researchers talk about educational injustice by attending to the structural elements at play.

Social scientists have argued that because race remains undertheorized, more sophisticated tools of analysis are needed. In Part 3 of the volume, Ladson-Billings examines epistemologies and research methodologies regarding race. While some scholars suggest that the election of President Barack Obama as the nations first African American president and Kamala Harris as the first African American vice president mean that the U.S. is now post racial, Ladson-Billings and Jamel K. Donnor argue that race still matters and continues to explain disparities for various quality of life indicators such as health, employment, residential, and education. They reject race-evasive ideologies and explain how race shapes lived experiences.

The volume ends with a postscript that is especially generative. In the postscript, Ladson-Billings argues that race is fully funded by society. By this, she refers to societys total investment in race because it is embedded into every aspect of our lives. She contends that the social funding of race creates patterns of inequitable schooling. Schools and classrooms are key sites where race is funded. The volumes postscript lays out how schools fund race through curriculum, instruction, discipline and classroom management, and testing.

The notion of the social funding of race is timely especially given the proliferation of legislative bans on critical race theory in schools. School curriculum is a site for the social funding of race. As Ladson-Billings puts it, what intellectual information and experiences students have access to, what they are denied access to, and what distortions of information they encounter can serve as powerful funders of our racial ideology (p. 219). State laws that restrict certain ideas from being taught in classrooms can contribute to how understandings of race are formed and maintained. Ladson-Billings offers social funding of race as a useful concept to interrogate and make sense of contemporary curriculum debates.

Ladson-Billings offers various ways that teacher educators might work with prospective teachers to defund race. She asserts that if the concept of race is going to be defunded or bankrupted, then teacher preparation programs must challenge students to talk about and engage with the concept of race early in the training. Teacher educators must trouble prospective educators longstanding notions about race through dialogue and activities to expose it and render it useless.

A Scholars Journey makes a great addition to the educational literature that examines structural and institutional racism. Theoretical frameworks that facilitate rigorous analyses of race and racism, such as CRT, continue to provide powerful explanations for educational disparities based on race. Ladson-Billings important work on racial inequality in education should be a pivotal touchstone for graduate students, prospective educators, practicing educators, teacher leaders, administrators, researchers, and policymakers who are serious about confronting the realities of race in schools.


Ladson-Billings, G. (2021). Critical Race Theory in education: A scholar's journey. Teachers College Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 21, 2022
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 24011, Date Accessed: 3/25/2022 10:40:48 AM

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About the Author
  • DeMarcus A. Jenkins
    Penn State University
    E-mail Author
    DEMARCUS A. JENKINS, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Antiracist and Transformative Leadership in the Department of Education Policy Studies at Penn State University. His interdisciplinary research uses spatial theories to examine the practices of urban school leaders. His scholarship is informed by his previous experiences working in urban schools and district and state education policy.
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