UW–Madison’s Gloria Ladson-Billings was interviewed by Frederica Freyberg on PBS Wisconsin’s “Here and Now” program, for a segment titled, “The Roots of Critical Race Theory.”
Freyberg spoke with Ladson-Billings and John Witte, a professor emeritus of political science and public affairs at UW–Madison, about what critical race theory is and how it should be taught in schools.
The segment responds to legislation that has been introduced by a group of state Republican lawmakers that would prohibit Wisconsin public schools, UW System institutions, and technical colleges from teaching critical race theory — which Freyberg described as, “a decades-old academic theory that holds that racism is system, built into societal institutions from the days of slavery.”
When asked by Freyberg to define critical race theory in layman’s terms, Ladson-Billings explained it as “an attempt to begin to understand racial disparity.”
“If you look over the history of the nation, we started out in 1600 up into the mid-20th century literally saying that the reason that there were racial disparities is because there were biological and intellectual deficiencies. We’ve finally put that myth to rest and eugenics has fallen out of favor,” she said.
“I would say in the next few years we began to look at issues of equal opportunity. So we had the Brown decision … we had Reconstruction, we had … the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act. So we’ve had opportunities, but they all get rolled back. … So critical race theory is yet another way to think about, how do we understand racial disparity.”
Freyberg asked Ladson-Billings whether critical race theory teaches hate of white people, as some have claimed. “Absolutely not,” Ladson-Billings said.
She said that critical race theory is generally not a part of K-12 curriculum, despite misconceptions, as it is a theoretical framework more appropriate for graduate students. However, she explained to Freyberg that it is important to teach culturally appropriate history, so that people “learn how to sit down and talk when we disagree.”
“That’s the work that we have to do, is figure out, how do we have civil discourse, even when we don’t see the world the same way,” she said.
For more insights, listen to the full segment on the PBS Wisconsin website.