UW–Madison’s Gloria Ladson-Billings was featured in the Wisconsin State Journal recently, as part of the newspaper’s “Know Your Madisonian” series.
The article chronicles Ladson-Billings’ journey from a working class family, to the start of her career as a teacher in Philadelphia, to obtaining her doctorate at Stanford University, and ultimately, to what brought her UW–Madison.
She said that she was invited to speak at a conference in the ’90s, and after her talk was approached by Carl Grant, a professor of curriculum and instruction at UW–Madison.
“He said, ‘You gotta come to Wisconsin.’ And I’m like, ‘To where?’” she said. Though she shrugged off Grant’s proposition initially, she eventually agreed to come and give a talk. “Grant arranged an itinerary for Ladson-Billings’ visit, and the last item on her schedule was dinner at then-Chancellor Donna Shalala’s house,” the article explains.
After Ladson-Billings retired from the university in 2018, she was elected to a four-year term as president of the National Academy of Education.
In this Q&A with the State Journal, she spoke about some of the projects she’s worked on that have had a lasting impact. One of the projects she highlighted is a report that was just released by the National Academy of Education.
“I’m very proud to be affiliated with (anti-racist) work, and right now, the National Academy (of Education) has just released a new report on civic discourse and civic engagement, because we were seeing the deterioration of civic debate. This project is really a call to action for our schools to think about the role of civic discourse and civic engagement,” she said.
“We’ve been arguing that civic discourse and engagement is something that cuts across curriculum. In a mathematics class you might ask a question about inequality in representation or something like redlining: How does that happen? What do the numbers look like? Well, there are civic implications to creating segregated neighborhoods. Or in science: Why would you have an inordinate amount of people of color more impacted by COVID-19? So then you begin to ask questions about things like underlying conditions or questions about genetic issues. … It’s a way for us to have a deeper conversation about our civic engagement.”
Ladson-Billings also spoke about her belief that public education is the foundation of democracy. Asked to expand on that idea, she explained:
“I gave a talk for Stanford a couple of weeks ago and I used the quote from Benjamin Franklin coming out of the Constitutional Convention, and a woman asks him, ‘Mr. Franklin, what have you given us?’ And Franklin’s response is, ‘A Republic, if you can keep it.’ He didn’t say if we, the founding fathers in this building could keep it. He said if you as a citizen can keep it.”
“There is no way we can keep it without educated citizens, it’s just not possible. It’s in school that kids really learn democracy, in public school because it’s the place where everybody has access,” she said.
Check out the full article at madison.com.