NPR report featuring UW–Madison’s Ladson-Billings takes on debate over critical race theory

UW–Madison’s Gloria Ladson-Billings spoke with NPR about the debate over critical race theory recently, in a report that is headlined, “How Critical Race Theory Went From Harvard Law To Fox News.”

Gloria Ladson-Billings

Ladson-Billings is a professor emerita in the School of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction. She is also the president of the National Academy of Education.

A description of the NPR report explains: “Critical race theory is a legal framework developed decades ago at Harvard Law School. It posits that racism is not just the product of individual bias, but is embedded in legal systems and policies. Today, it’s become the subject of heated debate on Fox News and in local school board meetings across the country.”

The report notes that Ladson-Billings was one of the first academics to bring critical race theory to education research. When asked to explain what critical race theory is, Ladson-Billings told NPR Host Audie Cornish that it is “a series of theoretical propositions that suggest that race and racism are normal, not aberrant, in American life.”

“I use it in graduate work because graduate students are often looking for theoretical frameworks to do their own research,” Ladson-Billings explained. She said she thinks the current debate is a “red herring.”

“I think what people are really going after at this point is the 2022 and the 2024 elections,” Ladson-Billings said. “And why would I make that leap? Well, if you cannot win on a policy level, well, then what you have to do is gin up a culture war. And that’s what I think is happening. To me, it’s no surprise that critical race theory laws are actually showing up in the very places where voter suppression laws are.”

Cornish asked Ladson-Billings how critical race theory applies to the classroom, to which Ladson-Billings remarked, “I don’t know that it does apply to the classroom.”

However, she continued, “from a educational policy standpoint, it applies to things like suspension rates, assignment to special education, testing and assessment, curricular access — you know, who gets into honors and AP, who doesn’t.”

Listen to the full report at