Gloria J. Ladson-Billings (born 1947) is an American pedagogical theorist and teacher educator on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Education and researcher at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. She is currently Assistant Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs.
Ladson-Billings is known for her groundbreaking work in the fields of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy and Critical Race Theory. Ladson-Billings work The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African-American Children is a significant text in the field of education. She was born in Philadelphia, Pa., and was educated in the Philadelphia public school system. Ladson-Billings was the president of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in 2005. During the 2005 AERA annual meeting in San Francisco, Ladson-Billings delivered her presidential address, "From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools," in which she outlined what she called the "education debt", highlighting the combination of historical, moral, socio-political, and economic factors that have disproportionately affected African-American, Latino, Asian, and other non-white students.
Culturally relevant teaching is a term created by Gloria Ladson-Billings (1994) to describe “a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes.” Participating in culturally relevant teaching essentially means that teachers create a bridge between students’ home and school lives, while still meeting the expectations of the district and state curricular requirements. Culturally relevant teaching utilizes the backgrounds, knowledge, and experiences of the students to inform the teacher’s lessons and methodology.
Principles of culturally relevant teaching
Ladson-Billings contends that culturally relevant pedagogy has three criteria:
1 - Students must experience academic success.
2 - Students must develop and/or maintain cultural competence.
3 - Students must develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order.
AD 1 - Academic success
Regardless of social inequities, students must be provided with the tools to achieve academic proficiency. Furthermore, in order to participate in a democratic society, students need to develop skills in literacy and numeracy and to expand their technological, social, and political abilities. Ladson-Billings maintains that culturally relevant teaching “requires that teachers attend to students’ academic needs, not merely make them ‘feel good’” and that it is imperative to have students “choose academic excellence.” By focusing on the importance of academic success in the world, teachers can foster a desire for intellectual achievement.
AD 2 - Cultural competence
Teachers who focus on developing cultural competence, encourage students to learn to maintain their “cultural integrity.” In their study of African American students in a Washington, D.C., Signithia Fordham and John Ogbu noted that African American students feared “acting White,” which meant they would try not to show interest in and succeed in school-related tasks.
Many African American and other non-white students perceive school as a place where they cannot be themselves because their culture is not valued in American schools. Ladson-Billings contends, “Culturally relevant teachers utilize students’ culture as a vehicle for learning”. Teachers who use culturally relevant pedagogy provide students with a curriculum that builds on their prior knowledge and cultural experiences.
AD 3 - Critical consciousness
Ladson-Billings contends that culturally relevant teachers “engage in the world and others critically,” and in order to do this, ““students must develop a broader sociopolitical consciousness that allows them to critique the cultural norms, values, mores, and institutions that produce and maintain social inequities.” Simply having individual success is not engaging in citizenship, and Ladson-Billings suggests that providing opportunities for students to critique society may encourage them to change oppressive structures.
IN THE CLASSROOM
AD 1 - Developing and maintaining academic success
Focus a great deal of positive attention on the groups in the class that have the power to influence their peers. Ladson-Billings explains that one of her participant teachers “challenged the [African American] boys to demonstrate academic power by drawing on issues and ideas they found meaningful.”
Setting high expectations for all students has also been shown to be an effective strategy for developing aspirations for academic success. Starting with small goals and scaffolding upon student knowledge, teachers can create opportunities for students to experience academic success. Once students realize they can achieve academic success, they may feel that they are taking less of a risk with a more challenging task.
AD 2 - Developing cultural competence
One of the participating teachers in Ladson-Billings’ study connected her love of poetry with the students’ love of rap music. Students brought in lyrics from “non-offensive rap songs” and they performed the songs while discussing the literal and figurative meanings and other characteristics of poetry.
Another way to provide for the development and maintenance of cultural competence is to involve parents in the classroom. Teachers can find out the talents and gifts of parents and invite them into the classroom as “in-residence” experts in areas in which teachers may not be that skilled or knowledgeable. Using the skill provided by the parent or community members volunteering in the classroom, the teacher can create research opportunities for students to learn more about the topics that are familiar and important to their culture.
For example, a teacher in Ladson-Billings’ study invited a parent known for her ability to make sweet potato pie to come in and teach students how to make these desserts. The teacher then planned an entire unit around conducting research on the culinary arts and George Washington Carver’s sweet potato research, devising a marketing plan for selling pies, and writing thank you notes to the community volunteer.
Ladson-Billings points to the deliberate decisions of the participating teachers to utilize parents and family members as resources in the classroom. “[The students] also learned that what they had and where they came from was of value.” Another way of facilitating cultural competence is to “encourage students to use their home language while they acquire the secondary discourse of ’standard’ English.” By teaching students how to switch back and forth between their home dialect and the ’standard’ form of English, teachers can provide them with an invaluable skill that will help them become more successful in school and the world beyond.
AD 3 - Developing critical consciousness
Instead of focusing on the fact that textbooks are out of date and unrepresentative of many of the cultural backgrounds of students in the classroom, teachers in Ladson-Billings’ study “critiqued the knowledge represented in the textbooks, and the system of inequitable funding that allowed middle-class students to have newer texts.” Teachers and students wrote letters to the editors of local newspapers informing the community of the paucity of adequate materials and resources. Teachers can also bring in articles and resources that represent the knowledge that supplements that which is presented by the textbook.