Gloria Ladson-Billings brings equity in education discussion to K-State

Emily DeShazer | Collegian Gloria Ladson-Billings signs one of her books for a fan after speaking about racial equity in education Thursday in Forum Hall.

Students, staff and faculty gathered in Forum Hall Thursday morning to hear a lecture by Gloria Ladson-Billings, an internationally renowned speaker, researcher and educator with an emphasis in culturally relevant pedagogy and critical race theory. These two groundbreaking theories within the education realm are what encouraged the College of Education to bring her in as the college’s inaugural speaker for their Distinguished Education Research Lecture series.

“I think this lecture was incredibly well received,” said Kay Taylor, associate professor of curriculum and instruction in the College of Education. “Her message is timeless, as well as what we need to continue to hear. I was the one who nominated her to come onto campus to speak, so I was thrilled to see her here.”

Ladson-Billings provided a background on the realm of education. looking specifically at historical, psychological, sociological and anthropologic contexts and their continued influence on this field. She argued that all four are deeply intertwined with race and pointed out that while race is often forgotten in those fields, it has a great impact on them all.

Education resources often don’t include students of color in their tools for educating students. In classrooms, students of color also face great education disparities. According to a Nov. 9, 2010 New York Times article by Trip Gabriel, “Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys, and only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys.” This is one example of educational disparity due to race in the classroom.

“This lecture was great because I am a part of the groups she spoke about that are often forgotten,” said Gladys Caton, K-State student and part of the Go Teacher program from Ecuador. “This is the reality I have faced both here in the United States and even back in Ecuador.”

The Distinguished Education Research Lecture series was created to be a part of K-State President Kirk Schulz’s K-State 2025 executive plan to bring more research into the university. The college decided on an entire, annual lecture series to bring a larger light to the research the college is doing.

Linda Thurston, associate dean of the College of Education, said the lecture made for a richer experience of research within the realm of education. Thurston said the College of Education is dedicated to providing collegiate students with diversity, research and groundbreaking theories, all of which Ladson-Billings exemplifies in her academic work.

“It’s profound how we begin this process of teaching children at an early age about how pathways diverge for children of color before the first grade,” Kimberly Staples, associate professor in the College of Education, said. “Before these children are seven years old, they know the difference between white and black. Everything must be purposeful and deeply rooted in student learning for all to have access to this dream.”

Ladson-Billings described the depth of her work with critical race theory and the three main components that comprise it: These consist of legal scholarship challenging traditional civil rights litigation strategies, asserting that racism is normal, not aberrant in the United States and challenging notions of neutrality, objectivity and meritocracy.

“[Ladson-Billings] was my heroine since I was in graduate school,” Taylor said. “The work she has done with critical race theory opened the doors for my own research and teaching.”

Ladson-Billings did a meet and greet, with a book signing, directly following the lecture. Students, staff and faculty were able to speak directly with the woman who wrote some of the required text for graduate students in education.

“We have been given a responsibility, a blessing of sorts, that every child has potential,” Caton said. “As educators, we have to look into their hearts. In order to better a society. It starts with education.”