CRT and a Rights-Based Discourse

While favouring McLaren’s concept of ‘critical and resistant multicultural- ism’, Ladson-Billings (2005, pp. 54-57) nevertheless identifies some tensions within the field of multiculturalism per se and notes not only issues of feminism, sexuality and social class, but also religious dimensions. As she explains, (ibid., p. 57) ‘[w]hat one group perceives as the multicultural agenda is something else for another’. She concludes that the ‘complexity of identities that individuals experience makes it difficult to craft a multicultural mision that speaks to the specificity of identity’ (ibid.) and that ‘attempts to be all things to all people seem to minimize the effective impact of multicultural education as a vehicle for school and social change’ (ibid.).

She thus (ibid.) turns to CRT as a way forward, specifically its capacity to formulate ‘a rights-based discourse’.3 CRT was deeply entrenched in legal scholarship until Derrick Bell (1992) published And We Are Not Saved.. As Ladson-Billings (2006, p. viii) notes, in Bell’s book ‘we see examples of disciplinary mergers that pull on the traditions of education, sociology, anthropology, music and art scholarship’. CRT was, in fact, introduced into education research by Ladson-Billings and William Tate at the 1994 American Education Research Association Annual Conference in New Orleans, and subsequently published as Ladson-Billings and Tate (1995).

Ladson-Billings and Tate (1995, p. 59) apply their discussion of property rights—rights of disposition, rights to use and enjoyment, reputation and status property and the absolute right to exclude—to education. With respect to rights of disposition, Ladson-Billings and Tate (ibid.) argue that students are rewarded only for conformity to perceived ‘white norms’ or sanctioned for certain cultural practices, such as dress, speech patterns, unauthorised conceptions of knowledge.

Second, rights to use and enjoyment are differential: this can be material differences in the school, and unequal space. In addition, the curriculum can be more conducive to deeper thinking skills in ‘white schools’ (ibid.).

As far as reputation and status property is concerned, to designate a school or programme as ‘non-white’ is to diminish its reputation or status. Moreover, despite the prestige of foreign language learning in the US, bilingual education as a non-white form of language learning has lower status (ibid., p. 60). The same is true of the differential status of suburban (white) and urban (non-white) schools.

Finally, in schooling, the absolute right to exclude was demonstrated initially by denying black children the right to schooling altogether (ibid.). This was modified later by segregated schooling. Ladson-Billings and Tate argue, it has been demonstrated by ‘white flight’ (ibid.). Within schools the absolute right to exclude includes tracking (setting in UK terminology), and ‘gifted’ programmes (ibid.).4 ‘So complete is this exclusion’ they conclude, ‘that black students often come to the university in the role of intruders—who have been granted special permission to be there’ (ibid.).

Congruent with the CRT view that civil rights law is regularly subverted to benefit whites, they argue that multicultural reforms are routinely ‘sucked back into the system’ (ibid., p. 62.). Being ‘mired in liberal ideology’, they go on, ‘the current multicultural paradigm ... offers no radical change in the current order’ (ibid.). Making it clear that they are not attacking the proponents of multicultural education, they note the near nigh impossibility of ‘maintaining the spirit and intent of justice for the oppressed while simultaneously permitting the hegemonic rule of the oppressor’ (ibid.).

Ladson-Billings (2005, p. 59), in discussing the curriculum, notes that ‘CRT sees the official knowledge ... of the school curriculum as a culturally specific artefact designed to maintain the current social order’ (ibid.) which erases or ‘sanitizes’ people of color, women and anyone else who challenges the ‘master script’ (ibid.). The curriculum is also differentiated according to ‘race’ and class, with children of the dominant group having an ‘enriched’ and ‘rigorous’ curriculum (ibid.), and the subordinated group spending ‘most of the day with no curriculum outside of test preparation’ (ibid.). This restricted curriculum, Ladson-Billings (ibid.) following Cheryl Harris (1993) argues is a good example of use and enjoyment of property, with ‘Whites’ having ‘rights of disposition, use and enjoyment, reputation and status—and the absolute right to exclude’ (ibid.). This doesn’t occur by chance. ‘The infrastructure and networks of Whiteness provide differential access to the school curriculum’ (ibid.).

Ladson-Billings (ibid., pp. 59-60) also addresses pedagogy, arguing, following Haberman (1991), that there are two types of pedagogy, a ‘pedagogy of poverty’ serving poor urban students, and focusing on the basics, and ‘good’ teaching involving a much more in-depth engagement with important issues. Finally, she looks at assessment which legitimizes the ‘deficiencies’ of children of color, poor children, immigrants and limited English-speaking children (ibid., p. 60) and substantiate inequity and validate the privilege of those with cultural capital (ibid.).

While Marxists would challenge some of the terminology here—the privileging of ‘whites’ per se (see chapter 3 of this volume); ‘networks of Whiteness’ (without connections to social class), they would have little basic disagreement with Ladson-Billings’ analysis of schooling in the US. Indeed, Marxists have been arguing on similar lines since the publication of Bowles and Gintis’s (1976) Schooling in Capitalist America (which of course related these issues firmly at the root of the problem: the capitalist economy), without the need to invoke Critical Race Theory.5

Despite her scepticism about multiculturalism, Ladson-Billings (2005, p. 62) nevertheless endorses McLaren’s aforementioned poststructuralist concept of ‘critical and resistant multiculturalism’.6

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