One of my favorite places in Madison is Dr. Carl Grant’s home. It is a place where everyone is welcome and you are sure to get some great stories and maybe even an excellent meal. Since we have similar professional interests, we often talk shop. He regales me with wisdom gleaned from his nearly 50 years as a professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education.
Grant, a Chicago native, arrived in Madison as a graduate student in 1969. After completing his degree, he was hired as a professor in 1974. Now, he is the Hoefs-Bascom Professor of Education, an honor that he earned in 1994. Beyond Madison, Grant is known as a father of multicultural education. He has literally written the book—actually dozens of books—on culture and education. He has influenced 4 generations of scholars and educators in higher education and in K-12 classrooms in Madison and around the world. Most of what we know today about education for marginalized children can be traced back to Grant.
Grant’s 4 most recent books are a slight departure from his earlier work in multicultural education. Over the last decade, Grant has been engrossed in a project to bring Black intellectual thought into education. He noticed that educators were well versed in white philosophers such as John Dewey, but Black philosophers were missing from textbooks and professional development materials. A friend and editor at Routledge publishers asked him “What are you going to do about it?” and he set out to create the materials himself.
After this conversation, Grant called upon two of his former graduate students, Drs. Keffrelyn and Anthony Brown of the University of Texas at Austin. Together, they published Black Intellectual Thought in Education: The Missing Traditions of Anna Julia Cooper, Carter G. Woodson, and Alain LeRoy Locke in 2016. The group makes a case for the value of Black intellectual thought to education and probes the three focal scholars’ work to teach us about race and education. “Black intellectual thought is a super powerful thing,” Grant says, “and this book helped me to see that power.”
In his next 3 books, Grant continues to profile Black thinkers on his own. He invites them into his home as he would any other guest. He becomes so engrossed in their lives and their work that he begins to know them. He describes eating meals with “Jimmy” (James Baldwin), “Willie” (W. E. B. Du Bois), and Lorraine Hansberry and having conversations with them as if they were old friends. This deep engagement allowed Grant to create works that give educators a window into what Black intellectuals have to say about Black education. The result is 3 books that are deeply relevant to education and deeply personal.
Grant was interested in profiling Black intellectuals that many do not know. He resisted writing about W. E. B. Du Bois because of his prominence. When the publisher requested a book on Du Bois for education, Grant took on the project. “Everybody writes about Du Bois so I had to tell Du Bois my way,” he said. This approach led Grant to Du Bois and Education, published in 2017. The consummate storyteller, Grant placed himself into the story alongside Du Bois. In the end, he came to know and to appreciate Du Bois in a new way. Grant saw in Du Bois the men in his early life. “That was my father and my uncle and the doctors,” he said. “They wore the same costume.”
James Baldwin and the American Schoolhouse is the second book in the series, published in 2021. Grant recalls watching James Baldwin on television one night with his father. He was impressed with Baldwin’s persona. “He could take the moment.” Later, he came across Baldwin’s 1963 essay “A Talk to Teachers.” This piece speaks to Grant today as if it were new. “Baldwin talks right here in this moment,” Grant says. Through Baldwin, Grant challenges teachers to “go for broke,” taking risks in their teaching to do whatever it takes to support all children, and particularly Black children, to learn and to build quality lives for themselves.
The most recent book, Examining Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun as Counternarrative: Understanding the Black Family and Black Students, was published in January 2024. In his professional development work with teachers in Madison, Grant heard often that teachers do not know how to handle Black families. They did not understand Black family dynamics, which hindered their ability to serve Black students well. Grant turned to Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun as a way to talk about Black families. “I wanted to show the Black family as a complex and complicated group of people,” he said. Through this book, Grant wants educators to see and appreciate the Black family, which will help them to communicate with families and work with them for the betterment of the children.
All of these books contribute to Grant’s mission of showing educators the value that Black culture has beyond face value. Black scholarship, literature, and art hold keys to understanding Black children, families, and communities in ways that textbooks do not offer.
For Grant, there is as much value in these books for himself as for the audience. He has developed new way of seeing things in education that he has looked at for decades. Next, Grant is returning to his roots in multicultural education with fresh eyes. He brings the relationships that he has developed with “Jimmy,” “Willie,” “Lorraine,” and other Black intellectuals over the last decade. “I can’t talk about this the way that I’ve done it before,” he says, “because I have a sharper eye.”