In this essay, Brian D. Lozenski explores why Gloria Ladson-Billings's 2006 pronouncement of the nation's “education debt,” as opposed to “achievement gap,” has not gained traction in the national discourse around educational disparity. He contends that education debt is a more nuanced, historically based, and generative framing of racialized educational disparity, which has been marginalized by the narratives of crisis in education, specifically with black youth, that necessitate a frantic urgency allowing for ahistorical, quick-fix solutions to complex problems. Through a tracing of four major epochs in African American education, including the mid-nineteenth-century era of slavery statutes, Reconstruction, post–Brown v. Board, and today's early twenty-first-century “crisis,” of the underachievement of black youth in schools, the author considers how African American education has always been precarious and, thus, able to be labeled a “crisis.” Using a combination of synchronic (snapshot) and diachronic (longitudinal) analyses, he demonstrates how the achievement gap logic does not allow us to address historical constructions of contemporary disparity. Lozenski concludes the essay by suggesting that African American self-determination, and not the reification of the nation-state through state-centered reform efforts, should be the driving force behind educational decisions that impact black youth.

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