Black-only school in Toronto?
Howard Fuller, professor of education at Milwaukee’s Marquette University and founder of two black-focused schools in Milwaukee believes that black-focused schools could be successful in Toronto. (CTV Toronto)
The Toronto District School Board proposal for a black-focused school has been met with both criticism and praise.
Some parents are enraged, saying the initiative is a dangerous throwback to the days of segregation.
But proponents, which include parents, community leaders and educators, support the concept. They say the current curriculum is failing the city’s black youth.
More than half of black male teens at Toronto’s public schools haven’t earned the 16 credits required by the end of Grade 10, according to the school board.
Supporters say an African-centred alternative school would lower the dropout rate of young black males.
Some parents say an African-centred school with black teachers and role models would help black youths graduate and succeed.
The school board’s proposal calls for a school from junior kindergarten to Grade 8 that would have more black teachers, mentors and a stronger focus on students’ heritage.
The school would teach the Ontario curriculum and have more parent involvement. If the idea is approved, the black-focused school could open as early as next fall.
In Fuller’s experience, implementing black-focused schools has had both positive and negative outcomes (e.g., the closing down of one of the schools due to declining enrolment; problems with student achievement), but overall he views the concept of black-focused education as beneficial. Fuller says that schools must respect the children and the communities that they come from.
So, initial opinions:
I have to say that I’m quite uneasy about the prospect of establishing a separate black-focused school system. There are a number of fairly obvious reasons for reluctance. Firstly, is separating people really the best way to promote tolerance and understanding? Could this not risk increasing perceptions of separateness, as was as promoting ignorance and stereotyping? I understand that the way things are currently, racial divisions and tensions is a reality in many Toronto area schools. Walking through a Scarborough high school one will likely observe racial clustering. You’ll have your “black section”, then you’ll walk a bit further and you’ll have your “Sri Lankan section” followed by East Asian, Indian, Greek, and so on. There are problems. Clearly many students are seeing themselves in terms of their race, as well as their religion, subcultural affiliation, and a number of other social variables before they are seeing themselves as simply humans, arm-in-arm with their fellow human peers. Addressing these problems is surely a complex and difficult task that requires extensive cooperation from individuals and organizations at all levels of society. Attempting to ameliorate these problems by pulling students apart from each other is not at all a root cause solution to the problem. It’s more like drinking to get rid of a hangover—at best it’s going to temporarily mask the problem, while in the end making it that much worse.
Of course, this particular operation seems to have more to do with promoting academic improvement in black communities than addressing issues of race relations. But obviously these issues should be at the forefront of the current considerations. Moreover, we must balance potential academic benefits that could be observed in black students with the potential social costs of black students becoming highly accustomed to interacting primarily with other black people and then entering a work world that is far more diverse. Think about it. If a black student goes to nothing but black-focused schools from kindergarten through grade 12, how much opportunity will they have to form relationships with people of other races? Their teachers, co-students, and family will be mostly if not entirely black, most of their friends probably will be, too, as they will likely make most of their friends at school. Furthermore, racial ghettos could form in neighbourhoods surrounding the schools. Because there would only be one or a few of these schools per level (i.e., primary, middle, and high school) in the city, over time there would presumably be a trend in which more black people would concentrate near the schools. The potential for thorough-going segregation is real and rebuttals such as “well, they’ll meet people of other racial groups in their neighbourhoods and in their outside of school activities” seem grossly insufficient.
Another problem I see is that of precedent. Is this going to pave the way for similar segregation for Muslims? There are surely local Islamic organizations that could make assertions very inline with those made on behalf of blacks, the two groups being probably the least well-integrated into Canadian society (aside from Native Canadians, who are all but completely separate). These problems of social fracturing, marginalization, fear, ignorance and intolerance are not going to be fixed by simply putting different groups into different buildings. We all have to live together and so we need to learn how to do it. We’re not going to learn to get along by way of segregation.
The final problem I will discuss is that of education funds. Ontario’s education budget is already being stretched close to if not beyond its limit. We are already unjustifiably funding a separate Catholic education system, a blatantly unsecular and fiscally irresponsible practice that is costing the public education system hundreds of millions of dollars per year. The public school system is intended to teach our youth how to function in society, socially and productively. It is intended to be the great equalizer and potentiator, providing students with the opportunity to learn, grow and pursue goals, as well as the great community centre which brings people together. By dividing students and funds we impede these processes.
I can understand that people of different cultural backgrounds have, well, different cultural backgrounds. Parents may want children to understand their non-Canadian background as well as Canadian society and history. Perhaps allowances can be made for this in the public school system. For instance, in social studies classes (e.g., history), students can sometimes have the option of doing projects on other cultures and have the opportunity to present what they have learned to the class. This is progressive. This is integrative. And this is the sort of thing that needs to be done to promote mutual understanding and appreciation. Indeed, it could be a valuable part of all Canadians’ education to learn from their peers about their cultural backgrounds. Of course, in the end, there will be a strong bias toward the teaching of Canadian culture and history, but there is good reason for this. We are all in Canada and so it is reasonable that we spend a disproportionate amount of time studying Canadian society and history.