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)

CTV Reports

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.

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22 Responses to “Black-only school in Toronto?”
  1. Charlene says:

    I CANT BELIEVE THIS!!!!!!!! are you kidding me? its not the school boards fault that young black men arent going to class and paying attention making them fail! If you make a blacks only school its going to be the biggest mistake of your life, i hope you all have fun taking 10 steps back!! whats next a black only bus???

  2. Colleen Ellis says:

    The idea of a black focused school will only fail if we allow it to fail. I think its an excellent idea and there is much more to the story. We as a people need to educate ourselves, empower ourselves and much more. It isn’t segregation…its an opportunity for us to motivate our young black youth – or any youth who is interested in learning. the bottom line is that our current curriculum is FAILLING and no one is interested nor motivated to what is being taught. Trust me…its a GREAT IDEA as long as we have the structure and the discipline. It works in the states – they WANT US TO THINK ITS SEGRAGRATION but the reality is that it isn’t…for sure they will want to change this black focus school to another alternative school like a Bendale or a Timmy….but at the end of the day it is up to us to make it an academy! We need to get out there as a people and dissemble the false perceptions, we need to come together as a people and highlight the benefits….the reality is that money is going in and out of the government and all over the place, the police are hiring more police “to solve the problems with gun and gangs’ let me ask you this…has the shootings stop? No! But black men are locked up, families are broken and will continue to be broken until we step us and educate ourselves…this isn’t about racism, its about learning and giving our youth a different options…they are profiting on us as a people because we are not organized as a people to know our worth….the money could be invested in a positive cause like a black focus school – its all about what we make of it. THEY WANT US TO BE CONFUSED AND ALL OVER THE PLACE WITIH OUR THOUGHTS…BUT it can work – it worked in the states – do your research!!! And lets get one thing straight—-anyone will be able to go to the school who wants to learn about black culture and to education ourselves regarding the issues that are plaguing our people daily (fatherless homes, welfare, lack of education, crack, drugs, guns, murder…etc) its not just for “black students” people are just quick to label it that way due to ignorance….

  3. Stoobs says:

    The main problem that black students have is that modern blacks have developed a culture where the establishment is viewed as the enemy. This is quite justified by a wide range of historical factors, and reinforced constantly by the (white controlled) media. None the less, since school is inevitably going to be identified with the establishment, it tends to be viewed as the enemy. The fact that schools are far more about training kids to sit still, face the front, and do as they’re told, than they are about educating them, compounds the problem.

    We are still operating on a school system that was designed to prepare kids for 19th century factory jobs – it gets them out of their parents hair, and trains them to obey orders, toe the line, and work hard for little or no reward. In the modern world, this simply isn’t useful – creativity and innovation are far more desirable traits to foster than obedience and conformity. Any halfway intelligent kid will see that, and know that they are basically wasting their time through much of their school career. When that kid grows up in a culture where rebellion and anti-establishment behavior are celebrated, he or she is unlikely to accept that kind of bullshit.

    It’s barely possible that a black school will change this, but it seems highly doubtful if that school is designed along the lines of other Canadian schools. A wholesale reform of the education system is likely to be far more fruitful in the long term, with the additional benefit of helping all students, rather than only one group. Currently, an incalculable amount of human capital is simply squandered, when the brightest kids are forced to spend the majority of their time bored to tears, in an environment where the only successes that are valued are athletic ones.

    In short, I think the primary problem black kids have is that they are better prepared by their history and environment to see what a colossal farce the school system is, and thus less likely to knuckle under and accept the idiocy foisted upon them by it.

  4. ronbrown says:

    Coleen:

    A few things.

    Firstly, I also wrote a later article in which I was more open-minded to the possibiliity of benefit of this program.

    Second, it has worked in the states? I believe that I read that of the few schools that were started in and around Milwaukee, one closed down due to lack of enrolment, and the others that are still running are demonstrating very low achievement. I’m not saying that this means they’re not working—lack of enrolment is hardly a liability of the school’s quality, and lack of achievement is not going to go away the first year or two that a new type of schooling is introduced. But on what measures are you basing your claim that the schools are working?

    Third, a big concern of mine is that the next thing that will happen is another social group will ask for its own schools. The group I expect to jump up first is Muslims, as this group is right up there with Blacks when it comes to being relatively out of sync with mainstream Western culture (aside from Native Canadians; I’m not sure how their educational systems work, but I would imagine that they are fairly tailored to their communities given that Natives often live in Native communities; correct me if I’m wrong here, though, I really don’t know). The last thing that the global society needs is anything that could encourage further divisions between Islam and the West. And what could happen next? Then other religious communities could start asking for their own schools, given that Muslims and Catholics now have them. Our educational system is already struggling financially, the more times we slice the pie the worse this will get. Each time one institutes a new board, they add additional overhead costs (e.g., increased administration needs, building needs, decreased students per class room which translates into increased cost per student, etc.). Obviously, this is risky. And of course the promotion of fragmenting society is risky.

    Finally, I’ll echo what Stoobs said. The public education system, in my experience, was pretty pathetic. It often failed to help students realize and appreciate the value and amazingness of what was being taught. Why are senior high school students still asking why mathematics is relevant, for instance? Why are there not required foundational courses on critical thinking, the philosophy and history of science, and mindfulness meditation? These are the types of subjects that are going to teach students to think independently, see the amazingness and value of what they are learning in their biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics classes, and be mindful, wisdom-seeking individuals. I contend that encouraging the development of thinking skills and genuine interest in learning and growing is much more important than teaching isolated individual ideas and facts that may or may not (and will probably not) be useful to students. I think kids would be much better off if they learned about critical thinking and reasoning fallacies than, say, the quadratic equation. The applicability and life value of the former completely dwarfs that of the latter. Teaching valuable life skills like how to think and how to be mindful, and actively promoting fascination with academics through teaching the history and philosophy of academic inquiry would surely lead to greater reasoning abilities, wisdom, and interest and ability to learn than pumbling students with a barrage of relatively esoteric ideas and facts that will rarely be applied and do little to generate in students an understanding of the importance and value of what they are being taught and of learning itself. Obviously, I’m not saying that everything that is being taught is esoteric, limited in scope and relevance, and non-conducive of an interest in learning, but clearly there is an incredible amount of room for improvement. And moreover, dividing education dollars is surely not going to help in developing new programs for all students.

  5. educ8m says:

    I cannot believe all the misinformation about an Afri-centric school. There is not going to be a separate Africentric school system, nor will there be segregation.

    I heard Dr. Fuller speak when he was here in Toronto. He is a proponent of school choice. Period. He supports vouchers and charter schools. He believes school choice for parents is a matter of social justice.

    If you want to hear his speech to the Economic Club of Toronto you can view it at The Society for Quality Education website http://www.societyforqualityeducation.org . Click on SQE in the Media and scroll down, or at this link:
    http://media.vcractive.com/vcr/video/win_ie.htm

    Here is a highlight:

    “…Those of us with money have the capacity to choose and the great hypocrisy that operates are those individuals who would never put their own children in certain schools denying poor parents the capacity to do it. We have teachers who teach in schools they would never put their own children in, demanding that other peoples’ children stay there. I find that to be hypocritical. We’ve got politicians running around talking about how important the public school structure is and then you ask them, ‘Well, where do your children go to school?’

    I actually happen to be a strong supporter of public schools, but I’m also a strong supporter of giving people a choice so that they can determine whether a public school or private school will be best for their children”

    “…It is ludicrous for us not to provide a way for kids to go to schools that work because at the end of the day a democracy can’t sustain itself unless it has an educated populace.”

  6. saveschools says:

    One of the main problems with black focused schools is the fact that there will be only a few of them. Sheppard PS is the only one on the books so far out of almost 600 schools in Toronto.

    How will the black community get access. Low income families might not even be able to afford ttc. So that means the school itself will have almost no effect on our city.

    The curriculum should be melted into all schools with black children. There sould not be a black focused school but a culturally sensitive board. That would be progress.

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