Toronto District School Board to create Black-centric School
Reuters Canada reports that in an effort to address high dropout rates among Black students in Toronto, the Toronto District School Board has officially decided to open the city’s first Black-centric school for Fall 2009. TDSB will also be implementing Afrocentric history and culture educational programs at three existing Toronto high schools. Afrocentric education will teach subjects from a Black perspective, rather than the traditional perspective, which is seen as being Euro-centric.
Approximately 12% of Toronto students self-identify as Black.
40% of Caribbean-born Black students do not graduate from high school in Canada.
32% of East African Black Canadian students drop out of high school
Educator Paul Green asserts “If it was the general population of kids failing out at that rate, nobody would accept that.”
The biggest concern of most opponents of the move is racial segregation. The Ontario government has said it would prefer that students learn together, using an expanded curriculum.
Advocates of the initiative, on the other hand, say it is not matter of separating students, but of reaching out to those in need.
“People are so caught up in believing this is about segregation,” said Beverly-Jean Daniels, who teaches classroom diversity at York University in Toronto. “They’re not willing at the end of the day to see this is about what’s in the best interest of children in our society.”
I, too, am quite concerned about segregation. Living in a multicultural society, is it really a good idea to split people up for huge chunks of their childhood? By the same token, if there is good reason to believe that Black students could be better reached through Afrocentric programming, maybe it is not such a bad idea. But here comes my second major concern: precedent. Now that this group has gotten its own school, who is next? Tonight CityTV News reported that already 5 other groups have indicated their interest in receiving their own distinct publicly-run academic programming. The reply to the issue of precedent by one of the representatives of the TDSB was that the reason that Blacks are receiving this treatment is because they have faired particularly poorly as a group. It is the need for help, not the social group that was the prime mover here. Thus, merely being a member of a recognized social group is not an argument for receiving a distinct set of educational programming. However, here’s what I could see happening. Muslims are known for being among the less well-integrated minorities in Canada. What if Islamic organizations begin saying that they need their own education system because the Canadian system is Euro-centric and alienates them, just as has been said for the Black community (an obvious retort would be that if anything, Muslims need to be in the public system so as to promote integration; but nevertheless, the precedent of giving people of different cultural backgrounds special educational arrangements would have been set). Then we have Blacks and Muslims separated from the mainstream. What’s next, Hindus? Sikhs?
While I can understand the genuinely serious set of problems that need to be addressed with regard to the education of young Black Canadians, I worry about the role that this precedent could play in the fracturing of our society along cultural/ideological lines. As our society moves deeper and deeper into culture wars and wars of ideas, I think it is a dangerous step to do things which could lead to mutual isolation and polarization.
Perhaps my concerns can be allayed by basing any additional educational systems not on teaching from the perspectives of different cultures and ideologies, but on teaching from the perspectives of different groups within North America—as is the plan for Blacks. However, I also have a third concern: cost. Each time an educational system is split a new set of overhead costs is produced. Basically, it is cheaper to run one big system than two smaller ones. Each time the systems are split the administrative costs go up. This is a major counterargument against the continued funding of the Catholic separate school system in Ontario (and more recently in Alberta), and was frequently cited against John Tory’s Tories’ position to extend public funding to other faiths.
We have a complex problem on our hands. We want to be able to provide all Canadian children with the best possible education in a setting where they are comingling with the full spectrum of races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, political orientations, and so forth that make up Canada. How do we educate in a manner that is effective, inclusive, non-isolating, and cost effective?