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Diasporian News Thu, 14 Feb 2008

Toronto Black-Focused School: Any Way Forward?

Asks Joe Kingsley Eyiah, Teacher, Brookview Middle School-Toronto

The trustees of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) have voted narrowly (11 to 9) to approve the establishment of the first black-focused school in Toronto next school year. The TDSB could start with two of such school if parents show interest in enrolling their children in Canada’s first Africentric alternative school.

The debate leading to this decision had been heated and even divisive particularly among the Blacks in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). While the advocates of the black-focused school, including Professor George Sefa Dei of the University of Toronto, have argued strongly that the current mainstream Eurocentric education is not serving the needs of our black youth very well, others, especially some parents, see the establishment of black-focused school as revisiting the era of segregation which Martin Luther King Jr. preached against some years past.

One of the parents I spoke to on this issue puts up this argument: “When you put a label on something, you make a statement: and the statement for the “blacks’ only school” is a dangerous throwback to the days of segregation. We have to focus on the future effect of this proposal, non accredited school which leads to employment disability for our future generation, when you are separated from others the potential of your learning about them is low; how can our children cope with being different.”

All stake holders in education such parents, teachers in addition to the government must be properly educated, consulted and listened to on any changes or policies that strongly affect our children’s education.

Undoubtedly education has been the major facilitator and catalyst in the astonishing changes and transformation sweeping through the world today. The role of formal (school) education in the liberation of the individual mind as well as economic dependence and in national development is therefore quite obvious. Thus, education pays off not only in literacy but also in income! It is therefore quite obvious that education is very imperative to the sound development of individuals and nations. Every country ought to provide its people with qualitative and “not only quantitative” education! And every parent ought to ensure that their child gets the best of formal education as much as possible.

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To many, the establishment of Africentric alternative school to help keep black youth in school and to make then more successful seems like a good idea, given that the zero tolerance policy appears to have been systematically abused by some teachers and administrators to discriminate against black students. “Establishing separate schools for blacks is heedless and certainly will not solve the immediate problem. It will rather engage in a lengthy bureaucratic exercise that will cost tax payers substantially while gun play continues to kill black youths”, argues a black parent who has volunteered in an inner city school with considerable black population.

"You have to have a school that will give teachers ongoing training so that they can get better at what they do. You have to have a school that respects the children and the communities that these students come from", Mavis suggests. Victory for Black Voice?

To many a Black Activist the acceptance by the TDSB of Black advocates call for a Black-focused school in Toronto is a “victory” for the Black “struggle” for equity and inclusion in a vastly diverse Canadian community. It therefore came as no surprise to me when one of the most respected Black Canadian politicians, ex-MP, Hon. Jeane Augustine in a comment during a Black History month ceremony in Toronto that the vote for Black-focused school “is a step in the right direction”. Our own Professor, Dr. George Sefa Dei of University of Toronto is yet to comment on this new development in the TDSB because he is away on holidays in Ghana. His dream has been born! Yet, he is still waiting, as many of us do, for an inclusive curriculum for the Canadian education system.

Though the establishment of Black-focused school in Toronto could be seen as a political landmark in the Black “struggle” to achieve acceptability among the mainstream culture, it might not be the best way to deal with the systemic barriers that our Black children face in our schools. We need to fight together for a better public school system!

Research has it that:

“The example of the First Nations School of Toronto, the only racially based school in the city, has shown that creating a school for one racial group is not the solution. Julian Falconer’s report on school violence released in January, 2008 after the unfortunately shooting of Jordan Manners to death at C.W. Jeffreys High School in Toronto last year found conditions at the school ‘unacceptable. The report concluded that TDSB is ‘failing one of our most marginalized and vulnerable communities.”

Any Way Forward?

To some parents, a more responsible approach would be to take a combination of actions to ensure the adequate representations of blacks in positions of authority within the education system. That means recruiting more black teachers, counselors, principals and trustees in the short term. In the long run, the community should engage in a broad based campaign to encourage more young black men and women to pursue careers in the education profession. Institutions such as churches, community centers and ethnic associations should be full partners in implementing such a strategy. Also, within the current school system, teachers can still have ongoing training so that they can get better at what they do. Teachers are required to have some passion about their jobs and have an achievable expectation of where they wish to see these children in the future.

We know that other ethnic students can be enrolled at the black-focused school if their parents wished to do so. However, will all the teachers at such school be only blacks?

Another area of concern is funding for black-focused schools. It is reported that the Province of Ontario won’t help out in the crucial area of seeing the black-focused schools through the challenges ahead. Will the Africentric alternative schools be fully equipped with resources to make them deliver effectively their objectives? This calls for deeper thinking and planning on the part of TDSB.

It is therefore a genuine concern that, in the end, the black-focused schools may just struggle to exist if they are established without strong and continuous financial resources.

Source: Joe Kingsley Eyiah