Skip

Afro-centric public school opening in Toronto
September 3, 2009 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Despite a reputation as an effective multi-cultural city, Toronto continues to have difficulties successfully integrating its communities of African heritage. In response to significantly higher than average high school drop-out rates in those communities, some academics suggested the creation of "black-focused public schools" [PDF] as means of re-engaging black youth with education. Needless to say, this caused debate, controversy, and even anger, but the first afro-centric public elementary school will open this month.
posted by modernnomad (43 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously
posted by Wufpak at 11:23 AM on September 3, 2009


A 40% drop-out rate is pretty damning evidence that things aren't working as is. I could see the attraction of doing something, anything to get these kids to graduate. Let's hope it's a success.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:26 AM on September 3, 2009


Ah didn't see the double -- sorry.. But I guess the update on this one is the last link -- the school is now open.
posted by modernnomad at 11:33 AM on September 3, 2009


the PDF link appears to be dead, generating error 403 "Access forbidden!"
posted by striatic at 11:38 AM on September 3, 2009


Egads, I've completely fucked this up, haven't I? Here's an abstract of it. Here's another story about the schools.
posted by modernnomad at 11:49 AM on September 3, 2009


I understand that under this plan, black children will be schooled separately from other kids, but equally?

I bet if we hooked a generator up to Martin Luther King's spinning corpse, we could power most of downtown.
posted by mhoye at 11:57 AM on September 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


I want to help children do better, and I think that all Canadians - white, black, purple - should learn more non-Western history (says the hypocritical historian who studies England), but I am worried about the message that any kind of segregated school sends - that we should learn apart. Learning together in multicultural schools is better for us all.

And I also seriously question the validity of saying that African and Carribean immigrants have similar experiences. They are seen the same way by the majority society, because of their skin colour, but their backgrounds and cultures are so very different. Which culture will the school represent? Caribbean culture? Somalian? (to name the two black/African cultures in my neighbourhood) They are nothing alike, and the issues in the two communities are nothing alike.

Or will they import African-American culture? It has no direct connection to most black Canadians, but it's adopted as a model by young black Canadians who are surrounded by it in the media - kids whose parents have Jamaican or Barbadian accents suddenly sound like they are from LA or Chicago. Is this good for Canadians, to take on a frought history that isn't even our own? We should be talking about Canadian slavery and racism - but we just do the underground railroad again and again. I don't even have any idea what the franchise history is for non-white Canadians, though I do for black Americans.
posted by jb at 12:05 PM on September 3, 2009 [7 favorites]


So it's not segregation when we do it "for their own good"?
posted by Avenger at 12:09 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Balkanization in education will lead to balkanization later in life. Better to expand the range of history courses offered than to adopt a curriculum defined by race - especially in the ham-handed way that jb points out is likely to be the rule.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:11 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


So will they be creating black-focused universities and jobs too?
posted by fridayinjune at 12:18 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd like to hear Afroblanco weigh in on this.
posted by mkultra at 12:31 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Separate but sequel....
posted by There's No I In Meme at 12:38 PM on September 3, 2009


Afrocentric? I think they misspelled 'apartheid'.
posted by Malor at 12:39 PM on September 3, 2009


I will be the volunteer stupid American for this — I know Canada has at least a generation, almost two on the U.S. for ending slavery, but are the racial issues in America seen also in Canada to the same character and degree? Maybe Canada has better PR than we do, but I got the impression that Canadians (aside from some issues with the indigenous folk) mostly could not care less about race, as a general trend, in as much as one could be drawn.
posted by adipocere at 12:40 PM on September 3, 2009


I want to help children do better, and I think that all Canadians - white, black, purple - should learn more non-Western history.

Definitely. If a group of kids are feeling culturally isolated and rejected, then bring teaching of that culture and history into all the schools. Heck, it would make school more interesting for everyone.
posted by eye of newt at 12:46 PM on September 3, 2009


"We won’t know to what extent this will work unless we try," says Dei. "Sometimes people ask where is the evidence that it works. But I want to know where is the evidence that it doesn’t work."

Can't argue with that reasoning!
posted by brain_drain at 12:48 PM on September 3, 2009


I don't think this is any different than a family choosing to send their daughter to an all girls' school, so she can learn to excel in an environment that sees girls as individual people and not in relation to how they're seen among boys. Even in multicultural Toronto, black students are often seen as "black" first and "student" second, and putting kids in an environment where they're just kids among kids, not members of a minority population of "different kids", would probably be just as beneficial to those kids' success as all girls' schools have proven to be for girls (here's some info on that, not that the source isn't biased, but I don't have forever to Google this).
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:57 PM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


I will be the volunteer stupid American for this — I know Canada has at least a generation, almost two on the U.S. for ending slavery, but are the racial issues in America seen also in Canada to the same character and degree? Maybe Canada has better PR than we do, but I got the impression that Canadians (aside from some issues with the indigenous folk) mostly could not care less about race, as a general trend, in as much as one could be drawn.

Part of the difference is that the two minority groups that have the majority of the socioeconomic problems that lead to things like crime, poor health and education outcomes, etc, compromise a very, very small part of the total population. Black canadians account for only 2.5% of the population, while aboriginals account for 3.75% [link].

Absent those two groups, multi-culturalism in Canada appears to work fairly well, without significant racial strife. It's not perfect of course, but major urban communities are generally diverse and peaceful. Where ethnic minority neighborhoods do exist, they are not seen as "ghettos", but rather well off areas [ie Markham, which has a large concentration of Hong Kong Chinese].

It's nearly impossible to sum up a country's ethnic mix in a paragraph like this, and am well aware I won't be doing it justice, but it is clear that Canada is failing two of its groups. The problem is that they are so small in number it is rarely on the radar of Canadians outside those groups.
posted by modernnomad at 1:00 PM on September 3, 2009


I don't know if there's a good answer for this.

It's like Special Education. Do you put all the sped kids in one class, even though they all have completely different needs? (Physical, mental and emotional handicaps?) That's not the answer. Neither is "mainstreaming" where you have one teacher, thirty regular kids and a handful of sped kids, each with his or her own IEP and to a degree, everyone upsetting everyone else? That's not the answer either.

This is actually similar to the ESL cunundrum. Where you have kids who all speak a different native language crammed together, learning English simultaneously with the regular cirriculum. It's not perfect, but you hope that enough of them get enough education to move on with their lives.

Is it possible that for about 20% of the population that public school, as we know it, isn't the answer?

At some point you have to try anything that gives the greatest number of kids the greatest opportunity to succeed.

If it weren't a public school, if the school opened in a particular community, targeting a particular segment of the population, would that rankle as much?

What about Co-Ed education. Boys benefit more from co-ed classrooms than girls do.

You can't be all things to all people. But if someone suggests that Public Schools should try to do so, screaming begins.

And now you know why I left education like my hair was on fire.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:01 PM on September 3, 2009


Adipocere, as a volunteer stupid Canadian from this (grew up in very white Newfoundland, etc etc) - the racial issues are not as bad. There is racism, institutionalized & personal, and don't doubt that for a second, but nonetheless it's not as bad.

Canadians care about race. But don't forget, blacks are a small community here, something like 2-3% identify as "black". We've got less than 20% visible minorities overall. People might not think about race because it just doesn't show up.
posted by Lemurrhea at 1:01 PM on September 3, 2009


Blacks from Carribean islands, we are told, do very well in college whereas blacks with African (slave) heritage do not, all too often. There has to be some rational explanation if that generalization is valid.
posted by Postroad at 1:02 PM on September 3, 2009


but I got the impression that Canadians (aside from some issues with the indigenous folk) mostly could not care less about race, as a general trend

Canadians don't obsess about race, but that's a far cry from saying there isn't any racism. Police profiling by race is widespread, for example: in Toronto black people are far, far more likely to be hassled by police than white people (and for what it's worth, a majority of every racial subset of Torontonians agree that this is the case). Ditto Montreal. And where there aren't a lot of black people, First Nations people take up the slack of police abuse.

It's just not a perfect system. I don't like the idea of monoracial schooling, but I'm willing to let just about anything have a try to see if it works; black student success in Canada is getting worse and worse.
posted by mightygodking at 1:03 PM on September 3, 2009


Afrocentric? I think they misspelled 'apartheid'.

Did you all miss the part where it's voluntary? And as it's publicly funded, they can't turn away anyone who wants to enroll in the school, regardless of their skin colour.

People need to stop imagining stuff based on the headline and actually read how the Toronto District School Board is structured.
posted by GuyZero at 1:08 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Canada has better PR than we do, but I got the impression that Canadians (aside from some issues with the indigenous folk) mostly could not care less about race, as a general trend, in as much as one could be drawn.

This isn't exactly a grand-unified-theory-of-history, but indulge my next statement

A lot countries have some divisions in their population that tend to get expressed as conflict in politics, art, etc . In the United States, this division is mostly race. In Britain, its class. In Canada, it is language... There certainly are racist, classist Canadians but language differences (French/English) affect the politics and cultural struggles to a much greater degree. As such, racial politics and conflict don't flare up quite as often even though there are some problems.

The other thing to keep in mind is the federal government in Canada has very few areas of responsiblity - international trade/diplomacy, national defence, first nations (indigenous issues), some tax collection, and some role in enforcing basic health care standards would cover most of their scope. Most things that touch people's day-to-day life are handled by the provinces (justice, health, education, etc). If things like racism creep into laws and schools, its going to creep in at the provincial level. So in this respect, there isn't one Canada, there are a bunch of Canada's.
posted by Deep Dish at 1:11 PM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Did you all miss the part where it's voluntary? And as it's publicly funded, they can't turn away anyone who wants to enroll in the school, regardless of their skin colour.

Read that backwards, comma wise.
posted by Mblue at 2:18 PM on September 3, 2009


not (separate but equal) = (separate and not equal)?

Oh, it's Can-ah-DAH.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:32 PM on September 3, 2009


Blacks from Carribean islands, we are told, do very well in college whereas blacks with African (slave) heritage do not, all too often. There has to be some rational explanation if that generalization is valid.

For a variety of socioeconomic reasons, this isn't as true in Canada as it apparently is in the US, and I'm not even sure why this is true of America. It has to do with the fact that certain groups of Caribbean immigrants in Canada — particularly Toronto — are disproportionately disadvantaged.
posted by thisjax at 2:49 PM on September 3, 2009


We are not talking about a freestanding all-black school. The black curriculum is one part of a larger school. Everybody is “integrated” in that school. I just saw it on the news two minutes before reading this posting.

Nonetheless, I have no idea what “successfully integrating its communities of African heritage” means, or if those who say we aren’t successful would ever at any point in the future concede that we are successful then.
posted by joeclark at 2:53 PM on September 3, 2009


For those who don't know the TDSB, here a list of all the alternative schools operating inside the TDSB including the Africentric Alternative School in question. There are 20 elementary alternative school in Toronto, some of which have no tests or grades, at least one of which is bilingual (although french immersion is widespread in the non-alternative schools as well) and one of them is "holistic". There's a year-round high school.

This really isn't any stranger than any otehr TDSB alternative school.
posted by GuyZero at 3:11 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


but it is clear that Canada is failing two of its groups

With respect, modernnomad, you seem to be saying that Canadian society has picked two ethnic groups in particular to 'fail'.

The Chinese, to cite your own example, were given every possible opportunity to fail in this country. By 'given' I mean they were actively discriminated against in every way conceivable by our unenlightened predecessors. Fail, they did not.

Implementing a 'parallel but equal' policy with respect to Caribbean youth on the basis of perceived racism as the cause of their failure to succeed in regular schools does nothing but condemn them to meeting the expectation of failure. Canadian society doesn't do so well in the deal either.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 3:22 PM on September 3, 2009


Nonetheless, I have no idea what “successfully integrating its communities of African heritage” means,

Well in Australia it's code for "act like we act, speak the language we speak, like what we like, believe what we believe or get the hell out".

Intergration is just a fancy PC code word for saying white culture dominates and that's the way it's going to stay.

Now. I went to primary school that had a fairly extensive selection of students from other countries. We had an ESL program in the mainstream schooling. We had mostly Vietnamese but a couple of Polish and HK kids as well. All of them did successfully learn English over a fairly short period of time. Young minds are extremely receptive to new languages.

Anyone who wants to write off an ESL program because it isn't perfect is fucking nuts.
posted by Talez at 3:25 PM on September 3, 2009


Learning together in multicultural schools is better for us all.

Really? This is interesting, as we know that girls learn better when they learn with other girls, primarily because of the social construction of what we expect from girls and boys. I don't see why racial social construction will be any different. I presume you mean it's better PR.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:04 PM on September 3, 2009


Really, Hildegarde? You're equating boys vs. girls with people of the same sex who have different skin colours? The black male I grew up with is as different from me, as a white male, that he can benefit from being separated from me? It's as fundamental as the difference between girls and boys? Bullshit. The divide between the sexes, which is genuine, is enough without inventing more.

Canadian citizens are equal, period. If there is demonstrated racism, it must be countered. Let's not start erecting or reinforcing divisions where there should be none.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 4:41 PM on September 3, 2009


In Toronto it's easier to simply start an alternative school rather than try to change the mainstream curriculum. And, as a weak defense, the oppression inherent in the system of the TDSB is one of omission, not commission. I went through 12 years of it and if I hadn't seen any black people, I sure wouldn't have learned about them in school unlike groups like the First nations, Metis, Inuit, etc.
posted by GuyZero at 5:01 PM on September 3, 2009


It's spelled "africentric" in the T-Dot, a city that is absolutely obsessed with America, American cities, American sports, American brands, American politics, looking American, talking American, and now co-opting an American idea that takes the gorgeous diversity of people from many completely unrelated geographic, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds and lumps them together as "black" just as they do in America.

But the rub, you idiots, is that there is no equivalence between "blacks" in the US and those in Canada. Black Americans have had more than 300 years to evolve a unitary culture. BLACK CANADIANS HAVE NOT, and that's a GOOD thing. It's similarly a good thing, a GREAT thing, that "white" Canadians have, and are encouraged to celebrate, their ethnic differences too. Now you want to impose an American style racialization on Canadians because, why, it's worked so well in the US? Are you fucking insane, Toronto?

We don't need this.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 5:45 PM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


ethnomethodologist - There are 200+ year old communities of black Canadians, notably in Ontario and in Nova Scotia. I wish I knew more about their history.

But it is right to note that most black Canadians are, like most Canadians, recent immigrants, and can be from radically different cultures.

Learning together in multicultural schools is better for us all.

Really? This is interesting, as we know that girls learn better when they learn with other girls, primarily because of the social construction of what we expect from girls and boys. I don't see why racial social construction will be any different. I presume you mean it's better PR.
posted by Hildegarde at 7:04 PM on September 3 [+] [!]


I think it's better for society as a whole, and for social cohesion. Schools are one of the few places where we are actively mixed together, regardless of class or culture. The only way that I have ever met Jewish and Muslim people and had a chance to learn about their religions has been through the public school and university system -- I'm still shockingly ignorant, but I would have been far more ignorant without this integration, as everyone else I knew was Christian (of one flavour or another). I'm disturbed by some of the racial segregation that already happens in mixed schools - I don't know why it happens, being a member of the majority, but I have seen that it does. At one school, it would break down into several ethnic groups. But I think we should be trying to figure out why this happens, and stop it, rather than pretend like it's healthy.

This isn't a school aimed at kids in trouble of dropping out; it's a school for little kids, long before they get there. And I can't help but think that anyone whose parents are involved enough in their education to enroll them in an alternative elementary school is going to do just fine anywhere. I would rather see regular schools in the whole of Toronto take on more afri-centric learning than to create special places - for one thing, it might help more students who really are at risk of dropping out.

As for the racism in Canada - we have plenty of racism, we're just homegrown about it. We have some prejudices and stereotypes we share with the Americans, and others which are more local. We're a lot like the northern US - racist, but quiet about it.

One thing that is never helpful is comparing so called "model minorities" to groups which have been less economically/socially successful. Different immigrants come in with different skills; they also face different prejudices, and they are treated differently. There may be racism against Chinese Canadians, but it has never reached the levels of prejudice that there is against Jamaican Canadians. Just like prejudice against Italians or Irish has never been as bad as prejudice against non-white immigrants. Then you have the fact that different communities may have different profiles in their education and class levels coming in -- one immigrant group may be majority university educated, while another isn't. Even if they work in an unskilled position after immigrating, they will always have a completely different orientation towards education than immigrants who do not have that background. (Has anyone studied this - whether parental education regardless of actual occupation affects educational achievement of first generation children? It must have been done).
posted by jb at 6:53 PM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


So what I'm hearing is...this diversity stuff is really great...for the white kids. It's great that they see people who aren't white, who are from cultures different from theirs. Great! But it seems to be failing the black kids. Badly. Maybe we can do something else to help the white kids not be racist. Maybe we need to intervene for the sake of the black kids.

It would be nice if all the kids would stop being homophobic too, but rather than wait for that magical day, the TDSB created the Triangle Program for gay kids. Another "segregation". It's working. You'd rather the gay kids keep getting shat on instead, because it's better for us as a community? You want to take these kids to take one for the team?

I figure: if they think it's needed, it's probably needed. Let's see how it goes. The rhetoric comparing this to apartheid is ridiculous and facile. Nothing is as simple as you think it is.
posted by Hildegarde at 9:03 PM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


While there is indeed racism in Canada - Calgary has seen the rise of a white power group in recent years - there are so many different kinds of schools that I don't know if I should be concerned about Toronto's initiative. For example, Calgary had a First People's school (which may still be operating, I seem to recall it closed), there's at least one all Muslim school and a few French language schools. If there's enough interest in having a school for different races or faiths, I don't see much of a problem with it. There's no worse time in life than high school, and if it helps the kids, I would be all for it.
posted by Calzephyr at 5:36 AM on September 4, 2009


It would be nice if all the kids would stop being homophobic too, but rather than wait for that magical day, the TDSB created the Triangle Program for gay kids. Another "segregation". It's working.

I've known people in the Triangle Program. It's not a school - it's a temporary program (less than a year, I believe). All participants are expected to return to mixed straight-gay schools at the end of the program, so it's not segregation. It's true that many move onto schools with high percentages of gay and gay-positive students, like some of the liberal alternative schools. But they are not segregated in a gay-only community.

Also, it's a program for students who are in immediate danger of dropping out due to homophobic harrassment, etc. And it's a program which serves both straight and gay (and bi) students, because it is a program for any student regardless of orientation, because straight students can face homophobic harrassment as well (due to being friends with a gay student, or just because they are targetted).

(I made it my business to find all this out from the people who have participated because I had the same worries about self-segregation as I do about this school.)

I agree that the rhetoric likening this school to apartheid is overblown - but it's still not where I would like to see race relations go in Toronto. There is already too many problems with basic residential and social segregation between communities. I grew up in a mixed apartment building, but even though we shared hallways, black and white neighbours did not mix as much as they should have (thinking of recreation and community programs). I don't know all the reasons - I was a kid, and so I didn't understand all that I saw. But I think there was a lot of resentment among people in the black (at the time, mostly Carribbean) community in the building against white Canadian culture as a whole (some of which was fully justified, thanks to our increasingly stupid police), which expressed itself as a rejection of their white neighbours who had nothing to do with systemic racism but were just trying to do things for their community in general (and who were in exactly the same socio-economic boat as them, seeing as it was entirely subsidized housing).

Maybe I would feel differently about this program if it were, like the Triangle Program, a temporary solution to helping at risk students. But it isn't - it's an alternative elementary program which could then lead to an alternative (and segregated) high school program.

I just don't think it's healthy for any community to segregate themselves more than simple racism forces segregation. We have to all live in our society together - and we need to see each other, and interact with each other on a daily basis to establish a stonger sense that we are all *us* - so that we can focus on hating the Other we ought to hate - the United States.*

*Yes, I'm being facetious. Please put down the pitchforks.
posted by jb at 7:54 AM on September 4, 2009


(I know I just put all the rejection on the black side - there was probably lots of rejection on the other side - the principal of the local school, for example, was a terrible racist who ought to have been hogtied. All I know is that I remember there being racial tensions in certain community groups which seemed to come not from what anyone in the community did, but from reactions to outside things - like the aforesaid principal. My mom made efforts to integrate the community things she was involved with better, but ended up leaving one group after basically being shut out by certain people on the board due to racial issues, and couldn't seem to get more non-white people to come out to a few other activities/programs which tended to have more white people. She would really liked to have had all of them open and integrated.)
posted by jb at 8:03 AM on September 4, 2009


Actually - rereading the article, I noticed that they did say "students of any background are welcome". In that case, I would enroll my kids (if I had any), for two reasons: one, they should learn more about African and Carribbean culture, and two) no school should be entirely one race, so my kids could be token honkies.

(Only, I probably wouldn't for an entirely different reason - I hated taking a school bus to a school far away from where I lived. But I would if the school were within walking distance).
posted by jb at 8:07 AM on September 4, 2009


This was tried here in Milwaukee (Malcolm X Academy and I think one other school) with no measurable improvement. The problem with *-centric schooling is it doesn't really address what's going on with students outside of school. I can't speak to Toronto but there's a lot of bad shit going on in Milwaukee once those kids walk out of the school door.
posted by MikeMc at 9:18 AM on September 4, 2009


This is really just kind of bizarre. It doesn't address what's actually causing the problem.
posted by kldickson at 1:43 PM on September 5, 2009


« Older Marching through the claims like Sherman through...   |   14 iPhones, 23 MacBook Pro... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post