Thoughts for Black History Month

(Canscene) – February 1 ushered in Black History Month, but there’s one chapter I hoped never to see in the pages of that history.

That’s the establishment in 2009 of an experimental, ethnocentrically focused school for Black students, as approved by the Toronto Board of Education by a vote of 11 to nine with two board members abstaining.

Those of us who study and believe in, Canadian multiculturalism deny that neighbourhoods “ghettoize” certain cultures. For many reasons, immigrant groups wish to settle close to others with whom they have something in common. That’s freedom of choice.

And now, some of us well-meaning people want to create ghettos for Black students by herding them into all-black schools; that’s what this experiment means. If it succeeds, does this necessarily mean that one swallow makes a summer?

To me and many others, were this experiment to be extended, such a move would strike at the very heart of multiculturalism which at its best, depends on equality and understanding “beyond mere tolerance,” as Trudeau reminded us back in 1971.

The only way to achieve these goals is through exposing people of different racial backgrounds to each other which can be done in places of recreation, the workplace, worship and education.

First, there’s the question of funding this experimental school; the Ontario Minister of Education has made it quite clear that it will not be financed by the province. Then, nobody seems clear as to the number of students it should hold. And what of the long-term vision if this project is successful?

For the educator, the way ahead may be long and hard but school boards and teachers should be prepared to go that extra mile. After all, that’s what they’re elected for, isn’t it? When I consider this whole business, it appears that some trustees are hoping to divert intelligent, even animated dialogue on the whole reason for this exercise: why is the Black student drop-out rate so high?

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3 Responses to “Thoughts for Black History Month”

  1. Bill Says:

    Right on, Ben.

    Segregating students on the basis of race is a bad idea, no matter how well intentioned. Our local school board trustee was one of those supporting the poorly conceived notion and I will remember that when she’s up for reelection.

    Your last question is the important one. Let’s address it so that we can seek constructive solutions.

  2. Renato Zane Says:

    Thanks for your insightful comment, Ben.
    While I understand the willingness of the Board to experiment here, ironically I worry about the implications should the experiment work out well. Yes. If it succeeds, it will be great for those students involved. But what then? Will “focused” schools open everywhere and for every group that requests them? Sadly that type of society does not flourish. We need shared values, shared understanding and shared institutions that serve the population as equitably as possible. The “chosen segregation” scenario reminds one of Balkanization, of the possibility of endless separation and, God-forbid, exclusion; or, in the hands of the wrong people, even “cleansing.” Such a system would not serve the long-term interests of the city or province or country. Let us instead tackle the problem together: as you say, Ben, what are the real reasons why the drop-out rate is so high? Let us not leave it to one community to solve alone. Let us ALL get involved and find a better way.

  3. Ace Alvarez Says:

    The implementation next year by the Toronto Board of Education of an experimental school for black students reminds me of the two-tier primary school system in the Philippines during my time.

    Those families who have extra money to shell out with which to afford extra expenses entailed in sending their kids to private Catholic schools in the Philippines learn one thing and the poor who have none, or those by choice, could only send their children to government-run schools in the Philippines.

    During those times, students in the public elementary school system learned “Pepe and Pilar”, and those in the private Catholic schools learned “Judy” and “Jack and Jill”.

    Oh, believe me, at a young age, when I moved to a public school system, afterwards, I lasted only two years. I was an “immigrant” in the sea of “natural borns”—although, all of us were Filipinos.

    Reason was that, in the private Catholic school system, our medium of instruction, textbooks and everything were in English—imported from Uncle Sam’s country. Readers who likewise went to private Catholic schools would remember that even during off classroom hours—recesses, lunch breaks, etc.—we were instructed to speak in English, otherwise one would be fined five centavos per word said.

    When I moved to the public school system, I was the poorest in the “Pilipino” subject, because I was trained to be a little brown American with Filipino accent, so much so that when my teacher assigned us a seatwork during my first few days at school, and giving her instruction in Tagalog, I did not understand what she was saying, hence, I copied the work of my seatmate – and realized after I copied letter for letter my seat mate’s work, and reading every syllable of the word, I realized I copied “Joselito”—my seatmate’s name.

    While my classmates were good to me, still I felt alienated in the public school system, hence, my family was forced to put me back in the private Catholic school I had attended and felt at home in.

    In Toronto, I hope that after attending the all black exclusive experimental school, graduates will still be comfortable in the multicultural reality of the city of Toronto—which, by then — as you were saying, Ben, they will not have been used to exposure.

    In my case, because of the sheltered life I had through high school, it was not until I was in university that I was exposed to people of all kinds and ages. By that time, I had to unlearn and relearn. What a waste of time?

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