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Toronto's Afrocentric School: A Rebuttal

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

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Written by andrea k. bennett

I am not sure about where I stand on Afrocentric schools, though I am sure about where I stand on our current Eurocentric curriculum. It isn't adequate. In fact, not only is it inadequate, it is generally racist and sexist. Teachers can choose whether or not to mitigate the effects of history books that mark the "discovery" of North America, or gloss over years of racism by mentioning that Canada was the golden point on the compass for black Americans fleeing slavery (What happened afterwards?)

I remember watching an hour-long video about reservation schools in the grade 10, but this wasn't backed up by any rigorous study of First Nations/M├ętis/Inuit-Canadian interaction. I don't remember learning about the racist treatment of Chinese immigrants, though we certainly learned about the importance of driving the last spike.

I also remember reading an article fairly recently that dealt with body image in boys and young men. The article found that the body image of white boys was heavily impacted by their perception of the muscularity of video game characters - characters that were predominantly white. On the other hand, the body image of black boys wasn't nearly as impacted. Images of muscular white video game characters did not make nearly the same impression on their psyche.

So, if the people we learn about and celebrate in school are predominantly male and white, it follows that the rest of us must find our role models elsewhere - or align ourselves with the conquered of history.

Does this account for the 40% drop-out rate among black students in Toronto? Does it do anything to explain rates of gun violence that have been on the rise in Toronto - with young black men predominantly the perpetrators as well as the victims?

Racism is a complex process that involves cognitive processes, structural inequity, economic inequality, and history. It is time to realize that the typical Canadian "multicultural" patchwork approach is not going to work. One month set aside per year (we're in it!) is not going to make up for the fact that black history is not, but should be, part of our daily realities.

The TDSB held several meetings to discuss the issue of Afrocentric schools, and it sparked some passionate debate. Some parents worried about segregation, and others fought tooth and nail to get the TDSB to try black-focused schools. After these public meetings, the TDSB decided to listen to parents who wanted black-focused schools for their children - they enacted a plan to create a pilot project with black-focused schools for September 2008.

The stats underscore the palpable crisis affecting black Canadians. The general drop-out rate for TDSB schools in 2005-2006 was 25%; the drop-out rate for black students is a full 15% higher than the average! The 2001 Census shows some interesting information as well. Those who worked full-time and self-identified as black or African-Canadian earned a full $10,000 less per year than their counterparts who self-identified as English Canadian. About 0.5% of those who self-identifed as English-Canadian asserted that they were lone parents; 0.11% of those who self-identified as black or African-Canadian asserted that they were lone parents.

I don't think that the creation of Afrocentric schools in Toronto is a question of "sacrificing our values" as Canadians - the stats say that our values, our superficial perception of our multicultural society, may hinder the understanding that our society is structurally inequal, permeated by deep racist roots.

I see the idea of creating Afrocentric schools as an attempt to create an environment that will celebrate black and/or African-Canadian identities and history, in order to have a positive influence on the psyches of young black students. It's a question of reflecting core multicultural values, of understanding structural and cognitive learning issues. It is a stop-gap measure, unfortunately, for the next very necessary step is to ensure that the entire curriculum is revamped so that it is less Eurocentric and is grounded is in a more balanced, less biased analysis of history and culture.

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