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Toronto's Afrocentric School: The Dumbest Idea since John Tory's Election Promise

Monday, February 4, 2008

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Written by Josh Dehaas

John Tory’s 2007 campaign for premier was marred by one promise which just didn’t sit well with Ontarian voters. He thought he could shore up some ethnic votes by pointing out how unfair our education funding system is since it gives preference to students attending public or Catholic schools. Strange, he said, shameful even, that Ontario offers a public funding option for Roman Catholic schools, but not for Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Armenian, or any other ethnically based schools. Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Armenian parents tended to agree with him.

Tory seemed to have justice on his side. He was basically correct to point out that the funding formula was outdated and unevenly favoured certain citizens based on their ethnicity or religion. However, the only truly just position would have been to support elimination of funding for separate schools all together. The only way to create real equality in publicly funded schools would be to make one inclusive public school board while discouraging the more exclusive ones. But then again, taking away Catholic school funding would have been political suicide for Tory and so he decided the latter option was close enough.

Ontarians knew that offering funding to other religiously or ethnically based schools would be one step forward and two steps back. While Catholic school boards were unfairly advantaged, it didn’t make sense to further diminish the power of the public schools. After all, it is the public schools which, for good or for bad, model the type of secularism that has allowed Ontarians to accept and integrate different groups into one big happy society. Tory’s resounding defeat confirmed the fact that secular values are something Ontarians are willing to stand up for.

Funny then, that less than a year since the election, The Toronto District School Board is willing to encourage greater division between teachers and students of different ethnicities. In order to address claims that moderately higher drop-out rates among African-Canadians are because they are not included in the Canadian curriculum - because they face systemic racism from whites in schools - the board voted last week in favour of creating an “Afrocentric” school. That is, a school will be built for people of one particular ethnicity to learn about just how different they are from other Ontarians, publicly funded and all.

The “Afrocentric” school plans to create ground soldiers to fight “Eurocentric” curricula which are supposedly causing lower rates of graduation among African Canadians. But assuming “Eurocentric” curricula are the problem, what good would it do to create something equally as racially biased, but simply biased towards a different race? It seems nothing could be more divisive – and yet the school will open next year.

In a country that attempts to accommodate differences between Canadians, it is our public education system which is entrusted with teaching Canadians that the values which make us the same can overcome the things which make us different. The values of diversity cannot be taught by pointing out differences between races and then separating students based on race or religion. People will never learn to accept diversity if it is merely an abstract theory too risky to be modelled and practiced at school.

Our values are too important to sacrifice for a segregationist experiment. After all there are all kinds of schools which are pre-dominantly one ethnicity or another. There are schools which are predominantly Chinese in Markham, predominantly Jewish in Thornhill, predominantly Muslim in Mississauga. No one can deny that there is a history of discrimination against these groups - and yet no talks about a 40% drop-out rate among students of these ethnicities. Why should Eurocentric curricula and racism be to blame for the higher failure rate of black students, when they are only one of many groups affected by racism historically? Do white teachers just hate black children that much more? I don’t think so. Perhaps the T.D.S.B. should consider that issues affecting the success of black students probably extend beyond the racial make-up of their classrooms. Either way, it is not worth risking a fundamental Canadian value - just because one ethnic group is calling the kettle black.

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  1. Posted by: j on Feb 6, 2008 @ 12:01am

    Spot on. I read somewhere that this exact same idea was tried in Los Angeles, it had almost no effect on dropout rates. Just something to think about.

    PS, I really enjoy reading your articles Josh, keep it up.

  2. Posted by: N on Feb 15, 2008 @ 3:13pm

    The "segregation" argument is completely unfounded. The schools will be open to ALL students, not just black students. If anyone is going to be responsible for segregation it will be the people who are afraid of de-centering whiteness.

    Do you think that under the current curriculum non-white students don't *already* learn how "different" they are?

    The viewpoints, histories, and cultures of huge segments of the population are virtually completely excluded from the current school curriculum. This Afrocentric school proposal is simply a first step in an attempt to help rectify that situation.

  3. Posted by: A on Apr 15, 2008 @ 7:24pm

    I'm not going to try to say that there currently isn't a "eurocentric" teaching method, there is. It is getting better, but it still exists. But that's not the point of my post.

    I agree with this article fully. The way to achieve racial equality is not to educate one group with a "eurocentric" view and another with an "afrocentric" view, that just creates even more problems. They need to change the curriculum so that all sides of the issue are covered. And yes, it's impossible to cover ALL sides, but I'm not here to argue semantics, and you know what I mean.

  4. Posted by: kk on Sep 24, 2008 @ 9:43am

    The school systems are already extremely eurocentric which greatly show non whites how different supposedly they are.


    Its funny how I dont here much out cry about these predominantly eurocentric schools... THe discussion only appears agressively when an afrocentric school is being introduced..
    I've been to a predominantly non white run school and a predominantly white run school and there is a big difference in success rates.

    That has to be with cultural ignorance on the part of non white schools and stereotypes....

    Now my conclusions are only based on two highschools in my neighbourhood... one was white and one was non white....

    Im sure everyones opionion will vary depending on their experiences

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