The debate over whether the Afrocentric Alternative School (that was narrowly voted in favour by the TDSB) would be a move towards the success of black youth or the segregation of the students, has been debated, analyzed and mulled over by everyone. Some say that the school itself will better the marginalized youth and will encourage them to learn more about their culture and history, while it is a way of increasing the success rates among black students. Others though, believe that by separating black students, it is essentially segregation and will take race relations back 50 years. And they vehemently point out that there are deeper rooted problems that have affected the drop out rates. We give you our thoughts on this matter.
So, what do you think about the soon-to-be Afrocentric Alternative School? Will it provide a better future for our youth, or will it further marginalize them?
In May of 2008, it was after fierce debates and with a narrow vote (11 in favour, 9 against) that the Toronto District School Board approved the first black focused alternative school to open in September 2009. Accordingly, this school, which will be integrated in the existing Sheppard Public School compound, has started signing up students for Junior Kindergarten up to Grade 5.
The idea behind such a school was initiated as one of the solutions to curve the 40% dropout rate among black students. As stated by the school body, the school will follow the mandated Ontario Curriculum, focusing on ‘teaching philosophy, curriculum, and school environment which truly reflect the diverse experiences and histories of people of African Descent’.
“What the vocal activists in the black community are saying is that their kids are not actively engaged in the education we’re providing for them. There’s no mentor there, there’s no encouragement. They’ll be motivated to come to school every day.” Chairman of TDSB, John Campbell
“This belief that if we teach kids about their social and cultural identity they’re going to perform a lot better is just stupid. It’s counter-intuitive and counter-productive. You’re going to take public money from the public school system to channel towards a special interest imperative. This is a slippery slope that we do not want to go down.” Economist and former university professor, Anthony Hutchinson
There is only one fact that resonates with this issue that we, as the public, need to take into consideration. The majority of black and minority students in our city are not doing well within the existing education system. One report puts the percentage as high as 40% among young black men who drop out. Now some may argue that there are deeper rooted problems either at home (when the parents themselves neglect their child’s studies) or because of the culture itself as being the culprits. Yet despite those elements, who can say for certain that those alone are the direct causes of the drop outs? There was a study conducted in 2004 on racial profiling and zero tolerance that tried to understand the problem from the point of view of the black students themselves. The result shows that the students highly feel marginalized by the school authority system. They said they are viewed as ‘problems, socially dysfunctional, threats’ and are given punishments that they say are not proportional with their white counterparts. We as a society have to lay down all of our options to actually grasp the issue at hand. For us to judge something that focuses on furthering our youth’s future without actually testing it out is beyond my comprehension. In order for us to fully understand the equation of improving the drop out rates among youth, the equation itself requires all numbers available to work. What if in 5 years down the road, the drop out rates among black and minority youth are drastically lower? In 5 years, what if these same “troubled” students who never learnt in the “traditional system”, actually succeed within this new system? We will never know until we provide them with options.
Many argue that this Afrocentric Alternative School is essentially segregating black youth from the others. This, I believe is a far-fetched statement. For one, all children from all backgrounds are welcomed in this school. It was never designed specifically for black youth only. The curriculum itself maybe Afrocentric, but when did learning about Afro history or culture become only a black thing? The school teaches inclusion for all, hence the variety of curriculum (and not geared towards only one culture’s view of history). For too long, our traditional system has taught us history from only one point of view. Now, there is nothing wrong with that history, but we live in a global world and a global city. Our education system should be reflective of that diversity. No child will be forced into participating in this school. It is voluntary and again, all children from all backgrounds are welcomed. To say that this is segregating is a misguided view. Segregating would imply that all black children (or Asians, or Indians, or Greeks etc.) would be systematically forced into this school, whether they agree to it or not.
Finally, some argue that we shouldn’t be publicly funding this school as it is a “special interest” imperative. It may seem to be a “special interest” imperative, but in reality, we are funding a school thats’ goal is to improve the youth of today…whether they are black, Asian, Indian etc. They are still children that deserve a chance in improving their education. We are all in this together. We cannot simply instruct them to wade through the current system, when most in fact are drowning in it, and expect them to change their situations at home or whatever the “cause of their despair” is. We have an obligation to better their future, anyway we can. Another rarely mentioned point is that we publicly fund the Catholic school system in Ontario. It is a fully funded separate system that incorporates the Catholic faith within the curriculum. Yet, they have non-Catholic students and teaches their students about all faiths and cultures. Not without controversy as well, but it is still fully funded by the Provincial government and our tax dollars…a school system that’s curriculum is largely based upon Catholicism.
“The decision to pilot a Black-focused school [Afrocentric curriculum] is a step in the right direction. As a teacher, a parent, academic and member of the black community I can understand why others will not be in favour of it. The scary thing of resisting it, is that we go back to the status quo, meaning many of our kids under-perform, fail, drop out and join others like themselves in society. There will be a great push to ensure that the students get a good foundation in Mathematics and English Language and then move towards excellence. This will not be easy, but they will be guided by others whose motto will have sentiments to the effect of – learn by almost any means necessary, failure is not an option, and let no one be left behind. Why? Because the stakes are much much too high.”
“This belief that if we teach kids about their social and cultural identity they’re going to perform a lot better is just stupid…Out of the 100 or so families I worked with in Malvern, I would say 80% of the families were non-supportive of their children’s education. When you’d go into a lot of the houses, there was a lot of yelling and arguing. There were lots of latchkey kids.” Economist and former university professor, Anthony Hutchinson
It has been argued that 40% of young black men in the TDSB drop out of high school. Now where do they get this information from? Is it demographic specific, or is this a case that exists no matter where in the city you travel. I ask this question because if studies indicate that hypothetically that the majority of these drop outs happen in priority neighborhoods, then don’t you think there is a bigger issue at hand rather than blaming a school system? I’m not suggesting that the school system is beyond reproach, but blaming it for the failure of young black men is just a bit extreme. In addition, why is the “male” segment of this population so highly effected, what about the women?
It has also been argued that black students feel that they are viewed as “problems, socially dysfunctional, threats”, granted that this is the truth, but the very same thing can be said of many other demographics of the educational system. What about the goths, rockers, gays…you can not deny that you in your high school years have not witnessed discrimination against those groups. The only difference is that they are not recognized in any statistical study out there so we can’t say what percent of these kids “drop out”. I think having a Goth centric school could be quite an interesting venture, don’t you?
Now people have suggested that we need to look at all our options to fully understand the equation and I totally agree with it. Having this school may result in lower drop out rates in the next 5 years, but I ask this: is it because the curriculum is better or is it that kids just feel more included? If you answer that the reason for this maybe inclusion then that is not something that only effects black youth. It effects every single kid in high school!
Moving forward, I do believe that this Afrocentric School is essentially segregating black youth from others. Many advocates have stated that the school is not just for black youth and is open to all youth. For starters, the school has been labeled as an Afrocentric school, the name in itself suggests exclusivity. It has been argued that this school is open to all, no matter race or creed. Is that a reality or just jargon? Are you telling me that you are going to have an Afrocentric school with a population that’s not majority black? I think not!
Finally I believe that this school should not be publicly funded for several reasons. Firstly, it is catered for a specific demographic that does not benefit the entire city. Secondly, there is no proof that this system will work and if we are to experiment it should be privately funded. Thirdly, by creating this school, we are opening the doors to all races in this city to poll for an independent school. Are we to encourage togetherness or be contributing factors to racial cults? Lastly, the Catholic school system should not be funded by the government. This affiliation was created in a different time and age, and in today’s world should be made obsolete. If the Catholic school board wants their schools, then they should dig deep in their pockets to pay for it. I’m sure their immense congregation will more than happy to support them if they value the system’s contribution to their community.