September 18, 2005

To 'separate' or not to 'separate'? (black school proposal)

Last week the equity boss for the Toronto District School Board proposed a black only high school pilot-project in hopes of ending the increasing number of dropouts and increase student performance.  Within a couple days, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty shot down the idea claiming there was no evidence that it would improve the state of education or learning for black students.  Since then there has been some discussion on the issue.  Some people point to the success of Native schools and the alternative school in Toronto for gay and lesbian students as arguments that the project could work.  Others point to the USA where there have been mixed results but where even the positive results aren’t overly convincing.  While I am not sure I am convinced that having a black-only school would succeed, I do not see the harm in testing it out.  

As a certified teacher myself, my goals are simple; do what I can to help my students succeed and provide an environment to encourage positive growth.  If it is believed that, an all-black school in Toronto can help these students, then make the attempt.  Even if the project fails, at least we can say that we are trying instead of letting the status quo remain.  And even if it does fail, then find what was positive and what wasn’t and develop a new plan from that information.  It is obvious that the status quo isn’t good enough because there is a sense of disenfranchisement amongst black youth and the results from this are anything but positive.  

I realize that it will take a lot more than just this project to correct the problem.  A major factor in this issue probably also comes from social conditions.  And this issue is a lot bigger and wouldn’t necessarily change due to a project in the education system.  However, if the project was to takeoff and generally succeed there is likely going to be an affect on the social conditions.  Those students that are successful will be better equipped to escape the poverty cycle (if they are in it) or be a positive influence in their communities, providing leadership.  These prospects alone may be worth the effort to run the project.

I also understand that some people are concerned that this idea reeks of segregation.  But I wonder if it is really segregation if the student body that shows up has volunteered to attend to this school?  Students are not being forced to attend this school and the project wouldn’t exclude non-black teachers and administrators from working there.  The environment would be positive and would be about opportunity.  None of these aspects speaks of segregation and the concern, I believe, is unwarranted.  The only real concern may be that if the project falters then onlookers may begin to make race-based judgments in both educational and social terms.  However, this would only serve to expose those onlookers that are ignorant more than pass true judgment on the attending students and staff.  Therefore, while I cannot say that I fully believe it will succeed, I do believe it is worth the try.  Even if, at the very least, it demonstrates that we – Government of Ontario, Ministry of Education, Toronto District School Board, etc. – are making a serious attempt at fixing a major social and educational problem within Toronto.


Luke said...

No way. This is not a good idea anyway you cut it.

Social conditions are an overriding factor in this issue, and segregating the system is not the way to correct it. Whether it be voluntary or forced segregation, it's still wrong. Students need to be able to 'compete' and interact with everyone.

The reverse also needs to be examined. If violence and disruptions continue to occur in schools, what's to stop every ethnic group in the city from blaming the others and demanding their own 'separate' school. Mr McGuinty just over ruled Shariah law, and this road is no different.

Scott said...

Seems to me, if the Black community wants it, then it should be tried. I know some folks who have been associated with Aboriginal schools and they seem to be one useful measure in addressing the oppressive realities faced by Aboriginal peoples in the mainstream school system. I completely disagree that what luke calls "voluntary segregation" by oppressed communities is wrong...if mainstream space is unsafe or oppressive, as it is for Black students in the school system, then it is perfectly reasonable to seek to create safer space that does a better job of reflecting the realities and aspirations of the Black community. This isn't an excuse to avoid dealing with the racism that is rampant in mainstream schools, of course, but...well, like I said, if the Black community wants to try it, white progressives should support it.

Kyle said...

While I understand that segregation could lead to an issue of other groups asking for the same 'privelege', the argument is seems too much like a slippery-slope which are often don't happen. That is not to say another group won't ask but that we can't be afraid of what-ifs if this is only a pilot project that could be positive.

I do agree that it would probably be better if there was a way to improve things, from an education standpoint, from within than thats the way it should be because as much as I hate to admit it, McGuinty is right that they should be in the societal mix as much as possible. However they haven't been able to find that system yet, though I doubt they've exhausted every avenue, but this is an interesting idea that could do wonders if handled and developed quite well.

I also believe that this won't correct any social issues to the point of wide-spread change but it can help and any help is a good thing from my view point.

Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)