'Black focused' schools are not the answer

November 28, 2007 | Globe and Mail Update | IKE AWGU.

Proposals by educators for the creation of ”black focused” schools in parts of Toronto, well intentioned as they may be, are as insulting as they are ridiculous. Such schools would not be in the interests of students, parents or Canadian society at large.

”Black focused” schools do not recognize or affirm African-Canadian identity; they trivialize it. Instead of contributing to the solution for problems facing segments of Canada's black community, these schools mask those problems and steamroll over the reality of the issues that are holding back segments of our country's population. Broken family structures and a profound lack of racial confidence are the real culprits behind the underperformance of parts of Canada's black population.

Statistical information about the dropout and failure rates of black students in Canadian high schools is useful only insofar as the categories created by those statistics is meaningful. The Canadian system takes everyone identified as ”black” and throws them into the same category, masking the differences between segments of this community. According to statistics collected by the Toronto District School Board, by the age of 16, more than half of all young black males in Toronto public schools have fallen behind and are more likely to drop out. The figures do not distinguish between ”blacks” who are the children of immigrants, ”blacks” from Somalia, ”blacks” from Nigeria or ”blacks” from Scarborough; all are thrown together into the same category. It is politically far easier for many to pretend that underachievement is a ”black” problem than to see it as one concentrated in cultural segments of the black community.

Aggregate data conceals the fact that Canadian-born blacks from specific foreign nationalities are excelling in high school, while others consistently underperform. According to a study conducted by the American Journal of Education earlier this year, immigrants and their children, who make up 13 per cent of the U.S. college-age black population, account for more than 25 per cent of the black students at Ivy League and other elite universities. Black immigrants from Africa averaged the highest educational attainment of any population group in the United States, including whites and Asians. These students are no less subject to racism from educators, biased curriculum or bigotry from society at large than are other American blacks. Cultural differences between these groups go further in explaining their divergence in achievement than does blaming a lack of an ”Afro-centric” curriculum.

We need to try and understand more about the failing ones. Where do they come from? Where do their parents come from? What are their family lives like? What are the differences between them and the other groups who excel? Taking the easy route and saying it's a ”black” problem requiring a separate school system is nothing less than the abandonment of these young people.

If parents are genuinely interested in having their children learn more about Africa, they can send them to after-school programs, like Canadian students with any other heritage. When I was growing up, I attended an Igbo school, where I learned my father's language; one of my best friends attended Chinese school on the weekends. We both learned more about our parents' origins and were stronger Canadians for it. These programs, which give children some sense of racial confidence, are far more sensible than pretending all black students have something culturally in common and starting a separate, unequal and un-Canadian school system.

The message that this school proposal sends to black students is that they need racial segregation in order to excel with confidence. But the world is not a racially segregated ”Afro-centric” public school; it is a diverse place, just as Canada is a diverse country. It is good and well that educators are looking for solutions for their students, but this proposal will serve only to make a bad problem worse. The school board in Toronto and parents who are looking for solutions need to look harder and more candidly. Their children deserve it.

last updated august 2012