[cross-posted on Farbucks]
Sorry, today is not my day to post either. But this is an intriquing and very relevant issue that begs dialogue.
This is a tough one. Tracy Rosen's post deserves some serious thought.
The Toronto District School Board voted this week to create a "black-focused school". According to CBC News, the trustees have approved the creation of an alternative campus environment built on a curriculum of black history and culture. The creation of such an "Africentric" school, according to the Board Chairman John Campbell, is "just one option" meant to help address Toronto's problems "facing young blacks in their school system". He also said, "It should not be viewed as the sole solution to a problem, but should instead be seen as a response to a community request for action."
One of the driving considerations behind the decision is a 40% drop out rate of black students from Toronto high schools. For more direct source information on this issue, visit the Board's website.
For many of us, our first reaction to this news is probably, "What? Wait a minute...This cannot be right." In a pluralistic society which has fought segregation and sought legislation since Brown versus Board of Education, talk of an Africentric school probably should elicit a gut-level-first-reaction that is negative.
Thoughts spring quickly to mind: Gains made will be lost. This is a slippery slope. Voluntary segregation is still segregation. Is this a throwback to the old separate but equal argument?
But what if this is a old concept from the 1950's that might actually work in the year 2009? An old-but-reborn revolutionary concept that might work in the 21st Century? We all know the current system fails many students, especially various sub-populations. Attempts at grouping everyone together have historically led to mixed results. If creating any Ethnocentric School is really nothing more than an attempt to preserve a cultural history and heritage that is perceived as being lost, and building on top of that an educational system more sensitive than the current systems, is that wrong? And if the preservation and promotion of culturally individualistic practices creates an environment that promotes educational success and achievement, doesn't it deserve a chance to be tried?
Aside from the obvious - and many - benefits gained from multicultural exposure, the mixing together of all ethnic cultures in the schoolhouse may have clear SOCIAL benefits, but does it provide the EDUCATIONAL benefits necessary for full maximization of achievement?
Are some commonplace practices that are so ingrained within our schools too white to be effective with a culturally varied population? We might never know unless we allow for Africentric schools to be tried.
Honestly, what drove integration was not so much the fact that ethnic groups were separated, it was the fact that the groups were funded so unfairly. It was separate but far from equal. I daresay that if ALL school buildings, material availability, access to quality teachers had been equal, Brown vs BoE, might have been delayed indefinitely.
If care is taken to build an environment which promotes a segregation based on learning styles but an open integration of social inclusion and acceptance of all races, religions, and cultural variations, then I would say let's take a passive observer's seat to Toronto's efforts and see what happens.
Who knows? If done with sensitivity and proper motivations, allowing students to learn in a segregated environment that allows for cultural variables within the learning process, perhaps the drop out rate will improve, achievement gaps will be closed, and in the end understanding, acceptance, tolerance, and a fuller integrated society can be built. It won't be how we get there, it will just be the fact that one way or another we all did arrive at the same point of equal academic opportunity and achievement.
The ends may justify the means. We won't know until we try.
So I say, Good Luck, Toronto. Congratulations on having the courage to admit that the status quo is not working and maybe a true re-invention of the system from the bottom up is called for. Many of us will be watching with hopes that all paricipants will benefit.