Saturday, March 29, 2008

Afrocentric Schooling in Toronto

At the American Prospect, Dana Goldstein has a good article up on the debate over establishing afrocentric schools in Toronto, Canada. Though the background of Black students in Toronto is different from typical state-side patterns (the former are more likely to descend from Caribbean immigrant families, the latter from slaves), both share problems with school performance and graduation rates. She concludes:
Toronto certainly isn't alone in trying Afrocentric education as a way to combat the high dropout rate among black students. In Ossining, New York, the diverse local public school district has been experimenting with African drumming lessons and masculinity support groups for black boys. These activities take place during school-day elective periods or as after school extracurriculars, meaning students are gleaning the benefits of both culturally relevant schooling and the increased tolerance of diversity that researchers have found is inculcated in students of all races who attend integrated schools.

Unfortunately, Afrocentric public education, no matter what its effects on self-esteem, hasn't yet proven successful at raising low income black children's academic achievement. Another argument against such programs -- one that's been made by Ontario's Premier McGuinty -- is that students of all races and ethnicities would benefit from Afrocentric teaching. In Ossining, for example, wouldn't all third graders enjoy lessons in African drumming? In Toronto, teachers have already had success teaching multiracial classes about probability through a lesson on racial profiling. If those creative educators are siphoned off to a black-only school, the rest of the student population will be denied the opportunity to tackle an important sociological issue while learning math in a new and exciting way.

The good news is that with almost 300,000 students, 30 percent of whom are immigrants and over half of whom speak a first language other than English, the Toronto school district is large and diverse enough to encompass multiple experiments in how best to educate at-risk kids. One Afrocentric public school won't rip Canadian integrationist values to shreds, and, if successful, the new program could someday provide educators with innovative examples of how to make school more culturally relevant to students of color.

I think that hits it about right.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The issue has also come up all around Canada. We had hearings in Montreal a few months ago on it. In Montreal at least it appears that leaders of the Afro-Caribbean community are united in opposition for the same reasons you cite in Toronto.

I've always had that same question though, what's really the harm in experimenting with one school in a large urban school district. We do it with other forms of alternative education like "Arts" schools.

-Adam Gaya