By MURPHY BROWNE
Education is the medium by which a people are prepared for the creation of their own particular civilization, and the advancement and glory of their own race.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey (August 17, 1887 – June 10, 1940).
I am reminded of the words of this great Pan-African leader as the day approaches when the second generation of my family will enter the Toronto public education system. My grandchild is one of the fortunate children who will have the opportunity to attend the new Africentric Alternative School.
It is difficult to decide which one of us is more excited about her first day of kindergarten. She is one of the students who will benefit from learning in a place where she will see positive representation of herself. Her experiences, lived reality and history as an African child born and living in Toronto, Canada will be part of the curriculum and will keep her engaged in the learning process.
She will learn that she is central in her education because the Africentric education centres the experience of the students in the learning process. She will know that she is central to the human experience and this will reinforce a positive sense of self giving her the confidence to strive for excellence.
Our children educated in the Eurocentric public education system struggle to maneuver through a system that ignores and sometimes negates their lived experiences. They are at the margins and sometimes invisible in the curriculum. Surprisingly quite a few of our children manage to navigate the system and achieve success. However, in some cases, their success comes at a cost to their self-esteem and sense of self.
The Eurocentric system certainly advances and glorifies White people and their culture. It is therefore almost laughable when White people express their dissatisfaction that there is no named White History Month or White Entertainment Television, failing to realize that because their culture is considered the norm, every day is White history and culture day and all the television stations glorify White culture.
The establishment of the Africentric Alternative School came at the end of an exhausting, frustrating process that caused anxiety for many members of our community. This school is not the first alternative school in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), neither is it the first school with a curriculum that will concentrate on educating students about the history and culture of a group that is marginalized in Canadian society.
The TDSB has a First Nations school geared to educating First Nations children and a Pink Triangle school which was established to provide a safe and affirming environment for gay and lesbian students where all students who attend these two schools can learn in an environment where they can be proud of who they are. However, the struggle to get the Africentric Alternative School approved by the trustees at the TDSB was compounded by a society steeped in a White supremacist culture and anti-African racism.
While other alternative schools were established without public consultation, there was extensive, intensive and intrusive public consultation accompanied by a media circus and feeding frenzy. There was much misinformation in an attempt to discourage support for the school.
Suddenly people who never paid any attention to the quality of the Eurocentric curriculum of the public education system were making noises about “reforming” the curriculum of the entire TDSB in an effort to thwart the establishment of the Africentric Alternative School.
While it would be an improvement if the curriculum was made more inclusive, that was used as a stalling tactic. There was even some bleating from some members of our community whose minds are so colonized and enslaved that they can only parrot what they hear from White people.
There was massive distortion and misrepresentation by many factions determined to derail the process but they did not reckon on the determination of the many dedicated community members. Some of those dedicated community members were educators who work in elementary, secondary and post secondary institutions; some were students, parents, grandparents and people from every walk of life. They were united in their struggle to address the epidemic of drop-outs in the community that is robbing our youth of their future.
Understand that this one school could not solve the conditions that lead to the fatalism, malaise, frustration, apathy and alienation of our youth, but it is one small step in the right direction. With one of the tipping points being the high school drop-out rate among African Canadian students at a staggering 40 per cent, the trustees at the TDSB voted to establish the Africentric Alternative School as one small step in addressing this alarming statistic.
Even after the trustees voted to establish the school the struggle did not end. There was opposition not only from the White media who framed the school as a “Black only” or “Black focused” school but even from Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty got in on the act, expressing his disapproval of the school.
McGuinty was reported in one of the daily newspapers as saying that he opposed any public school focused on one culture, failing to realize that the education system is focused on one culture, White culture, his culture.
The first day of school will be a new exciting experience or one full of anxiety for children, parents and grandparents. The first day, first impression can affect the rest of a child’s academic performance. This is a time of hopes and dreams for a happy and successful experience with formal education.
I intend to do everything within my power to ensure that my grandchild enjoys that first day and set the tone for a smooth transition into school. When she enters school on Tuesday, September 8, I will be there “starting out on the right foot” by volunteering and I will also have my camera to capture the moment for posterity.