Why the fuss over Africentric secondary school?

By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Editor


At least, the Sunday Sun got one thing right. Africentric schooling is not about segregation. However, both the Sun and the Toronto Star still refuse to understand/accept that the urgings by Black parents for such schools come as a result of a very clearly demonstrated need. While many – maybe most – of our children do well in the mainstream school system, there are those who need that extra push, that extra help, that extra level of support.

We hear the argument that, instead of separating Black students into their own schools, efforts should be made to expand the curriculum across the school system to accommodate Africentric style learning so that all students – and not just Black students – could benefit.

Why can’t we have both? Why can’t we have an expanded curriculum for all students and special schools for those who need that little extra help? We wouldn’t have a problem with that. Actually, it would provide more employment opportunities for Black and other minority educators.

We have said this before, but it bears repeating: alternative schools are not new to our school system. There are dozens of alternative elementary and secondary schools in the TDSB alone, some of them decades old. It is only when the talk turns to schools for Black students that alternative schools become controversial; that the mainstream media take special notice.

The Star, for example, said on Sunday that the “very idea of hiving off students to a special school according to the colour of their skin is misguided.” What about the hiving off of students to special schools for gays, Aboriginal students, the musically inclined, gifted students, and such? Does the Star have a problem with all the other alternative schools or is it just schools for Black kids that bother its editorial writers.

The stubborn refusal on the part of those opposed to Africentric schools, including the mainstream media, to understand that what they are suggesting – that the school system must cater to all equally in order “to help the thousands of low-achieving students, of all colours, whom the status quo is failing” (to quote the Sun) – is nothing new. Parents, educators and education activists both within and outside of our community have been saying as much for a long time, with very little to show for it.

Sure there are programs, as the Star suggested, which can help struggling students.

However, if these programs were meeting the needs of all students we would not be having this conversation.

Both newspapers wrote about the divisions the debate over Africentric schools creates.

After listing some programs the TDSB could expand on, the Star suggested: “These are the things the board should be putting its time and financial resources into – not engaging in a battle that pits students, parents and educators against each other.” And the Sun added: “Already, the controversy over a few Africentric schools is taking attention away from the real issue – lowering drop-out rates across the system.”

That is quite interesting since we didn’t know that there was controversy until the media got involved. For example, one news story claimed that the TDSB’s plan calls for turning Oakwood Collegiate into an Africentric secondary school. That is not true. The plan, as I understand it, is to house an Africentric secondary school within Oakwood – which currently is under populated by as much as 300 students – just as the Africentric elementary school is now being housed within Sheppard Public School. The two schools would co-exist with students who wish to go to either having that option.

That is not what we got – and continue to get – from the frantic ravings in the mainstream media.

One more thing: The Sun suggested that any school could succeed if it received the necessary resources. “…any school can be made to work if enough resources are thrown at it.”

That, of course, was a back-handed slap at the Africentric School which has been turning heads with the success it has achieved in its short lifespan. However, a recent article in Share noted that the Africentric School has just got a vice-principal. After more than a year of its existence! Wouldn’t the Sun consider a vice-principal an important resource to any school? And, would having to wait a full year for a vice-principal suggest to the Sun that this school has had resources thrown at it?

Instead of beating up on the TDSB’s director of education, Dr. Chris Spence and the trustees who are trying to find ways to help the students in their care, and stirring up controversy in order to sell newspapers while they are at it, these publications should try to at least understand the issues from the perspective of the people who are most in need and the kids who are most at risk.

But then, that might not be controversial enough for them.

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