By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be
Excerpt from “The Greatest Love of All”, recorded by George Benson for the 1977 movie The Greatest, about the life of famous heavyweight boxer, Muhammad Ali.
Friday, March 8 is the last day of school before the week-long March Break. From Monday, March 11 to Friday, March 15, all students attending Toronto District School Board (TDSB) schools will be away from school.
With one week away from daily school activities and formal studies, our children will need a routine to prepare them for their return to school work. While many families will leave home to spend time with relatives or visit warmer places like the Caribbean or Florida, others will remain in Toronto.
Not everyone can afford to go off to warmer climes on vacation for one week and some people’s jobs would not allow them the time off to do so. March Break can be enjoyable right here in Toronto even with the cold weather. There are several programs available at branches of the Toronto Public Library and at community centres.
Reading is fairly inexpensive and something all children should be encouraged to enjoy. Whatever a child’s interest, there are books that can be found to foster that interest. Caregivers and parents can foster an interest in and enjoyment of reading in very young children by reading to infants (less than one year old). It has even been proven that a child still in its mother’s womb can benefit from a parent reading to him or her. Older siblings who can read could be encouraged to read to younger siblings.
In those long ago days before video games and 100s of television channels, reading was a pleasurable activity for many children. Imagine if all our children read about their history and knew (from their parents reading to them) even before they were sent off to kindergarten that they are valued and valuable coming from people who were the first on this earth and from ancient cultures, empires and kingdoms.
What a great antidote to the racism that many of them experience from as young as age four, when they first enter the education system. It is unfortunate but a reality that some of our children encounter a White supremacist culture as soon as they enter the school system. From the images on the walls of the classroom and the school building to the books studied, there is a lack of inclusion in some classrooms and definitely in the curriculum.
Some teachers prejudge children and have lowered expectations because of the child’s economic reality which, because of the society in which we live, leaves many African-Canadian children either living in poverty or borderline poverty. Because of racism in the education system, many of our young people have been pushed out of school and labour in low-paying jobs where they barely eke out a living. Many are raising families in areas described as “high crime” low-income communities.
Warehoused in Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) buildings where they are over-policed, sometimes abused by security guards and disrespected by other staff, many of our young men turn their anger and shame (which is not theirs to own) on each other in violent acts that in some cases result in loss of life.
The 1997 book, Reconstructing ‘Dropout': A Critical Ethnography of the Dynamics of Black Students’ Disengagement from School, was published by authors Professor Dr. George J. Sefa Dei, Josephine Mazzuca, Elizabeth McIsaac and Jasmin Zine after a three-year study/investigation of the experiences of African-Canadian students in the Ontario Public School system.
The book is introduced with this information:
“It is common knowledge, supported by a large body of research, that in Canada and the United States, Black students constitute a disproportionate number of those who leave school prematurely. This book is an important study of the problem in the Ontario public school system in Canada. The work examines how institutionalized structures and processes of schooling lead to premature school-leaving of Blacks, from the perspectives of Black school drop-outs, Black students, Black parents, non-Black students, and school personnel.”
In chapter four the authors write:
“This chapter will examine the various factors identified by students, drop-outs, parents, and teachers as contributing to student disengagement. The narratives point to the ways in which school structures and policies can facilitate a student′s decision to leave school. It will further illustrate the difference between students who leave school prematurely because of pragmatic reasons, such as pregnancy or the need to work, and those characterized as ′push-outs′: students who, for various reasons, feel forced out of school.”
In chapter 7 the authors conclude:
“Students unable to find relevance to their own lives in the curriculum find it difficult to connect with the educational experience. Black students see a lack of curriculum content devoted to their history and experiences. For example, Black students had strong feelings about how the inclusion of Black history in the mainstream curriculum would enrich their educational experiences.”
As parents, grandparents, relatives and caregivers of African-Canadian children, it is our duty and responsibility to ensure that our children have the best start in life to cope with what will be thrown at them as they try to navigate their way through a White supremacist system which does not value them, their culture or their lived experience.
Suffering emotional and spirit injuries, miraculously some do manage to maneuver through a system that is not African friendly and come out on the other side with a degree and a good job. We must protect our children from the harm of growing up in a White supremacist culture. We must ensure that our children develop coping skills for those times when they are overwhelmed by the feelings that can arise when they are subjected to the spirit injuring practices of some educators.
It can be especially shocking and hurtful when those educators are racialized people and even Black. Internalized racism can manifest itself in self-hatred, even in educated people who are in charge of educating the next generation. Internalizing the White supremacist image of people who look like them as “less than”, these educators would not see the beauty or the genius in a child who could be their younger self and so they perpetuate a White supremacist thought process.
The importance of teachers’ attitude towards their students is addressed in Reconstructing ‘Dropout':
“As ′front line′ workers in the education system, teachers were considered by students and parents as critical to the schooling process. Teachers′ styles, personalities, and skills were closely scrutinized by their students, who looked to them for guidance and knowledge. They felt their teachers could make a real difference in their education, and, whether positive or negative, teachers′ influence was seen as lasting. In this chapter, we examine how teachers′ practices in regards to labelling and streaming are experienced by Black students.”
All educators are in the schools to ensure that children live up to their potential regardless of the child’s race, economic status or family structure. Their purpose should be to work with all children believing that every child is valued and capable of learning. They are not there to engage in bullying or blame and shame practices based on their biases. Educators have an important role to play in helping young children to self-regulate by modelling appropriate behaviour and guiding them appropriately.
The disengagement of African-Canadian students begins long before they eventually “drop-out” or are pushed out of the education system mostly by the time they are in high school. The process begins in elementary school, sometimes as early as kindergarten.
Without an education, there is no hope of gaining employment and then a downward spiral into possibly criminal behaviour to make a living, incarceration and a vicious cycle with no escape in sight similar to the enslavement of our ancestors where their bodies provided the means of enrichment for other communities.
The recent headlines in the mainstream newspapers should act as a wakeup call for everyone in our community regardless of where we live, or our educational and economic status. Our children are our future.