Thousands of Canadian doctoral candidates toil away for years in relative obscurity. To showcase their work to a wider audience, CBC radio launched “Ideas from the Trenches” that features ground-breaking research from Ph.D. scholars across the country.
Dr. Kim Tavares, a teacher in the York Region District School Board’s (YRDSB) inclusive school and community services unit, recently completed her Ph.D. in Education that focuses on Black educators and inequitable outcomes of male Black students.
A few weeks ago, she shared some of her research on the show.
Tavares, a mother of three children, said her motivation to understand why a disproportionate number of Black male youth disengage from the school system, began with the birth of her only son, Shae Carter, who is now a Grade Nine student.
“I remember being in the hospital and going into the Intensive Care Unit where he was,” she said. “When I looked at him, I remember thinking he can be a doctor, he can be a lawyer and he can be teacher and in the next split second, I thought he could end up in jail, he could end up doing drugs or he could end up dead. That was when I really began to think and question what is happening to Black boys in our society.
“We have so many American influences around us. You hear about Rodney King, you hear about all these beatings and all these different things happening. On one hand, your rationale side says you are in Canada, it’s slightly different here and we don’t have that kind of overt racism. But, to me, the covert racism that we have here scares me just a little bit more because I really don’t know who I can trust, who I can talk to, who is going to raise my son and what kind of internalized racism he’s going to take in. That was my concern looking 20 years ahead and that was a huge fear for me.”
Tavares, the co-chair of the Alliance of Educators for Black Students, started her doctoral research on the assumption that young Black men need Black male role models in schools. She however discovered that theory was misplaced as the Black males she interviewed credited the Black women in their lives for their success.
“It’s a comfortable solution because if you put the blame on Black men, then it absolves the system of acknowledging its place in replicating systemic oppression because you put the problem back on the Black body and say ‘O.K., you guys deal with your own issues’,” she said.
“It’s a very convenient solution, but it’s one that you hear all the time. Studies are always coming out about needing more Black men and single Black women can’t raise their children and it’s their fault, and so you put the blame on the women for being single mothers and the blame on the men for being absent and the systemic oppression of the oppressors are just kind of left out of the equation because it’s not their issue anymore. It allows us to not have those
“We can keep the curriculum as it is, we can keep our pedagogical practices as they are because the issue really belongs to the absent Black men and the flirtatious Black women. It’s their fault.
“They started thinking about Black women teachers as really their first teachers historically and even as children growing up and so I wanted to know what it is that we can learn from them that has been successful in teaching Black boys that any teacher can use if they are interested in meeting the needs of all the learners in their classroom.”
Camille Logan, the YRDSB principal of inclusive school and community services, said Tavares’s work is trailblazing.
“It provides a critical analysis of how the dialogue around issues pertaining to Black male student disengagement and under-achievement is often taken up in the research in a way that continues to direct responsibility back to the Black community and away from systems of education,” Logan said. “Her research also honours the work of Black female teachers and how their work with Black male youth is significant to securing their ability to successfully navigate and survive school.
“She offers an innovative approach to this ongoing dialogue as we work to address systemic racism that continues to be a significant factor in the underachievement of Black youth.
“This work challenges us to think about the subtleties of racism within education and the negative impact this has on our students. It also highlights what we can learn from Black male and significantly Black female teachers regarding strategies that will support not only Black students, but many of our marginalized students in our education system.”