Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Toronto Africentric Schools

If somebody had told me three months ago that I might be, kind of, sort of defending Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, I would have laughed. And, it would have been one of those full on guttural types of laughs too - the kind you get when you've been drinking a lot and somebody falls down in front of you.

National Post, McGuinty ‘hypocritical’ on separate schools: Tory
Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory today called on Premier Dalton McGuinty to explain why he was so opposed to faith-based schools during the provincial election yet seems ready to stand by as the Toronto District School Board moves toward race-based schooling.

...

Mr. McGuinty has stated that while he does not favour the idea of Africentric schools, he would allow it if Toronto trustees decided to pursue the matter.

It's one thing for the province to mandate there needs to be specific schools, as John Tory was campaigning to do with faith-based education. He was maintaining that the province should include funding particularly for faith-based schools.

It's another thing entirely if the school board mandates a particular strategy for the way to teach the provincially-mandated curriculum within its community - in this case, responding to an alarming drop out rate amongst black teens. The school board, I believe, is not going to receive any extra funding outside of what it's normally allotted for providing schooling to the kids of Toronto.

In that way, I do not think Mr. McGuinty is being hypocritical in opposing provincially-mandated funding for more separate schools and not opposing an education strategy proposed by a school board within the existing funding strategy.

I think, however, it's fair to debate the merits of such an initiative and if the trustees do not represent the will of the people of the city, they'll find themselves running against trustees who will rethink the program. I've heard arguments in favour, and I've heard arguments opposed - the ones opposed are similar to the ones made during the faith-based funding debate.

What's my position? I'm not sure, actually - but, I'm not sure I'm in favour of it - I think our kids should learn together - I think our school curriculum should be expanded to include different cultures and religions.

That said, having a specific "culture-centric" school in Toronto is not new. If you were not aware, the First Nations School of Toronto provides Aboriginal-based education within the public system:

First Nations School of Toronto is unique in that Aboriginal values, spirituality, culture and Ojibway language are integrated into the school curriculum. The goal is to ensure that urban Aboriginal children will have the opportunity to learn about their heritage and the traditional Anishinabe cultural perspective while acquiring the skills necessary to survive in today's world.

Our focus is to offer the Ontario Curriculum with an 'overlay' of Native language, tradition and culture, that meets the requirements set by the School Council, the Toronto District School Board and the Ontario Ministry of Education.

I would expect these new schools to be set up similarly.

5 comments:

Gila said...

4. Winnipeg Free Press just posted:
* In Winnipeg, roughly 225 students attend the Children of the Earth School, an aboriginal-focused high school that opened in 1991.
* The school, which in 2005 made Maclean’s Magazine’s list of the country’s top 10 high schools, offers Cree and Ojibway classes to its mostly aboriginal student body, and roughly 75 per cent of grads go on to post-secondary school.
* Winnipeg is also home to Niji Mahkwa School, a nursery to Grade 8 school with an aboriginal focus. Roughly 310 students attend the school, which opened in 1994.
Personal note:
I fully support all alternative so long as they raise the kids’ self esteem, keep the kids engaged, are relevant to the kids and families who support them and have staff who are committed to the school. A common focus creates a bond between staff, students and their families - it does not matter if the focus is arts, sports, language, culture or religion.
The many alternative schools across Canada are highly successful. One third of Ontario’s publicly funded school are Catholic, many others are French. We have over 100 Specialty schools, many of which are arts and sports-based, with plans to have 100 more.
The Africentric school model is culture/spiritually-based; it is not FOR blacks, it is ABOUT blacks (it will be focused on one of the many black cultures)
It should not matter what a school’s focus is - basketball or basketweaving, makes no difference to me! The key is that the kids want to be there and are learning the basic curriculum in addition to the school focus.

Jim said...

Gila,

I don't entirely disagree with you. I don't know enough about what this would look like since the TDSB has not worked out any details yet. So I don't really have a hard-and-fast opinion about it.

I'm leaning on the "against it" side though for the basic reason that I'm generally against "separate" public schools. It doesn't really matter if we already have some via the Aboriginal-centric public schools in Toronto or Manitoba, or the Catholic public schools all over Ontario.

I'm wondering if it would be better to have these programs available in all schools, instead of having schools focused on these programs.

Gila said...

Why not have Africentric curriculum available at every public school where there is interest?!? Why not eliminate all Catholic, French, Arts, Sports-based schools and offer these curriculum in all schools as well?! Lets have public schools that focus on every interest so that every school is everything to everbody - is that what you are suggesting?

Jim said...

Lets have public schools that focus on every interest so that every school is everything to everbody. Is that what you are suggesting?

You're going to unfairly extrapolate that, but that's what I'm suggesting. I think our general public schools would benefit more by program extension rather than creating program specific schooling.

Just because there are specialty public schools does not make the experiment a success.

Gila said...

From Fraser Institute 1999 archives:
"Canadian Education in a Global Context
The Canadian system of public education is inefficient and inadequate: 33 percent of Canadian high-school graduates are functionally illiterate; 27 percent of Canadian adolescents drop out of high school with no diploma. The academic achievement of our students is mediocre compared to that of their peers in other countries. Public-opinion polls show that confidence in the system is at a 30-year low. If it is not to become obsolete, Canadian education needs to be redesigned.

Over the past 30 years, our Ministries of Education have tinkered with a variety of reforms, including smaller classes and higher salaries, in an effort to improve the public education system. In doing so, they have tripled the real cost of education. Despite their variety and expense, these reforms have failed to improve student achievement, and failed to solve the problem of mounting public frustration with the education system.

Other countries have much to teach us. United States, New Zealand, Denmark, and Sweden have pioneered systems of public education that are characterized by accountability and parental choice. The tools they have used are charter schools, vouchers, tax credits, and school assessments. Evidence suggests that if the Canadian education system supported greater parental choice, student achievement would improve. It certainly has done elsewhere.

In the United States and New Zealand, researchers have measured the effects of the school choice on student learning and parental satisfaction. In both countries, evidence suggests that the new policy instruments are having a statistically significant impact on both. In all four countries, United States, New Zealand, Denmark, and Sweden, school choice is responsible for a wide range of benefits: greater responsiveness of schools to parental concerns, greater awareness of educational issues, and a more dynamic, innovative and equitable education system."

McGuinty and Wynne support over 100 funded "specialty" schools
in Ontario and have pledged to double the number. Specialty schools that have a focus, like arts, attract students, staff and families who share a common passion. This energizes the schools and contributes to their success. Another fully funded large performing arts high school is opening in Etobicoke next year -hope you didn't miss the auditions!

Jim, these schools are a HUGE success! Kids are clamouring to attend and aren't interested in dropping out and skipping class if they are fortunate to be accepted.

By all means, let's have interesting programming in all schools. But we are dreaming if we think that every school could specialize in everything and serve every need.

Even hospitals specialize with cardiac and neurosurgery at a few specialized locales. Cancer treatments are not available at every hospital, etc.

So long as the cost is on par and government guidelines are met, school choices should be expanded.

What are you afraid of?!