Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Whose history?

The big news in Toronto is that the school board has voted in favour of implementing what they call "Black-Focused" or "Africentric" schools. Apparently, up to 40% of black students in any given year do not graduate from high school in Toronto, and these new schools are supposed to help.

The schools will be open to students of all backgrounds, but will teach a black-focused curriculum. The Toronto District School Board plans to pilot the program in three regular high schools and one alternative school, starting in the next school year.

I'm not sure how this proposal got voted through, because I have yet to meet a single person who thinks it's a good idea. Everyone I talk to is worried that it's going to lead to segregationist tendencies and increased racism among Toronto teens. The black community in Toronto has been bitterly divided over the subject for months.

Toronto is known for being one of the most multicultural cities in the world. We have residents who've come here from every corner of the planet. I live in a neighbourhood that's primarily Korean, with a smaller population of Iranians mixed in. If you go northwest for a short drive, you'll find yourself in a Russian neighbourhood. There are multiple Chinatowns, a Little India, a Little Italy/Portugal, a Jewish area (no one has the nerve to name it - people might be offended by "Jewtown"), and many others. The high schools in each neighbourhood reflect the dominant local population.

So, while I do agree that it doesn't make sense to teach British history as THE only history that's worth knowing, I don't think it's much of an improvement to divide the city into Black Schools and Everyone Else's Schools. How does this help the kids from Sri Lanka, for example?

I don't claim to have an answer, but I have been mulling it over a fair bit. Jameil at Jameil, Et Cetera: Exercises in Fabulosity has been writing on related issues lately, and she got me to thinking.

My skin is white, but my history isn't British history. The only mention of Jewish history in my public school career was a unit on the Holocaust. I don't identify strongly with my Jewish roots, but I still feel that it's insufficient to reduce over 5000 years of Jewish history down to the story of how a lot of Jews were killed in World War II. It's definitely important to learn about the Holocaust, but for a long time I didn't want to be Jewish. What I had learned was that "being Jewish" was equal to "being a victim". At least "my" history got a mention.

Anyway, I'm rambling, mostly because this is a sprawling subject. I'd be interested in hearing what others have to say. This is a problem that is unique to our time. Is there any way we can do justice to all the history that deserves to be told, within the limits of school hours and the need to teach all the other subjects? If not, what then?


jameil1922 said...

African-American history needs to be incorporated into history classes. What good will it do if only Black children learn about Black history? That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Yes, its empowering, but it's a lesson to everyone. Does this mean even the MLK stuff will be left out of all the rest of the schools??? Learning the history of any country and leaving out a significant segment of its population is absolutely ridiculous. Jewish history is boiled down to the Holocaust. Black history is boiled down to slavery with a SPLASH civil rights movement. IT'S RIDICULOUS!!!

Stewie said...

I'm surprised this hasn't been done in the States, yet.

If it has, I probably blocked it out.

The Ex said...

Well, I don't see much of a problem with it. Regular schools are white-focused so what's the big deal? That being said, my initial reaction was HOW RIDICULOUS. I dont know. What's the answer?

Karen said...

Interesting. I don't really see this as good idea. I have my own ideas on diversity. I think we should all be taught a deviersified curriculum, but we should not be separated. That just points out the differences between us.

Can you imagine if they would make a "white-centric" school? All hell would break loose.

Warped Mind of Ron said...

I would think we should teach history in general. Tell the truth cover a wide range of topics that apply to everyone. To focus on one group is to ignore the rest. Teach it all as best and honestly as time allows.

Maxie said...

I honestly think this is going to do more bad than good. Wouldn't it be better to introduce legislation that incorporates more black history (and other history in general) into every day curriculum.

Aurora said...

This has been done in New York and elsewhere. I suppose my question is why schools that are already mostly-Black are not already Black-focused? Some schools here do offer Black-focused curriculum (I've taught or supplied in two that did) but of course it's all optional courses so a) you can't impose the kind of rigour you would in a required course; b) VPs tend to dump kids in these courses; c) non-Black kids don't take the courses.

Sparkling Red said...


I'm reading all your comments and adding them to my understanding of the issue. For this post it doesn't feel appropriate to write individual replies, mostly because I'm not an authority on the subject and I don't feel that I could do justice to all your viewpoints.

I guess the best thing we can do is to keep discussions open on the subject, and keep our minds open too.

Kell said...

This really surprises me. When we lived in upstate NY, Toronto was always looked upon as a balanced, multicultural, and safe city. I'm with the others that it doesn't sound like a good idea to me. Just because you have an Africentric school doesn't necessarily mean that those 40% will now graduate.

Jenski said...

I've never really thought about this before. I don't understand why effort and money wasn't put into producing a more diverse and inclusive curriculum across the board, rather than separating people.
A faculty member at my school brought her son to our lab meeting one day. He had the day off from public school for Rosh Hashanah. I said, "Oh, that's great! Did you guys talk about the holiday and what it means to the Jewish religion?" I was thinking that is a great opportunity to introduce cultural education in a public classroom.
The mom looked at me and said, "No. We're Catholic."
Um? I grew up in an extremely white elementary school and we still talked about who MLK was, what he stood for, and why we had the day off from school. My principal had been at his 'I have a dream' speech and played it for us?!