Friday, November 09, 2007

You must learn

It seems to me that in a school that's ebony
African history should be pumped up steadily, but it's not
and this has got to stop
See Spot run, run get Spot
Insulting to a Black mentality
A Black way of life or a jet Black family
So I include with one concern, that
You must learn

You must Learn - Boogie Down Productions

Oh man, I dug in the crates for that quote today. That song is about 20 years old.

Black Schools. Its all the talk now in Toronto after this article appeared a few days ago. Now I'm pretty sure this was on the table a few years ago and I blogged about it back then as well but I just can't find that old post so here we go again. Oh and my thoughts might have changed in the ensuing two years so in case you find it don't hold any old posts against me.

Anyway black schools or rather 'African centered alternative schools' are in the news here in Toronto with suggestions that we institute some of them to assist in keeping black kids from flunking out.

My thoughts are all over the place on this. Its quite a volatile topic actually.

First off though, just to get it out of the way, and I might lose some friends over this, I'll say that I cant support African centered schools being funded by the provincial government. I give the same reasoning I gave for not supporting John Tory's faith based schools. I just don't see why the government should foot the bill here when the regular public schools are already suffering from lack of funding. As a taxpayer, if I wasn't black I'd be pretty pissed at having to pay for this special interest group's schools. Sorry that's just my opinion on the funding.

If Black sorry African centered schools are needed I say lets get the Afro-Canadian community together and do this privately. There are privately run schools for other special interest groups why don't we get together and do this too? Alternatively some ethnic communities have their Saturday school where kids are taught their heritage and the language of their ancestors. We could get together and do something like that. I'm all for West Indian school on Saturday. Ya need a teacher, I'm there son! I even have some friend dem that volunteer to teach how to chupse, give cut eye and slam dominoes.

Naa but in all seriousness maybe Saturday school might be a way to start. Teach the children about their heritage and give them some self esteem. Its a start.

Now back to the issue. The fact remains there is an issue with black kids performance in school here. They just seem to under-perform their peers and drop out at an alarming rate. This under-performance though cannot be viewed in a vacuum. One has to take a look at the socio-economic and other factors affecting these youth. As one commenter said on the Star's page we already have black schools ie schools in neighborhoods where the majority of the students are black so why not try getting them to work first before trying to have a separate new African centered school.

Now a bunch of thoughts run through my mind at this point.

(1) Our public schools in general are not up to par. Hence one would expect that the public schools in the more depressed areas of our society would be even more so under par. This is probably a factor in many black kids under-performing.

But the under-performing also seems to cut across socio-economic boundaries in the black community too. That is disturbing. That says maybe there are other factors at work here. Maybe the system is broken. By the way pardon me if it seems as if I'm making an elitist claim that poor kids will/should do worse in school. I don't subscribe to that belief at all. I'm just arguing that schools in the poorer parts of the city are probably more run down and badly run than schools in other parts of the city and this might lead to the skewing of statistics showing that black students perform worse than others.

(2) Third grade teacher reading and talking about I knew he's amount to nothing
Definition - Talib Kweli

I've heard enough stories about black kids being thrown into special ed with the quickness , a hell of a lot quicker than similarly performing kids of other races. I've also heard of smart black kids being streamed to the technical areas and being told not to think about going to university because teachers have this built in bias that says black kids are only good at certain subjects and athletics. There seems to be some sort of systemic racism in this school system. Is the issue then about curriculum or is it about perception of the students?

(3 or is this 2 1/2)Now from my own recollection and experience and I'll admit I was forced to really think about this after some of the interesting comments traded with Clarabella over at JahWorld a few weeks back I realize how really important teachers are to learning. You can be the smartest dude and if you go into a class with a piss poor teacher or a teacher who doesn't motivate or impart energy to a topic, or a teacher who has already reached the conclusion that you will be a failure before you've said or written word one in that class, it will affect you negatively. No doubt about it. Especially at a young age. My own experiences and those of others I know bear that out without question.

In the case of black kids here in Toronto and elsewhere in North America I think some teachers come into the system with these pre-conceived notions on black folk in general which they quickly apply to our younger generation. They believe these young black men and women have no future that doesn't include drugs, guns, rapping, sports or a job on the lower end of the paying and talent spectrum and either consciously or subconsciously these teachers tend to nudge these kids in those directions. Its like that passage from the Autobiography of Malcolm X where he tells his teacher he wanted to be a lawyer when he grew up and the teacher tells him that's not a realistic goal for a black kid. That was like 60 or 70 years ago but the same thing is still occurring in our school system if not as openly and blatantly stated.

(4) There is also a case for a fear of black youth. In my opinion all youth need a strong hand to keep them on an even keel. I think some teachers are afraid of being strict with their young charges especially when they are black. Fear of a black planet you can call it and you know what some of these young black kids know that their teachers and society in general fear them and use it to their advantage to get away with all sorts of lawlessness. I could site example after example of that from just riding around on the bus on the way to work in the morning. Can't blame the teachers singularly here for not trying though as it does appear that the rules enforced by the school board also leaves some of their hands tied when it comes to discipline. All that to say that lack of discipline in school has an effect on the black black youth in schools.

(5) And lest it seem like I forget the parents let me just say they are far from blameless. That discipline mentioned in the previous point must start at home. Parents also need to stress the necessity of a good education. Not sure what happened between my parents generation and mine but somehow I think the parents of this day and age don't emphasize education to their children enough leading to some slack behavior by our children. Some argue that the parents are busier now and have little time to impart instruction to the kids but to me I really don't see them being any busier than our parents. I think that's just a weak excuse.

Also parents have to stay involved in their children's education. Not only in making sure they do their homework but parents should also try to build a rapport with the teachers. That's one way to get the teachers to realize hey this kid has people pushing him, supporting him, people who love him, people looking out for him. Sometimes I think that makes a difference in teachers interaction with the students.

I could go on about that but will leave it there.

(6) Now some people say this African centric school thing is voluntary segregation. They say we work hard hard for integration of schools and now we saying we want out. Plus we living in a multicultural society. Dem issues we trying to hide our children away from still going come back and bite them in the tail later in life.

Well maybe later in life is better than earlier. Maybe they need a strong set a guidance from early without the added systemic racism. I can site the case of black West Indians who went to school in the Caribbean before immigrating here. I think we have a different perspective on things and handle and view racism from a different perspective than folks who had their primary education here. We also seem to do better in some cases too. But maybe that's just a general thing cause you cant look at our education i the Caribbean and separate it out as an individual thing. You have to look at it within the context of the different society we grew up in. Not only were the schools different but so was that society.

(7) The proponents of these African centric schools don't seem to be saying its the overall system including discipline, teachers, teaching environment that needs changing etc they are saying our kids need a new curriculum. If you say that then you are saying our kids are somehow different in the way they learn. If you are arguing this then can you really argue against someone non-black oh lets say a James Watson who comes out and says black people are different and then goes on to say derogatory things about us? Yes I know I'm stretching a comparison here but its not that big a stretch.

(8) Going back to the Star's initial article on the proposed schools Donna Harrow one of its proponents stated ."For us, it's important to try something else," said Harrow. "Many parents from the Islands or from Africa, they've actually gone through an Africentric way of teaching" back home which includes using mentors from the community. "It's building up students' self-esteem by showing them that there are other black people in the neighbourhood who are successful, who are doing well and who will care for them in a supportive manner."

Now my question is why cant the mentoring and the building up of students occur in a regular school setting? Why cant black professionals , university students be brought in to give speeches to some of these kids. From personal experience I remember we had two programs at University back in the day (big up the old WISA crew) that tried to bridge that gap between black university students and black high school students and brought in successful entrepreneurs and professionals to show these kids what was possible. It was on a small scale granted but isn't it possible to keep doing similar things like that without having a separate African centric school?

In conclusion I still digesting the issues and I think I've missed a few things but there are lots of things to think about here. I think we have to look closely at the root causes of these black kids failures before proceeding. The school cannot be analyzed without looking at the society in general. That doesn't mean necessarily that we do nothing about the schools when we find they aren't working as is. It just means be wary of thinking that African centric schools will have a great impact if that's all that's changing.

I'll leave you with a passage that I read this summer.

But the little boy listening to Buntin, who sit down there telling every boychild who come in that he, the child, is a prince, showing where it say in the Bible ... Ethiopia shall stretch forth her wings unto God and Princes shall rise forth out of Egypt.... Have Reggie coming home walking straight and tall without the goods I send him for, telling me he is a prince. But as I tell Reggie, and I will tell this to anybody, this ain't Egypt. And you could come from all the kings and queens of Egypt and Ethiopia put together, you still have to eat, you still have to get a job, and if you don't want to dig dirt for a living or pick coconut on Richardson Estate, you have to learn what they teach you in school.

The Wine of Astonishment - Earl Lovelace


inciquay said...

Real Talk! I agree that I can't support the Black school initiative when I wholeheartedly hated Tory's support of public funds going to faith-based schools. BUT, I was under the understanding that those said schools were private not public. BUT, we publicly pay for gay and lesbian public separate schools and Cathlic separate schools so if it's wrong for one it must be wrong for all. If gays and lesbians have cause to be learning in a school that fosters their development based on their sexual orientation then dammit so do we.
BUT, I totally agree that we can and should as a community do for our own without need of money grab on an already drained edcation budget when we can serve our own community by having our own programs serving the community by us (for us - LOL). I'd totally be down to volunteer time/experience/knowledge! Would parents send their kids? Would the kids go if a choice was given? It's iffy. In fact there are already some small grassroots yprograms in place that get ignored b the community already so would a Black school be any different?

We do need Black teachers but where are they? Why aren't we steering our youth towards these jobs instead of the "jobs" that involve "makin' it rain" on strippers? Economics. Socio-economic disparity. A lack of follow-through. Fucked-up priorities. Bad parenting. Lack-luster social programs. Underpaid teachers. Babies makin' makin babies and parents being okay with that. No accountability.

Okay, I'm officially depressed. Instead of forums on this Black school issue we should probably debating what we can do about the rest of this shit first.
Good topic Jdid (as per usual) I'll check back later and see what the rest of the community has to say and add more of my 2 cents! I'm going for the title of last commenter AND first! LOL

Crankyputz said...

Jdid that was an essay, and a good one.

I can't think of one argument where seperate schools for black kid makes sense.

Frankly I am for getting rid of special ed classes, I think all are kids should be aspiring to go to unveristy, instead of some teacher in grade 9 deeming them only fit for technical college.

Melody said...

I'm kinda cynical re race-based curricula bein' delivered to "minorities" in skewed school systems -- cynical, but empathetic wid those who advocate it. In today's systems, 2 many kids learn to wear their complexion like a medal ("I look white, gimme a cookie!") or an albatross (whether MJ bleached his skin or not, other 'role models' undeniably do). Educated people perpetuate this complex (superiority-inferiority). How could they have been educated differently? This is where proponents typically say, "We need our own schools."

We need parentin' classes wid as many taser-packin' Bill Cosby personality types as we can find. Self-hatred is so pervasive that de 2 streams (college & prison) will continue to sort our people into incarceration if we dont' take decisive action.

Malcolm's story sheds light on those low expectations that force people to live down to them, but it goes largely unread.

Anonymous said...

Jdid, we lack FATHERS in the black community. More children born to single moms than to married women. 17 year olds having babies without being able to guess who is the daddy.

The majority of our children are born to single mothers.

The majority of our children do not have a father at home. Young men need the strong good hand of a father.

This whole black school thing is all about making up for no fathers.

Won't do! Wunna know the truth.

Lene said...

i made too many comments on this topic, but i'm still a proponent.

my mother is a elementary teacher, and she aint for this school either.

the toronto school board has over 20 different alternative schools. i almost went to one when i was in high school. there's a school for dropouts called SCAS, there's a school for kids who work independantly called ACE, there's a school for serious athletes called BEAP, there's a school fro everything.

so, why can't there be a school with afrocentric studies?

i feel this is merely a stop gap measure, but at least its a step in the right direction.

the ontario government is being lazy, because they could easily implement more world history into the curriculum. it's isn't about learning black history, chinese history, but learning WORLD history.

as it is, the curriculum is sorely outdated, archaic and eurocentric. i never learned about native canadians until university.

dalton is smart. he deflects the blame, when its his governments responsibility to change the curriculum so ALL ONTARIO STUDENT DESPITE RACE coud learn about all types of history.

GC said...

separate but equal is inherently unequal.

Mad Bull said...

I am totally against separate schools. I agree with the comment made by the anonymous one. There is a difference at home, perhaps single parenting is the cause of the problem.

Mad Bull said...

I totally loved "The Wine of Astonishment", by the way!