My parents are the bravest people I know. They gave up their entire lives so that I could have a shot at a decent one. In 1987 we packed our bags and moved from Apartheid South Africa to Toronto. Out of the frying pan and into a comfy, opportunity filled bed full of money and flowers. I would love to sit an reminisce about bultong and boerewors, but I’m afraid this post is of a different subject matter. To cut to the chase, the Toronto School Board has just approved the first ever ‘afro-centric’ school in one of our ‘ghetto’ neighbourhoods. That’s right. Good old fashioned public-funded racial segregation! Maybe they can have special buses to take them to school as well, and little pass books instead of hall passes whenever they leave their classrooms. Hey, maybe all the little white school kids can get police batons and wear fake mustaches while screaming “the K-word” through the streets.
The Globe and Mail (the New York Times of Canada) ran an online survey, and with nearly 1000 votes cast 89% of people adamantly disagree with the decision. But hey, the school boarded passed the decision with an 11-9 vote. Those 20 people have too much power.
As my friend, Chaz puts it: “Where does it end? Are there going to sino-centric schools? Persian-centric schools?”. Maybe we can take it one step further and open up a public funded Hutu School across the street from a Tutsi one. Or how about a Sinhalese school down the block from a Tamil School . . . I’ve got a great idea for a school mascot (so long as LSU has no intellectual property rights)!
There are not a whole lot of rules to live by in this world, but a good one is that segregation, in any way shape or form, is never the answer. It should be right up there with not murdering and raping. On those grounds alone, no matter how compelling the arguments for this decision were, the concept should have been immediately rejected.
These children in the Jane and Finch area will not benefit in any way from this. Firstly, this school will struggle to find good teachers. They will say they have good teachers, but they won’t. The reason they won’t, and can’t, is because any reasonably intelligent person would realize that this school is a societal abomination and would have nothing to do with it. A more realistic view is that good schools attract good teachers. Bad schools with bad kids don’t, no matter how noble the intentions. In fact, I’m willing to bet that the faculty roster will be riddled with people who thought this whole charade was a good idea. These are probably the same people who yelled at my sister when she was posting advertisements for her youth program (which was a tremendous success btw). These people, who claim that us lower middle class can’t do anything to help because we can’t relate to these kids since we “didn’t grow up in the hood” grow up to become leaders in their community and end up stifling everyones efforts even further. Their reluctance to embrace outside help is nothing short of Mugabe-ism. Their self-righteous need to be impose their opinions and their clearly wrong approach to getting their way impedes progress in their community.
Secondly, an afro-centric school within an already isolated and disenfranchised community does not get kids out of the ghetto! It traps them!! I’m no stranger to inner city youth. I work with them in New Orleans, where racial segregation is orders of magnitude (that’s a lot) more out of control than Toronto. Talking to people here you will quickly learn that the answer to youth education is not further segregation. People here struggle to break free of the ghetto microcosm. To see the world, if you will. As one of my co-workers put it “when one of these girls turns 16, they don’t go off to fill out a job application or school application, they go to fill out a project application, so that by the time they have their first grandchildren at the age of 30, they can house their whole family in free accommodations and sit happily until they find out they have type II diabetes.” Ok. I may have altered that quote a little bit. The point is there is a self-perpetuating culture of ‘failure’. Unsuccessful public housing projects, schools, and a defunct welfare system have only exacerbated the problem. The kids who succeed are the kids who break free. The ones that run as far as they can and never look back.
Lastly, and perhaps a little more convoluted, is that these children who attend this school will lose one of the greatest experiences about being a Canadian: multiculturalism. They will identify as being different, the same way a kid from a Jewish private school will do the same (Private/religious segregation = another issue). Canadians are always complaining and confused about “what is the Canadian identity?”… I’ll tell ya, anyone who has left the country knows damn well that our identity is wholly wrapped in our multiculturalism. We don’t have “blacks” we have an array of Africans from all over the world. We don’t have “Asians” we have every sect, every dialect every region represented. Every “European” and “Latin American”. We can taste the difference between Vietnamese and Thai food. We know the difference between Jerk and Fried Chicken, between Szechuan and Cantonese . . . you get my point. Where is a kid in a black only school going to meet his first Indian girlfriend? Go to his first Bar Mitvah? Attend his first communion? Whose going to teach them how to shop in China Town or how to use chop sticks?
Well where are these poor disenfranchised black youth going to learn about being black? Geez I don’t know? Where do Jewish kids learn about being Jewish? Where to Chinese kids learn how to speak Chinese? Where do Muslim kids learn the Qur’an HELL!! Where do dogs learn how to sit and stay and lye down!!! ITS NOT IN PUBLIC SCHOOL!!!! Its after school! You know, the same time mommy starts shooting up, and daddy comes home drunk for the nightly wife beating. I may be confusing that with the time that mommy starts her third part-time job while leaving her 14-year old daughter to take care of her 1-year old daughter, while the little brother goes to the courts for his first gang initiation. Clearly the answer all is to make a separate school. It couldn’t possibly be more complex.
Let me finish off this midnight rant by saying the obvious. There is nothing wrong with inner city/at risk youth. The problem lies with the idiots that raise them, the policies that isolate them, and the system that fails them. Congratulations Toronto, you’ve made yourself quite a mess to clean up. I’m glad I’m down South!