Open Letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty re: "Africentric Alternative Schools"

January 25, 2008 by  

Dear Premier McGuinty:

Re: Toronto District School Board Vote on “Improving Success for Black Students”

As you know, a report (01-08-1217) was recently issued by the Toronto District School Board in anticipation of a Special Meeting that said Board will hold on January 29, 2008. It is expected that the Board will then vote on whether to accept the recommendations in the report. Among the recommendations is that the TDSB open an “Africentric Alternative School” encompassing grades Kindergarten through 12.

The report recommends, in part:

That a three-year pilot program be established in three existing schools beginning in September 2008, to implement a model for integrating the histories, cultures, experiences and contributions of people of African descent and other racialized groups into the curriculum, teaching methodologies, and social environment of the schools.

and that:

…the Director report to the Board in April 2008 on an action plan…based on proposals received from community stakeholders…

Attached as Appendix “A” to the Recommendation is a list of proposals that were received from community stakeholders at two meetings held in December 2007. They include:

  • “Establish a committee of Black educators, parents, students, members of the community and the clergy to work with the Board to organize, implement, and administer Black-focused schools”;
  • “Require equity targets for the School Improvement Plan”;
  • “Teach all students about how race, class and gender impact their lives, and provide curriculum resources and teacher training to support this teaching”;
  • “Invest substantially in literature, film, documents, and aids that depict legitimately the experiences of people with whom the diverse community of students can identify”;
  • “Teach historic facts about wealth creation, entrepreneurship, science and academia of people of African descent in order to change current societal emphasis on Black role models in sports and entertainment”

In a nutshell, the community proposals include the idea that there should be schools advised and operated by “Blacks”; having “Africentric” curriculum, adornments, content and teaching methods; and giving students hope for success by demonstrating the success of some other “Black” people.

Some have criticized the recommendation on the ground that it constitutes or would promote segregation on the basis of “race”. I do not agree with the concept that humanity is divided into distinct “races”. However, I agree that the proposed schools would both constitute and promote segregation on the basis of genetic make-up, and I stand with those who condemn the proposals to segregate students on the basis of genetic make-up. The fact that no person would be barred from attending on the basis of “race”, and that no person would be required to attend, does not alter the fact that the proposals undoubtedly will lead to the creation of schools attended almost exclusively by people who consider themselves (or who are considered by their parents) to be “Black”. In other words, even if segregation is not the purpose of the recommendation, it most certainly would be an inevitable effect of the recommendation, were it adopted and implemented.

However, segregation, per se, is not the only problem with the recommendation. The most fundamental problem inherent in the recommendation is that it purports to aim at improving levels of success among “Blacks” by distinctly racist, irrational, anti-intellectual means.

The idea of some educators is that by providing examples of successful Black individuals in history, false beliefs that Blacks cannot accomplish such successes will be eliminated. However, such a methodology actually deepens racism by accepting, rather than rejecting, the notion that the success of an individual is tied to his phenotypical traits: hair colour, skin colour, eye colour, sex, etc.. When a teacher tells a student “You can do this, because another person having the same skin colour was able to do it”, he is implicitly telling the student that “However, you cannot do that other thing, because no other person having the same skin colour has ever done it”.

It gets worse than that, in fact. When a teacher tries to build self-esteem by saying “People of our ‘race’ have a history of being great and moral, why, just look at the great and good and successful Mr. Bloggs” the teacher is teaching the student that the student should evaluate his own character, ability, morals etc. with reference to the successes, greatness, or righteousness of another individual. The horrible, frightening, and disgusting implication of such teaching is that it also teaches children to evaluate their own character, ability, morals etc. with reference to the failures or evil of another individual.

If we are to eliminate racism, we must teach children not that their “race” has a history of success, but that – in a just world – a person’s race has nothing whatsoever to do with anyone’s success. One simply cannot teach children that genetic make-up is irrelevant by setting up a school that “focuses” on genetic make-up.

Children need to be taught what they should value in themselves and in others: a knowledge of scientifically-discovered facts of nature; the indispensable necessity of strictly logical thought for the purpose of obtaining knowledge; the virtues of honesty, productiveness, integrity, justice, independence, pride and rationality in general; a society in which all relations with others must be consensual. These things are indispensable for the success of each child, regardless of his or her genetic make-up. It is these things that should be the focus of a child’s education if he is to succeed. However, just as role models actually entrench racist thinking, and unwarranted estimations of ones own ability or tendencies, a focus on “heritage” in education flies in the face of learning how to think as one must if one is to succeed in life.

The history of technology or political events – as just examples – around the world are histories that belong to all of humanity. When evaluating a technological development’s usefulness or uselessness, goodness or harmfulness, greatness or smallness, the genetic make-up (or country of origin) of the inventor is utterly irrelevant. Having a school that “focuses” on great African achievements – for the purpose of showing that Africans can or have made great inventions – tells students that the genetic make-up of an inventor (or his country of origin) is somehow relevant to whether the technology in question is an important one in human history.

Similarly, the history of the development of political theory is important to all students, regardless of their genetic make-up. Great advances in peace and freedom are great not because those who discovered them were Greek, or Roman, or African, or European, but because they are great advances.

Stated most generally: all children must learn how to evaluate things rationally. They must be taught to admire the good, and to condemn the evil or bad; to honestly judge and identify what is more valuable, and to distinguish it from what is less valuable according to a rational standard. Their success and their happiness depend on that skill. If students are taught that something is valuable simply because it is old, or traditional, or “part of our culture”, or “part of our heritage”, or “created by people of our race”, we have done a great disservice to them: we have taught them that the value of things is intrinsic, and has nothing to do with their own rational evaluation of them. If students are taught that “anything you desire is something that is a value”, we have, similarly, done them a disservice: students must learn that the value of something must be judged by the standard of what a human being needs to live and to be happy; they must learn that although one may desire the thrill of jumping out of a plane without a parachute, doing so is not virtuous because it will lead to ones own death rather than to sustained joy.

Premier, the scope of our school board’s authority is wholly determined by provincial law. You have made it clear, from the outset of your first term in office, that you want to be remembered as the “Education Premier”. To that end, Premier, I would beg you not to allow your legacy to be the Premier who washed his hands and took a nap while those under his power planted and nurtured the seeds of racism, career failure, and educational segregation.

I am asking you, in particular, to introduce legislation that will remove from all publicly funded educational organizations the authority to set up schools that – as I have described above – foster racism, career failure, and educational segregation. And, at the same time, I am asking that you take steps to cause our tax-funded schools to do a better job of explaining the utter irrelevance of race, and the irreplaceable roles of reality and reason in the pursuit of success.

Paul McKeever

Leader, Freedom Party of Ontario

c.c. TDSB, K. Wynne, Ontario PC Party


Feel free to leave a comment...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!