Not segregation, advocates argue

Afrocentric schools not about segregation, advocates argue

Globe & Mail   February 8, 2008    JAMES BRADSHAW   

Teaching different students the same way will not make them equal, teachers and parents who led the charge to create an Afrocentric alternative school in Toronto said yesterday.

Advocates including the original proposal's co-authors, Donna Harrow and Angela Wilson, gathered at Queen's Park to refute criticism of the plan and claims by Premier Dalton McGuinty and Education Minister Kathleen Wynne that the school would create a harmful racial divide among students.

The group argued the school is not about segregation, but rather about being able to choose a nurturing and inclusive environment for disengaged students.

"A curriculum that assumes sameness or colour-blindness does not necessarily lead to equality," said Grace-Edward Galabuzi, an associate professor at Ryerson University. "Equal treatment does not mean same treatment.

"There's a recognition by the board that different children benefit from varied curricula, varied learning styles, varied pedagogical approaches," he added.

Mr. Galabuzi was responding in part to comments Mr. McGuinty made Wednesday reiterating his belief that students learn best in an integrated and multicultural environment.

"We believe it's a matter of principle, that the single most important thing we can do for our kids is bring them together so they have an opportunity to come to know one another, to understand one another and to learn together and grow together," Mr. McGuinty said. "We think that's the foundation for a caring, cohesive society."

Mr. McGuinty has said he would prefer to include more Afrocentric elements in the Ontario curriculum, where they would reach all students.

Louis March, communications officer for the African Canadian Heritage Association, countered that "there is an illusion of inclusion" in Toronto public schools, a phrase he heard from a teacher that he thinks highlights the flaw in Mr. McGuinty's philosophy.

He said it is erroneous to suggest that a student's mere presence at a school means they are being included in its educational processes.

Ms. Wilson agreed with Mr. Galabuzi's emphasis on differing student needs, arguing Toronto's system of 36 alternative schools recognizes the need for choice in children's education.

"Education is not one-size-fits-all, and therefore broadening choices for children who learn differently is really what education is all about," she said.

Ms. Harrow also dismissed Mr. McGuinty's concerns as retrograde thinking.

"This notion of segregation is kind of old," she said. "We really need to move on to the positive, pro-active ways in which we help a group of students who are not doing well within our system."

-With a report from The Canadian Press