This is Why Schools in Canada do not address Anti-Black Racism
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it in public and in front of cameras. We have to recognize that Blacks and Native Canadians face systemic discrimination in institutions and in the society. This acknowledgment is an invitation for each Canadian institution to check its Anti-Black Racism policies, practices, procedures, initiatives, attitudes and beliefs. Canada has practiced slavery for 206 years. It has closed the last segregated school only in 1983. According to Centennial College, a Black person earns 75.6 cents while a non-racialized person earns One dollar. Black individuals who have graduated with a degree are 13.4 percent unemployed.
As an African-Canadian, the narrative around lack of motivation from black students towards school shocks me. I am also shocked that they are at higher risks of not graduating from high schools. The son of a Congolese friend who was doing his PhD in Ottawa dropped out of school in Canada. As a parent, the idea of seeing my children withdraw from schools always torments me.
The reality of black students dropping out of school is contrasting with the one I have seen in Africa: Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Kenya. In those countries, teens for low socioeconomic families are super motivated about learning. Those who are lucky enough to go to a good school do not withdraw. In the Jesuit boarding school I attended, students coming from lower socioeconomic families scored higher grades than their peers from rich families. So why do poor blacks in Canada fail while poor students in Africa do better than rich children?
The narrative in western countries goes that socioeconomic background determines student achievements. My African experience proved that wrong. Socioeconomic background determines access to school not to achievements. However, data from schools in Canada corroborate to the North American narrative.
For the last two years, I have taught in an international school and studied teaching International Baccalaureate Program. Kids who attend international schools or who enroll for IB program are among the wealthy and lucky ones of their country. Their socioeconomic index is higher than a good number of students or families I taught in Canada. If access to various resources makes learning and teaching smooth, I have to confess that it does not determine the success rate as the narrative in North America wants us to believe.
So the question is what are the unasked questions of Canada schools about education and black students' success?
How diverse are our schools if Natives and Black students are still failing? How differentiated are our teachings if most Black students or Aboriginal students' needs are not met? How inclusive are our schools if Blacks and Aboriginal students are always failing and dropping out? How caring and safe are our schools? Motivation is the most determining factor for student' success. Why do Black students lack motivation in our schools?
In the era of #Blacklivesmatter, what schools should be doing in September? First, they should start by asking the right questions, then answer them with measurable tools.
Blacks in Canada are the least performing students. They have the lowest graduating rates. As an educator and a black person, I am also puzzled by the energy, intelligence, participation and enthusiasm which these students show early in their learning stage that contrasts with the graduation rate ten years later. What do we miss in the course between grade two to grade six; or between eight to grade twelve? For sure, when September comes, they are things school boards need to fix urgently. One of them is fixing anti-black racism. In truth and facts. Here some ideas.
Diversity Among Teachers and Principals or Targeted Recruitment
Boards should start targeting the recruitment of black teachers and principals. Let us be clear. Recruiting black teachers does not mean supplying only black dominated schools with teachers or principals who look like them. It is also about opening the door to those qualified black teachers to teach in white or affluent neighborhoods. This helps change the perception and the narrative. Blacks are not only about NBA or crimes. They are also highly professionals. Hiring black teachers or principals only for lower income index schools is perpetuating black racism attitudes.
Curriculum, curriculum, curriculum.
Canadian curriculum is very western centric. In fact, it is euro centric biased. The curriculum needs to start "revisiting" approaches and predicaments of our learning and teachings. If we do it now, the next generation will get better prepared to fix the narrative. How many would answer correctly the question about the number of African countries? How many teachers would talk about colonization as an act contrary to "civilization"? How many black authors are in school libraries? How much of the curriculum has included the strengths of our black learners? How much of our curriculum has included the history of slavery, colonization, poverty from a black author perspective? How much of our curriculum encourages entrepreneurship and risks taking? Curriculum is about knowledge and understanding our self, our world, our society presented in a neutral mode as much as possible.
Zero neutrality is not possible, but teachers can present different sounds and beats of it. We want our students to process understanding, thinking, communication and application. We want them to be able to communicate about themselves, about others, about their experiences... We want them to be able to think throughout learning opportunities. We want them to be able to apply content to real life, settings and experiences. It is not rare to read this statement in Ontario Curriculum documents:
"In order to develop a strong understanding of ..., all students must feel that they are connected to the curriculum. They must see themselves in what is taught, in why it is taught, and in how it is taught. They must also see how their learning applies to their own context and to the world." How much of this Ministry recommendation applies to our anti-black racism pedagogy?
Not Lowering Expectations
Black students love to learn. They know the value of education, their families are going through some tough socioeconomic challenges. Education could help them to change the fate of poverty. Lowering school expectations does not help a group which needs education the most to bring a different social economic narrative for the next generations. So schools and teachers should not lower expectations out of pity for black students. Teachers need to keep reminding students about the high expectations they hold them for. Setting high expectations also involves showing inclusiveness in the way we teach our classes. It involves showing that our classroom community is safe and cradle for growth for anti-black racism culture.
Black History in the Light of Cultural Reconciliation
Teaching black history in light of reconciliation could help to heal a fringe of people slavery, colonization and marginalization have terrorized for the last 15 centuries. Arabs enslaved blacks. Europeans took over. Then, colonization proceeded in to today marginalization. Since then, history and curriculum approaches look at teaching history to glorify Europe or Arab countries. No reference about healing of the victims of slavery, colonization and marginalization. History teaches us that Africa is a cradle of humanity. If blacks were that "weak" this human species would have been wiped out from diseases, wars, famine... a long time ago. Why not to find ways to include teaching pre-slavery or precolonial history in our curriculum? What are we scared of? Why not to have more balanced learning for our students? Why not to connect our teachings to the world our black students find outside our classrooms?
Which teaching approaches are we using to "address black students identity, profiles, strengths and needs and ensure equitable outcomes"? Cultural intelligence should be mandatory in teachers' training.
Media, Biases and Prejudices
Media reports all the time what is going wrong in the community. This fuels biases and creates prejudices. Once Nicole, my favorite grade two student, from Asian heritage had this conversation with me.
- Mister, I do not like black people.
- Why not?
- Because, they always steal from people?
- Really? That is not good. Have they stolen from you?
- No. My mother told me to be careful.
- Do you know that I am black, Nicole?
- No. You are not. You are Mister Jean-Pierre.
I wonder what cultural intelligence Nicole, who was a delightful girl, would have on blacks when already loaded with prejudices at such a young age. She did not know that I was a black person but she had already a strong point of view about blacks who had never taken her property. I wonder how big the role of non black households in fuming black prejudices and racism.
I do wonder how strong the role of media and police fueling racism sentiments and cultural biases. The leadership class I teach has a clip on its portal. It is about a two year old girl. Her mother is interrogating her after finding out that she had eaten all the cookies without asking for permission.
- Did you eat the cookies?
- No mother, I did not.
- So who did it?
- Someone came and ate it?
- Someone came to this house, took the cookies and ate them all?
- Yes. Also, it was a black man.
The video ends when the little girl says "It was a black man."
Leadership and Entrepreneurship Course
Black lives have been used as bodies, products, and commodities for centuries. In the era of digital technology, it is important to teach them leadership and entrepreneurship. Learning about leadership and entrepreneurship can infuse creativity, sense of wealth creation and boost self-esteem. For the country, it will fuel employment, creation of wealth and lower dependence on social welfare.
Schools. Boards. You have a mission. Let us start by asking the right questions. "What do anti-racist teachers do differently?"
Response: "they view the success of black students as central to the success of their own teaching", says Pirette MCKAMEY
Race is not biology. It is a construction. At first, the race was a linguistic construction. It referred to people speaking the same language. Today, it is a different construction. Psychological construction. Sociological construction. Socioeconomic construction. Political construction. Social construction.