Separation or Segregation?

| July-August 2009

Critics of Afrocentric anything have traditionally betrayed a separation anxiety, as if there were no line between forced segregation and voluntary experimentation. In Toronto, where the dropout rate for black students is a staggering 40 percent, a controversial new Afrocentric school will test different ways of engaging struggling students. This Magazine (Jan.-Feb. 2009) reports that the school’s supporters, many of whom are African Canadian parents and educators, want to move the debate beyond what they see as knee-jerk fears rooted in a different time and place. “People ask where is the evidence that it works,” says George Dei, a professor who has written extensively on race and education. “I want to know where is the evidence that it doesn’t.”

Toronto has built an identity around its multiculturalism, and for some the school threatens that. For others, the plight of black students puts the lie to Toronto’s boasts of inclusion. “It’s not teaching subjects but teaching people,” says Carl James, director of York University’s Center for Education and Community. “That means thinking of them in terms of their race, their class, their community, everything.”

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