Toronto’s publicly funded Africentric “high school” has 6 students!

What is it about the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) that they consider a total of 6 students enough to keep a new high school open? Yet, that is exactly what is happening. As Moira MacDonald wrote a couple of days ago, the Africentric High School will indeed stay open. Talk about misreading political correctness!

A little background: Last fall the TDSB decided to open an Africentric high school, eventually settling on space in Scarborough’s Winston Churchill Collegiate because of the community backlash to the initial plan to locate the school in Oakwood Collegiate.

To be called the Africentric Leonard Braithwaite Program, after Ontario’s first black MPP, the final location was hardly central and the public backlash hardly a good beginning to say the least.

Readers may remember a similar level of public debate went on when the Africentric elementary school was approved back in 2007. Although I can’t find my posts that far back, I can confirm I was both for and against the idea — albeit more against than in favour.
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Message to TDSB’s Grove School — Holistic education is “NOT” indoctrination

Click on image for SNN video on TDSB Grove School Protest

Yesterday and today the Sun New Network has been covering a mini-protest outside the Toronto Public Library in Parkdale by students, teachers and parents connected to a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) alternative “holistic” school called Grove Community School.

Above is a video with SNN’s David Menzies, as well as this one with Joe Warmington.

According to teacher Lee Hicks, the purpose for the “protest” was to allow the Grade 3 children to express their views about the “unfairness” of the B.C. Enbridge Gateway pipeline. As well, you will hear a parent expressing her view that both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Sun News are biased because they are pro-oil.

Hicks also said one of the main purposes for the school was to train children to become activists, particularly about the environment.Yet, interestingly, when I first checked out the website for the school, at least the one on the TDSB site, I did not find a single word, phrase or sentence about activism or the environment or that protests would be one-sided. However, later in the day I did. The school’s site is here.

On the TDSB main site it read that:

Collaboration is also modeled through democratic decision-making. Teachers encourage all students to share their ideas, opinions and feelings,and to explore different points of view.”  

Then, at the main website under Core Values it states that:

“We are committed to creating a school that challenges individual and systemic biases that cause inequality, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism, and other forms of discrimination.” 

So how is teaching children about the “unfairness” of the proposed Gateway Pipeline project exploring different points of view? And, how is it that the parent in the video can consider the PM and SNN biased when the focus of the entire Grove protest theme is about bias — the school’s systematic bias?

Plus, as a former curriculum specialist, I would suggest it is pure hogwash for Hicks to suggest that the students chose the topics themselves — given how complex the issues were. Look, I have taught Grade 3. I have also tested and worked with Grade 3’s in my private practice.

Even the brightest eight and nine-year olds don’t choose such complex abstract concepts without the help of the adults in their lives — an idea that is consistent with developmental theory

However, perhaps saddest of all, is that what happened yesterday is the antithesis of holistic education. For that you need to read  about A.S. Neill’s Summerhill in the UK. True holistic education provides ample opportunities for freedom of expression, differences of opinions and freedom to learn, create and play.

Whereas yesterday, there was only brainwashing and indoctrination against a legitimate energy sector and a legitimately elected federal government which has to look out for the economic interests of the whole country, not just downtown Toronto.

In my opinion, then, the Grove Community School protest we witnessed on the Menzies video was a form of child abuse because children were being used as tools to represent their parents’ views — the opposite to what might have occurred had the children been presented with both sides of this issue.

[…]

Update 1 @ 8:30pm: I have updated the text because when I wrote the original post, the only website that was available was the main TDSB site with no indication of a school site. Yet, when I went back this evening, the link to the school site was not only there, but live. So, the minor revisions include information from the Core Values of the school.

Update 2 @ 10pm: I just did some research as to where Grove Community School is located and there is a certain amount of irony. Dufferin Grove includes the Dovercourt, Bloor and Ossington neighbourhood where I grew up. In fact, I attended the old Dewson Street Elementary School building (which was demolished and rebuilt in the mid 1960s) for a few years before my family moved to Quebec and then Ottawa where I attended high school.

Mind you, the demographics in Dufferin Grove would have been very different back in the 1950s.  But I can certainly visualize the area. I remember two teachers’ names : Miss Moore in Grade 5 (who I didn’t like because she used a ruler across my knuckles in front of the whole class for asking the student in the desk next to me for help) and Mr. Nicholson in Grade 6 (who I liked very much because he encouraged me to excel which I did).

Why the Muslim prayer in schools issue has opened a wound with the public

The Muslim prayer in a Toronto public school has now become a Canada-wide issue. And, if Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak think they can avoid the discussion by fobbing it off as a “decision of the school board,” they have their heads in the sand.

For example, there is an eye-popping discussion going on over at Paul Bennett’s “Edu-Chatter.” While his post started out on the topic of the Muslim prayer program at the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) Valley Park Middle School, somewhere around comment 140 it moved into what’s wrong with education in all corners of Canada today.  

So, what is the primary cause of this anger and frustration? From what I can interpret, it is due to the fact that ordinary parents and citizens feel ignored — that they don’t have any way to provide meaningful input towards educational excellence or change. Yet, actually they do and don’t seem to realize it because the main avenue for input and change is, and always has been, through political pressure — which is why blogs like Paul’s and this one are so important.

For example, school principals and teachers have little or no power to change anything. Yes, they could be less patronizing when they start their “we know what is best for your kids” attitude but like other professionals, they are trained in their field and have an understanding of the process of learning and instruction that non-educators do not have.  While that view may not be popular right now, it is reality, just as lawyers know more about Canadian law and regulations than non-lawyers.

However, neither principals nor teachers have any way of advocating for change. Teachers, particularly, simply do what they are told.  Check out this handbook, for example on the duties of both. In regards to teachers, what you will find are verbs like promote, encourage, maintain, follow, participate, ensure and perform — rather than verbs like advocate. So, when a school implements a controversial decision like the Muslim prayer program, they sure did not do it alone.

It is similar with School Board Trustees and Board administrators.  They must go to their political masters on any decision that is not mandated policy. So, the fact that Premier McGuinty is saying that it is up to school boards to decide  whether or not to provide a Muslim prayer program, that is simply cowardice in the middle of an election campaign.  Remember, McGuinty, Mr. Education himself, is the very same guy who ridiculed and rejected former PC leader John Tory’s faith-based funding platform during the 2007 Ontario election. What absolute hypocrisy! 

The other stakeholders with power are, of course, officials with the various teacher’s unions and researchers within Faculties of Education. But, even they have to go to the politicians to get what they want. Yes, committees of educators develop and test curriculum guidelines, as well as conduct research. But, before anything is funded, approved or implemented, it must pass over the PA and Education Minister’s desk — for “signing off.” (I know that because I was an EA to a Harris era MPP who also happened to be the Minister of Education’s Parliamentary Assistant.)

Perhaps, then, it is long past time for the politicians to stop putting their heads in the sand and open up debate on religious accommodations and how all this fits together with the various provincial and territorial education acts, human rights legislation and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Simply to suggest, as TDSB Director, Chris Spence did, that the Charter supercedes all other legislation, is not helpful.

C/P at Jack’s Newswatch.

Update Friday, July 22nd: Should any politician or their staff read this, I would like to suggest that when the Ontario PCs win the October 6th election campaign, one of the new Ontario government’s first decisions is to set up a volunteer Royal Commission on School Rights and Accommodations with the Chair paid a dollar a year. 

Like the 1990’s commission on learning set up the former Rae NDP government, it can have hearings and presentations across the province, ending with a final report and implementable recommendations.

Why? Because we need to get answers to a couple of questions:

  1. When it comes to religious accommodations in Ontario’s public school boards, which law guides practice — The Ontario Education Act, The Ontario Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
  2. If one law supercedes the others, which one is it and what are the implications for other rights, such as gender and sexual equality?

In other words, we have come a long way as a society and, while religious accommodations may seem like a noble goal, we simply cannot allow any of our enshrined equality rights to be trampled on because of political correctness regarding one vocal religious minority.

Girls should not be separated from boys and they most certainly should not be identified as mentruating. Homosexuals should not feel threatened and or shunned. And, if Islam is accommodated in one school because of the needs of a particular community, then other religions in other school neighbourhood should have the same accomodations.

Update to Religious freedom vs gender equality at the TDSB

Update 2, July 22, 2011: See also my latest post related to this topic.

Update 1, July 20th, 2011: The mainstream media, both television and print, have now picked up on this topic and I am noticing two main themes and they are:(1) that religious accommodations in a secular school system are essentially unequal and divisive;and (2) that Ontario politicians are allowing political correctness to get in the way of political leadership.

  • First, there is the view that religious accommodations in the state sponsored school system should not be allowed because they discriminate on the basis of differences, be they religious or non-religious differences. They also negatively affect the social values of male-female equality that Canadians hold dear and which are guaranteed under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Here, for example, is an excellent article from the National Post on this theme by Jackson Doughard, a political science student at the University of PEI.
  • The second theme, in my opinion is related to political correctness and a lack of political leadership. How? Both Premier Dalton McGuinty and Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak say that it is up to school boards to decide what kind of accommodations are appropriate in any given community.  Kristin Rushowy and Rob Ferguson explain this in Parent Central (H/T Catherine) and this is a link regarding the PCs I had on another thread.

Well, I am on the side of Doughard. This issue is not going to go away even if the politicians want it to. Ontarians went to the polls in October 2007 and completely rejected the idea of faith-based funding and religion instruction in the secular system. And that is the way a democracy should work.

Original article dated July 17, 2011 started here: Why are more of the mainstream media (and feminist advocacy groups) not hammering away at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) for providing Muslim prayer services every Friday afternoon on public school property at Valley Park Middle School, when they don’t provide the same accommodations to other faiths? 

Yes, Moira MacDonald wrote about this issue, as did Terry Davidson. Interestingly, they are both SunMedia columnists. On the other hand, a quick look at this Google page will show that, for the most part, it is bloggers who have been writing on this topic.

First out of the gate, for example, was Kate at SDA. Then, Paul Bennett of Edu-Chatter wrote about it.  In fact, I would recommend a visit to Bennett’s site as there is an amazingly thorough and frank discussion still going on there.

Significant, however, is Bennett’s title: “How does praying in school hurt children?” Well, although the act of praying certainly can’t hurt a child, the blatant discrimination against children of other faiths certainly could, as could the act of separating boys from girls in the cafeteria with barricades, and having girls identify themselves as menstruating simply by where they are forced to sit.   That is, in my opinion, misogyny masquerading as religious freedom! See also Kathryn Marshall’s post on “standing up for menstruating girls.”

This is Canada in 2011 for goodness sake. While multiculturalism is great in most situations, separating boys and girls because girls are seen as a sexual threat or unclean is an abomination and should have no place in our publicly funded institutions. Ever! 

I also ended my blogging break and picked up on this topic recently with this post. My discussion, however, took a slightly different direction by comparing it to an example of back door faith-based funding and the hypocrisy of the current Liberal government ignoring the very issue they made sure caused former Ontario PC Leader John Tory to lose the 2007 election.

I also cross posted my article at Jack’s Newswatch and NewsWatchCanada posted the title, which I very much appreciate because, unlike most of the Toronto-based media and the TDSB administration, who are turning themselves into pretzels for politically correct reasons, the rest of us are not going to.   

Consider, for example, how TDSB Director, Chris Spence reacted when other faiths objected. Does he cancel the Muslim prayer program? No, he doesn’t. Rather, as mentioned in Davidson’s article, he attempts to shamefully latch on to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by saying that because Section 2 on Religious Freedoms are guaranteed in the Charter, those rights supersede the Ontario Education Act. 

Suggesting, it would seem, that those guarantees only supersede the Education Act when it involves religious accommodations for children and youth of the Muslim faith. De facto then, whether he realizes it or not, Spence is arguing in favour of faith-based funding because the TDSB has chosen to, effectively, subsidize Muslim faith practices within the school day. In addition, Spence doesn’t even deal with the gender discrimination issue. Should he not clarify, for example, how Section 2 of the Charter on Religious Freedoms would impact Equality Rights, one of which is gender equality, in Section 15 of the very same Charter?   

So, what are we hearing from our politicians? Well, as Blazing Cat Fur writes, Elizabeth Witmer, the Ontario PC’s education critic, essentially says they do not intend to respond to this specific incident.  As Fur says, what a cop-out!

And an Internet search does not indicate any public comments on the matter from the current McGuinty Liberal government, probably because of the volatility of the faith-based funding debate during the 2007 election campaign — volatility caused by the Liberals themselves. 

Interestingly, one of the few people to take a principled stand on this issue is Muslim. Tarek Fatah, founder of the Canadian Muslim Congress is quoted in the Davidson article as saying:

  • “How did the TDSB pick the worst form of gender separation and say this is Islam?” and
  • “The TDSB is guilty of importing a version of Islam that is from…Islamic fascists.”

And so, let’s hold all Ontario politicians and the TDSB’s Spence to account! Calling it a religious freedom when only one faith is involved is just nonsense. Ontario public schools either allow choice and accommodations for children of all religions or they don’t accommodate any, other than in a “World Religion” course. But, if they do, the TDSB needs to make sure the groups being given the accommodations are in compliance with the part of Section 15 of the Charter that guarantees gender equality.

Our publicly funded schools are co-educational, whether they are in the Catholic or secular systems. Period! If religious or cultural groups want to separate boys and girls within a single defined space, they can do that in their own places of worship or private schools, not on the public dime.

Protest re Muslim prayers in TDSB school for July 25th at 5:30pm

Apparently, there will be a public protest at the Toronto District School Board’s headquarters (at 5050 Yonge Street) on July 25th at 5:30pm. For a map, check out this link. The protest, I assume, is to demand that the TDSB cancel the Friday Muslim prayer service at Valley Park Middle School. As such, I would recommend as many people attend as possible — as opposed to only those who have an official religious affiliation — if Ontarians want to send a message to provincial politicians and TDSB trustees and administrators. 

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Are Muslim prayers at TDSB school faith-based funding?

Update Wednesday, July 27th, 2011: There is a completely misleading article at the National Post’s “Full Comment” by Amira Elghawaby (H/T Catherine) He or she simply did not do their homework regarding Eden High School. This arrangement was made twenty-five years ago and is unique in Ontario. I have left a comment at the Post explaining why the information presented is wrong. Here, for example is the daily timetable where it is clearly stated that Chapel and the Grade 9 Bible Study course is from 8:25am until 8:50am with the regular school day starting at 9am like most other public high schools.

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TDSB report calls for Oakwood Collegiate to be Africentric

Here we go again. Part 2 of Toronto District School Board (TDSB) political correctness gone to extremes.  The first part was the setting up of an Africentric elementary school program at Sheppard Public School two years ago. And, no matter how many claims we hear about how successful that school is with its 161 students and 55 on a waiting list, two wrongs don’t make a right. In other words, I don’t see this type of alternative school as an example of parent choice — because its basic premise is segregation.

So, why has this topic come up again? Well, according to Moira MacDonald at the Toronto Sun, apparently the previous Board asked for a feasibility study and the report relating to that study was allegedly released this past weekend before the trustees could read it and respond to it.  Whatever the communications problems, it’s the rationale behind such a segregated school that bothers me — to overcome the reason 40% of Toronto’s black students are dropping out of high school.

Talk about a non sequitur or illogical statement. What has a 40% drop out rate got to do with an Africentric curriculum?  It cannot be the lack of such a curriculum that is the problem, otherwise there would be a 100% drop out rate. Instead, we know that 60% of Toronto’s black teens don’t drop out. Yet, rather than look at retention rates and why the larger number don’t drop out, the TDSB is looking for magical solutions that don’t offend anyone.

Well, that is the same kind of politically correct, non-progressive thinking, that is going on in the District School Board of Niagara, with their DSBN Academy. Launching in September 2011 in a school in Welland, it is ostensibly for economically disadvantaged — poor — children and youth whose parents did not receive a post-secondary education. Interesting that the DSBN is linking poverty to anyone without a post-secondary piece of paper when millions of Canadians have done very well for themselves through work experience and apprenticeships.

So, might I suggest that the colour of a student’s skin, economic disadvantage, or their parents lack of a post-secondary education are not the problems. Rather, what is the problem, and no amount of specialized curriculum will fix it,  is the attitude of the students and their families towards education and the future. Do they, for example, look to the future with anticipation? Do the parents praise their children and tell them that they can be anything they want to be with perseverance and self-discipline? Or, do they blame “the school system” and everyone else for their problems?

Are school boards perfect? Obviously not. But, for an example of the type of forward-thinking I am getting at, listen to the wise words of a current Oakwood Grade 11 student, Tyler Stewart, who is quoted in the Toronto Star as saying : “Why can’t you just offer Africentric courses in history and literature instead of changing the whole feel of the school.

Exactly!

The “Wizards at TDSB” want to bribe kids with cash

Well, I thought I had heard everything that was politically correct. Yet, yesterday I read a column by Moira MacDonald in the Toronto Sun (H/T Catherine) about how officials at the Toronto District School Board are waxing lyrical about providing kids from disadvantaged homes cash incentives to read books. MacDonald also mentioned that the TDSB is considering giving some parents cash as well, to attend workshops and get a library card.

My immediate reaction was: What an offensive idea! Make poor kids feel worse about themselves by labelling them disadvantaged or stupid. Not only offensive, but magical thinking at its worst.  Which made me think of the theme song from Wizard of Oz and wonder who the wizards might be behind the screen at the TDSB who think they can get results by bribing kids who are “disadvantaged,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Poverty itself, or making do on less, shouldn’t have anything to do with whether kids want to learn or parents value education.

However, no matter whether or not you believe cash incentives might work, what are the powers that be at the TDSB thinking when they are so deeply in the financial hole? For details, check out a MacDonald column dated May 28th, 2010 but updated online today. When you read it, it becomes clear that TDSB decision-makers really are living in a fantasy land. Here are the facts.

This year the TDSB had a deficit of $42 million dollars. To deal with some of that deficit, they transferred $30 million from major repair projects, thus adding to their $2.8 billion deferred maintenance plan. They then increased this year’s budget by $600 million, in spite of the fact that student enrollment had dropped by 13.4%. I repeat, the TDSB trustees budgeted hundreds of millions of dollars more — and hired more teachers even though enrollment was dropping like a stone, they already had a huge deficit and repairs to infrastructure would have to be delayed again.

Look, I am not unsympathetic. I grew up poor, as did many of my friends and relatives. But, we sure didn’t need to be given cash by the school system to bribe us to want to do well in life. We did whatever we had to do to get ahead.  No, this whole issue is simply about political correctness and the wizards at the TDSB pulling levers in a futile attempt to change social and cultural attitudes by bribing kids and their parents with cash — cash the TDSB does not have.

In other words, the TDSB does not have access to a yellow brick road. However, what they do have access to are parents. Why, then,  don’t they look at models for getting parents involved in their child’s school — and I’m talking about real parent engagement — something that research shows really does work. See, for example, this source, as well this one. And, while they are doing that, they could stop deficit spending and get back on track to closing, replacing and repairing their schools.

Revised Friday, November 19th, 2010. Photo credit for Wizard of Oz poster, Wikipedia.