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.

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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.