Much-needed specialized school programs that build equity must expand
Toronto’s Triangle Program, Model Schools, and Africentric schools cannot be dismissed as ‘band-aid solutions’
The “Occupy” movement – with its focus on the dramatic economic inequality that is promoted by our political and economic system – is, sadly, reflected in our education system, where underfunding has led to a culture of school fundraising where some schools in Toronto raise tens of thousands of dollars (in some cases over a thousand dollars per student) to provide a “private school” education – within the public system.
At the same time, inner city schools have been denuded of the resources that used to at least attempt to offset the barriers to learning created by poverty. This inequality – to the tune of $600 million fund-raised dollars annually in Ontario – was documented in Social Planning Toronto’s Public Schools, Private Money report released this past September. I n Toronto, the “Learning Opportunities Grant” from the Province largely goes to keep the lights on, rather than to targeted interventions challenging the impact of poverty on education, such as the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB’s) successful Model Schools initiative.
Last month, while schools scrambled to respond to tragic suicides resulting from the bullying and discrimination that is an everyday reality for lesbian, gay, bi, and trans youth, I participated in a celebration of the Triangle Program – which provides a safe, positive learning environment for LGBT students in Toronto. I am thrilled that Triangle Program has, over its 16 years, provided a haven for over 600 students. I am profoundly saddened and disappointed by the fact that – despite being a program that is more necessary than ever – that no other Board of Education in Canada has adopted this successful model. I am outraged by the fact that some Boards of Education, condoned by the Ontario Ministry of Education, still refuse permit the existence of clearly identified Gay/Straight Alliances in their schools. In Ontario. In 2011.
I am thrilled that Triangle Program has, over its 16 years, provided a haven for over 600 students. I am profoundly saddened and disappointed by the fact that – despite being a program that is more necessary than ever – that no other Board of Education in Canada has adopted this successful model.
The TDSB has just voted to establish an Africentric Secondary School – a response to the fact that there is still an inexcusable gap between the potential of too many black students and their academic outcomes, and recognition of the success of the elementary Africentric program in dramatically improving student achievement.
Inequities grounded in race, sexual orientation, gender, poverty, and class still haunt our education system. They must be much more explicitly and vigorously challenged through a significant, dedicated allocation of resources, backed up by policies and practices that actively challenge the status quo.
I’m frustrated, angry, and sad that our school systems do not – yet – clearly and fully acknowledge the continued, pervasive and corrosive impact of discrimination, economic inequality, and homophobia.
I’m frustrated, angry, and sad that our school systems do not – yet – clearly and fully acknowledge the continued, pervasive and corrosive impact of discrimination, economic inequality, and homophobia. I know that there is no single “magic bullet” to overcome these ills – they are, after all, reflections of the communities in which they are situated. And I recognize that an Africentric school, a Triangle Program, or a Model School will not solve these systemic problems. It is easy – and tempting – to dismiss them as ‘band-aid’ solutions. It may, however, be useful to remember that band-aids can have more than a surface impact – their very existence continues to remind us that there remain deeper wounds that still need to be healed.
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