By Ishawna Ross
Concerned parents, teachers and students gathered for the “Anti-Blackness in Schools” panel held at York University recently. YorkU professor Carl James, alongside Tana Turner, Natasha Henry, Erica Okezie-Phillips – Education Officer and Senior Research Coordinator, Ontario Ministry of Education and Anyika Mark – President, Black Students’ Association came together to discuss the ongoing issue many Black parents face, when it comes to the targeting of Black children within the education system.
“Curriculum should have two things, one it should be a window and a mirror” – Carl James
Tana Turner, the president of Turner Consulting Group shared data from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) collected between 2006-2011, that highlights the unfairness within the school system, which disproportionally targets Black students, ranging from kindergarten to grade 12.
High school is a crucial stage - being the place where children start to develop who they are, their identity and figuring out what they want to pursue later in life. However, studies show that Black children in particular are not getting the same encouragement, drive and push to excel as opposed to other racial groups. The data states that out of 5,679 of high school students who identify as Black, 53% are actively in academic courses while 39% are in applied and 9% in essentials. On the contrary, 81% of White students are in academic courses, while 80% of other racial groups are in academic courses as well. Looking at the statistics, there is a major gap, but why?
Tana elaborates more about her findings and discusses the subtle racism and stereotypes that follow Black children from kindergarten to high school, where students start coming into their own person. Tana shares more, that when Black students enter high school, guidance counselors tend to try and push Black children into applied academics, discourage Black children from applying to universities and instead suggest that college would be “easier” for them to handle.
Teachers within the system deter Black children from obtaining their goals by shattering their self-esteem and their capabilities. As a result, 43% of children don’t even apply for a post-secondary education; 25% apply to universities, 21% apply for college. 20% is the average dropout rate for Black children, but what studies don’t talk about, is that students are being pushed out in subtle ways.
With the already low expectations that most teachers have of Black students, it doesn’t help that these children are disproportionally targeted in regards of disciplinary actions. Suspensions is one of the subtle ways that aid in pushing children out, by making it difficult for the child to keep up with the school work when absent from classes. From small situations like “attitude issues”, “42% of Black children are suspended at least once in high school.” 48% of Black children are expelled from school - which is another way of pushing children out of the education system.
Expulsions helps discourage Black children from continuing their education, because it’s either hard to find another school or it shatters the mindset of the child from wanting to return all together. So how can we intervene?
“The presence of the parents in the schools and the presence of teachers calling parents about the issue with the child, will get the teachers thinking and the principals thinking that the parents are concerned, that the parents are knowledgeable and the parents are not allowing anything to be done to their child.” - Carl James
Erica Okezie- Phillips, Education Officer & Senior Research Coordinator at the Ontario Ministry of Education, and Natasha Henry, Black History curriculum specialist, author, historian and most importantly, mothers, share tips on how to deal with your children within the school system.
Know Your Child
It is so important to know your child and help them develop a good sense of self, and their passion, at home. It will be easier to define the strengths, weakness and characteristics of your child, making it easier to communicate that with teachers, so that they can get a better understanding of what your child needs within the classroom, or at home to succeed. This can create a good relationship between the parent and the teacher, so if there are any concerns, both can work together to create a system to make sure your child excels.
It’s good to have a good understanding and relationship with the school, teachers, principals and the staff members, to make sure they know that you are present and concerned about your child’s academics. Don’t be afraid to discuss your concerns, offer suggestions and strategies, ask questions and challenge situations that you feel are unjust. Also, have a good communication flow with your child. Get into the habit of daily check-ins about school and what they learn, as this can not only give you insight on your children’s day to day interactions, but will also help you as parent to understand more about their surroundings and how they’re doing in school.
You know the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child” - and it’s true. Get together with other parents and form a support system/community where you can voice your concerns, opinions, and share Black experiences. It’s great to be around other likeminded individuals, as it can be easier to come together and tackle certain issues that hinder your children from succeeding within the education system. It’s also good to get involved with the school as well, by volunteering for events or trying to be apart of the school council. This can be beneficial because you can directly be a part of the changes and get your points and ideas across. Get your children involved in extracurricular actives, whether it be extra help on a subject they struggle with, or just to invest into their passion, it’s ideal to get children active. This can not only help in expanding their mind, but figure out who they are as they go through their school experience.
When you have issues with the school, the best person to talk to is the Trustee. They are the middleman between the school boards and the community. They establish and govern the policies, govern and set budgets for the facilities; curriculum, financial and human resources etc., work with the government to make sure students are successful, and advocate to the needs of the community. Being active and working with the trustees can help in making the environment for Black children a better place to strive and succeed in.
With the upcoming budget cuts that schools will be facing, Black children will be widely affected. Thus, being active and getting involved as a parent can help prevent your children from being lost in the system and restore their self-esteem and awareness in the long run, as they thrive in the education system.