The Toronto school board is considering opening schools specially designed to meet the needs of black students in grades kindergarten to grade 8. Donna Harrow, an advocate of such schools notes, ‘Whatever is being used in the system at this moment is failing a lot of students–and more specifically a lot of black students.” Black focused schools have been a center of controversy since first being proposed in a 1995 province report by a Royal Commission. The debate as to whether or not black schools staffed predominantly by black teachers where an emphasis is placed on reading black authors or studying black history will lead to results has long been discussed in Canada and the United States. The Toronto School Board already has an elementary and a high school for First Nations students and an alternative high school for gay and lesbian teens.
As one who has spent fifty years in education, this debate has been one going on for most of the 20th century. A visit to schools in New York City or Washington D.C. or Detroit or St. Louis quickly reveals most of them are, in effect, “black schools.” The overwhelming majority of students are black, a high percentage of teachers and administrators are black, the curriculum emphasizes black history and literature, and the results are not that markedly different than in schools where black students are with white students. Back in the 1960s the idea cropped up in Milwaukee and it was tried. Ironically, America has too many “black schools” and too many failing to meet the needs of ALL students. The same issues being discussed in Toronto about how to reach disaffected students can be heard in rural American schools. Perhaps, problems stem from teaching the wrong curriculum using the wrong teaching methods and measuring success the wrong ways. A boring white or black teacher bores students. Young people need role models, but the color of one’s skin is not sufficient to transform a person into a role model. Toni Morrison, the writer, once said if you tell me the color of a person’s skin, you have told me nothing about who they are.