Beware of False Dichotomies: Revisiting the Idea of "Black - Focused" Schools in Canadian Contexts
GEORGE J. SEFA DEI
This paper utilizes the narrative accounts of Black youth and "dropouts" about schools and off - school experiences in a Canadian inner city to advance the argument for a "Black - focused/African - centred" school in Euro - Canadian/American contexts. It is argued that the school should be pictured as an alternative educational site for those youths who, for vaned reasons, do not appear to perform well, academically (or socially, in the mainstream school system. It is argued that such schools could be established on an experimental basis, at both the elementary and secondary levels, with direct consultations and partnerships with students, educators, administrators, parents and local communities.
Dealing with race and social difference in contemporary society requires methods of understanding and explaining social actions and practices grounded in the historical realities and lived experiences of all peoples. A critical knowledge and understanding of the multi - layered complexities of human experiences constitute a valid frame of reference for the education of youth. A continuing debate about the schooling and education of Black youths in North America concerns the efficacy of "Black - focused" or what may appropriately be termed "African - centred" schools. Particularly among African(f.1) peoples, burgeoning academic debates and political arguments demand the "reclaiming" of the sources and sites of individual and collective agency in order to improve the educational and social success of Black youths. Many educators. students, parents and community workers have drawn attention to the need for alternative pedagogic tools, and the development of inclusionary instructional practices to deliver education to the youth (see Asante, 1991; Ratteray, 1990; Hilliard, 1992; Henry, 1992; Calliste, 1994; Shujaa, 1994; Ladson - Billings, 1995; Brathwaite, 1989; OPBC, 1993; BEWG, 1993; and Dei, 1996, among many others). These groups and individuals continue to articulate powerfully the epistemological basis for African - centred schools as alternative educational sites to enhance Black students' academic and social achievement.
This paper contributes to the debate by exploring the social, political and philosophical grounds for African - centred schools in Euro - Canadian/American contexts. The discussion is situated within a critique of conventional approaches to delivering education in Ontario. The case for African - centred schools at the elementary and secondary school levels rests on the idea that education must be able to respond to the material, political, cultural, spiritual and social conditions of peoples of African descent living on the margins of a White - dominated society.
The paper employs an anti - racist theoretical/discursive framework to understand concerns of Black youth about education in Canada and the emerging call for African - centred schools. As examined elsewhere (Dei, 1995), the anti - racism discursive framework acknowledges the reality of racism and other forms of social oppression (class, sex, gender oppression) in all aspects of mainstream schools, and also considers the potential for change. Anti - racism questions White power and privilege and the accompanying rationality for dominance in the schooling process. Anti - racism problematizes the marginalization and the delegitimization of subordinate groups, and their voices, knowledge and experience in the educational system. An anti - racist discursive framework, understanding the processes of public schooling, critically examines the role of the educational system in producing and reproducing inequalities in society, linking issues of identity with schooling, and particularly with the processes of producing knowledge. The anti - racism discourse acknowledges the pedagogic need to confront the challenge of diversity in society, recognizing the urgency for an educational system that should be both inclusive and responsive to minority voices. …