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.

[…]

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).

Update to Religious freedom vs gender equality at the TDSB

Update 2, July 22, 2011: See also my latest post related to this topic.

Update 1, July 20th, 2011: The mainstream media, both television and print, have now picked up on this topic and I am noticing two main themes and they are:(1) that religious accommodations in a secular school system are essentially unequal and divisive;and (2) that Ontario politicians are allowing political correctness to get in the way of political leadership.

  • First, there is the view that religious accommodations in the state sponsored school system should not be allowed because they discriminate on the basis of differences, be they religious or non-religious differences. They also negatively affect the social values of male-female equality that Canadians hold dear and which are guaranteed under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Here, for example, is an excellent article from the National Post on this theme by Jackson Doughard, a political science student at the University of PEI.
  • The second theme, in my opinion is related to political correctness and a lack of political leadership. How? Both Premier Dalton McGuinty and Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak say that it is up to school boards to decide what kind of accommodations are appropriate in any given community.  Kristin Rushowy and Rob Ferguson explain this in Parent Central (H/T Catherine) and this is a link regarding the PCs I had on another thread.

Well, I am on the side of Doughard. This issue is not going to go away even if the politicians want it to. Ontarians went to the polls in October 2007 and completely rejected the idea of faith-based funding and religion instruction in the secular system. And that is the way a democracy should work.

Original article dated July 17, 2011 started here: Why are more of the mainstream media (and feminist advocacy groups) not hammering away at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) for providing Muslim prayer services every Friday afternoon on public school property at Valley Park Middle School, when they don’t provide the same accommodations to other faiths? 

Yes, Moira MacDonald wrote about this issue, as did Terry Davidson. Interestingly, they are both SunMedia columnists. On the other hand, a quick look at this Google page will show that, for the most part, it is bloggers who have been writing on this topic.

First out of the gate, for example, was Kate at SDA. Then, Paul Bennett of Edu-Chatter wrote about it.  In fact, I would recommend a visit to Bennett’s site as there is an amazingly thorough and frank discussion still going on there.

Significant, however, is Bennett’s title: “How does praying in school hurt children?” Well, although the act of praying certainly can’t hurt a child, the blatant discrimination against children of other faiths certainly could, as could the act of separating boys from girls in the cafeteria with barricades, and having girls identify themselves as menstruating simply by where they are forced to sit.   That is, in my opinion, misogyny masquerading as religious freedom! See also Kathryn Marshall’s post on “standing up for menstruating girls.”

This is Canada in 2011 for goodness sake. While multiculturalism is great in most situations, separating boys and girls because girls are seen as a sexual threat or unclean is an abomination and should have no place in our publicly funded institutions. Ever! 

I also ended my blogging break and picked up on this topic recently with this post. My discussion, however, took a slightly different direction by comparing it to an example of back door faith-based funding and the hypocrisy of the current Liberal government ignoring the very issue they made sure caused former Ontario PC Leader John Tory to lose the 2007 election.

I also cross posted my article at Jack’s Newswatch and NewsWatchCanada posted the title, which I very much appreciate because, unlike most of the Toronto-based media and the TDSB administration, who are turning themselves into pretzels for politically correct reasons, the rest of us are not going to.   

Consider, for example, how TDSB Director, Chris Spence reacted when other faiths objected. Does he cancel the Muslim prayer program? No, he doesn’t. Rather, as mentioned in Davidson’s article, he attempts to shamefully latch on to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by saying that because Section 2 on Religious Freedoms are guaranteed in the Charter, those rights supersede the Ontario Education Act. 

Suggesting, it would seem, that those guarantees only supersede the Education Act when it involves religious accommodations for children and youth of the Muslim faith. De facto then, whether he realizes it or not, Spence is arguing in favour of faith-based funding because the TDSB has chosen to, effectively, subsidize Muslim faith practices within the school day. In addition, Spence doesn’t even deal with the gender discrimination issue. Should he not clarify, for example, how Section 2 of the Charter on Religious Freedoms would impact Equality Rights, one of which is gender equality, in Section 15 of the very same Charter?   

So, what are we hearing from our politicians? Well, as Blazing Cat Fur writes, Elizabeth Witmer, the Ontario PC’s education critic, essentially says they do not intend to respond to this specific incident.  As Fur says, what a cop-out!

And an Internet search does not indicate any public comments on the matter from the current McGuinty Liberal government, probably because of the volatility of the faith-based funding debate during the 2007 election campaign — volatility caused by the Liberals themselves. 

Interestingly, one of the few people to take a principled stand on this issue is Muslim. Tarek Fatah, founder of the Canadian Muslim Congress is quoted in the Davidson article as saying:

  • “How did the TDSB pick the worst form of gender separation and say this is Islam?” and
  • “The TDSB is guilty of importing a version of Islam that is from…Islamic fascists.”

And so, let’s hold all Ontario politicians and the TDSB’s Spence to account! Calling it a religious freedom when only one faith is involved is just nonsense. Ontario public schools either allow choice and accommodations for children of all religions or they don’t accommodate any, other than in a “World Religion” course. But, if they do, the TDSB needs to make sure the groups being given the accommodations are in compliance with the part of Section 15 of the Charter that guarantees gender equality.

Our publicly funded schools are co-educational, whether they are in the Catholic or secular systems. Period! If religious or cultural groups want to separate boys and girls within a single defined space, they can do that in their own places of worship or private schools, not on the public dime.

Protest re Muslim prayers in TDSB school for July 25th at 5:30pm

Apparently, there will be a public protest at the Toronto District School Board’s headquarters (at 5050 Yonge Street) on July 25th at 5:30pm. For a map, check out this link. The protest, I assume, is to demand that the TDSB cancel the Friday Muslim prayer service at Valley Park Middle School. As such, I would recommend as many people attend as possible — as opposed to only those who have an official religious affiliation — if Ontarians want to send a message to provincial politicians and TDSB trustees and administrators. 

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The “Wizards at TDSB” want to bribe kids with cash

Well, I thought I had heard everything that was politically correct. Yet, yesterday I read a column by Moira MacDonald in the Toronto Sun (H/T Catherine) about how officials at the Toronto District School Board are waxing lyrical about providing kids from disadvantaged homes cash incentives to read books. MacDonald also mentioned that the TDSB is considering giving some parents cash as well, to attend workshops and get a library card.

My immediate reaction was: What an offensive idea! Make poor kids feel worse about themselves by labelling them disadvantaged or stupid. Not only offensive, but magical thinking at its worst.  Which made me think of the theme song from Wizard of Oz and wonder who the wizards might be behind the screen at the TDSB who think they can get results by bribing kids who are “disadvantaged,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Poverty itself, or making do on less, shouldn’t have anything to do with whether kids want to learn or parents value education.

However, no matter whether or not you believe cash incentives might work, what are the powers that be at the TDSB thinking when they are so deeply in the financial hole? For details, check out a MacDonald column dated May 28th, 2010 but updated online today. When you read it, it becomes clear that TDSB decision-makers really are living in a fantasy land. Here are the facts.

This year the TDSB had a deficit of $42 million dollars. To deal with some of that deficit, they transferred $30 million from major repair projects, thus adding to their $2.8 billion deferred maintenance plan. They then increased this year’s budget by $600 million, in spite of the fact that student enrollment had dropped by 13.4%. I repeat, the TDSB trustees budgeted hundreds of millions of dollars more — and hired more teachers even though enrollment was dropping like a stone, they already had a huge deficit and repairs to infrastructure would have to be delayed again.

Look, I am not unsympathetic. I grew up poor, as did many of my friends and relatives. But, we sure didn’t need to be given cash by the school system to bribe us to want to do well in life. We did whatever we had to do to get ahead.  No, this whole issue is simply about political correctness and the wizards at the TDSB pulling levers in a futile attempt to change social and cultural attitudes by bribing kids and their parents with cash — cash the TDSB does not have.

In other words, the TDSB does not have access to a yellow brick road. However, what they do have access to are parents. Why, then,  don’t they look at models for getting parents involved in their child’s school — and I’m talking about real parent engagement — something that research shows really does work. See, for example, this source, as well this one. And, while they are doing that, they could stop deficit spending and get back on track to closing, replacing and repairing their schools.

Revised Friday, November 19th, 2010. Photo credit for Wizard of Oz poster, Wikipedia.

Toronto Public School Board trustees failing kids & taxpayers

Okay, sure, Ontario municipalities are in the midst of school trustee elections, so it’s good politics for Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Trustee Josh Matlow to let the public know that there is something not right about the TDSB’s spending priorities. But he is also bang on because the voting public has a right to know to what extent the TDSB has ignored a broken infrastructure, including repairs and upgrades needed in school science labs. As this Toronto Sun article states:

“The TDSB continues to mismanage its spending priorities instead of focusing on fixing broken infrastructure, said Trustee Josh Matlow. As a result, students are suffering. I haven’t seen much evidence of (the labs being fixed), but that can be said about many priority needs around the system,” Matlow said. “That’s why I get so upset at the board when they spend money on things like expensive rallies at hockey arenas and other frivolous mis-expenditures that don’t reflect the needs of our students.

Do you know the board has not painted a single school since amalgamation in 1998?” he added. “There are fields looking like mud pits along with the (neglected) science labs. This is all politically charged. All the while, kids are waiting.”

The worse thing is that the neglect and spending on other priorities is essentially being rewarded by the Ontario government, who is allegedly going to provide the TDSB with an EXTRA $42.2 million this year to make repairs to schools, including the science labs — even though it is estimated that $82 million will be needed just for the science labs alone.

So, its now up to Toronto voters to only re-elect those trustees who have had the courage to speak out on behalf of the kids and the taxpayers. Sure, each such trustee is only one voice, but if the people of Toronto want more like that, then they are going to have to boot the rest out.

In fact, that would be a good message for all Ontario communities. On October 25th, 2010, don’t just vote in your municipal election for names of people you recognize. Whether for councillor or school board trustee, re-elect only those who have tried to listen to their constituents. Otherwise, elect a brand new mayor, as well as a brand new slate of candidates, school trustees included.

TDSB increasing alternative schools, choice

Re-posted from a Google cached document on April 1st because original was lost. Unfortunately, however, the comments were not available.

Start of article: In my opinion, it’s all about semantics. Whether you are talking about specialty schools, alternative schools, charter schools or publicly funded independent schools, it is about parent choice.  It is about parent choice because decisions are not based on a ”system” need but on the needs of each child as understood by the parents. Such decisions are however, NOT about privatizing public education. They are about expanding public education and diversifying a monopoly by providing alternatives and choice in public education.  

So, when I read in today’s Globe and Mail that the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) Education Director, Chris Spence, wants to expand the number of alternative schools the board has from 41 to 45 — I was delighted. 

We had already heard that he wanted an all-boys elementary school – the “Boys Leadership Academy” — which would be marketed to boys in JK to Grade 3. Now, however, we hear that he also wants an all-girls elementary school, called the “Girls Leadership Academy,” for girls in Grades 4 through 8, as well as a sports school and a choir school.  

So, what does all this mean? It means that the TDSB and Mr. Spence, wants to be competitive and, not only retain students, but recruit others. As such, I highly commend them for that. How will they do that? By providing parents with enough choice that they consider moving their children from private schools or the Toronto Catholic Board to the TDSB.

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