Prof favours black-focused schools

Amid growing local controversy, the Ontario government says racially segregated schools aren’t in the cards, reported the Toronto Star Feb. 4. But a York University education expert says there is nothing outrageous about the idea of black-targeted schools. Professor Carl James, who has published numerous books and articles on black students, says the Toronto District School Board should be experimenting with a black-focused school in an existing facility, probably one that already has a majority of black students.

James drew loud applause at the town-hall meeting by suggesting alternative schools for black students were the only way to prevent them from being pushed out of the system. He was one of many at the meeting who believed Toronto schools discriminate against black students with zero-tolerance codes that are being implemented by teachers, few of whom come from the same racial or ethnic background as the children they teach.

“Do we consider Catholic schools as segregated? No, we think there have been some benefits to them,” he said in an interview yesterday at York, where he is the university’s affirmative action director. One of the problems with the idea is that nobody’s ever really thought through what they might look like, James said. Such a school could have black students or a black-focused curriculum, or it could focus on students understanding themselves in terms of race.

  • A Star editorial said the proposal for black-focused schools is not new. The 1993 Royal Commission on Learning recommended Toronto set up demonstration schools focused on the needs of black students. But the idea was shelved. The reason most often cited is the involvement of Wilson Head, one of the most influential leaders of the black community. He argued the idea smacked of segregation. Born in segregated Atlanta, the respected York University professor warned before his death in 1993: “I went through that. None of us believed that we were as good as schools with white children.” Furthermore, Head said, “Our children are going to have to learn in this society, which means black kids have to learn with white children and children of other colours.” His warnings still have resonance today, concluded the Star.

Saying no to Jews shamed young Canadian diplomat

Last week’s commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi death camp, prompted Tim Reid to dig out his father’s memoirs and took a hard look at one of the most shameful chapters in Canadian history, wrote Carol Goar in the Toronto Star Feb. 4. Reid is the son of the late Escott Reid, one of Canada’s great diplomats and the founding principal of York’s Glendon College. In 1939, his father, a newly-minted foreign service officer, was second secretary at the Canadian Embassy in Washington. One of Escott Reid’s jobs was to turn away Jews who wanted to bring their relatives into the United States through Canada. The US had a quota for accepting Jews but it was filled. Desperate to get their loved ones out of Germany as Adolf Hitler herded them into urban ghettoes, American Jews begged for Canada’s help. It tore Reid apart to say no. “Every time one of them comes in it leaves me shaken and ashamed of Canada,” the young diplomat wrote. “It’s like being a bystander at an especially cruel and long drawn-out murder. “If I could find a loophole, I’d feel I’d justified my existence.”

Argos play the field

There have been rumours for some time that Argos co-owners Howard Sokolowski and his partner David Cynamon will attempt to acquire the rights to either the 2007 or ’08 Grey Cup, reported The Toronto Sun Feb. 4. Sokolowski and Cynamon still plan to go ahead with plans to build a stadium for the Argos at York University in time for the 2007 season. Playing regular-season games there and shifting the Grey Cup to the Rogers Centre would be akin to what the Montreal Alouettes have done with Molson Stadium and Olympic Stadium.

Hot jazz sax

At a benefit concert for the music program at Laurentian University’s Great Hall, 500 music fans packed the hall, paid pin-drop attention, cheered, and gave standing ovations, reported the Sudbury Star Feb. 4. Two homeboys, violinist and Wilfred Laurier University professor Jeremy Bell of the Penderecki String Quartet, and jazz vocalist, saxophonist and York University music Professor Sundar Viswanathan, rose brilliantly to the challenge of other virtuoso performances.

Suffering and joy chafe in Dunlop’s poetry

In Reading Like a Girl by poet Rishma Dunlop, dark moments, both public and private, haunt her work – there are poems about 9/11 and the bombing of Hiroshima, as well as the death of her father – but they don’t eclipse the moments of fulfillment, wrote the Toronto Star’s Barbara Carey in a review Jan. 2 of the York education professor’s new book. The most striking poems in this book are those in which suffering and joy chafe against each other, continued Carey. Dunlop knows she cannot reconcile the life-affirming and the soul-destroying, and that awareness adds both poignancy and urgency to her work, wrote the reviewer.

George Elliott Clarke reviewed Dunlop’s book Jan. 23 in Halifax’s Chronicle Herald.

On air

  • Brandon Pardy, a York master’s student in environmental studies, discussed what to do with the money from the Atlantic Accord on revenue-sharing for Newfoundland and Labrador offshore petroleum, on CBC Radio’s “St. John’s Morning” Feb. 3.