Friday, February 11, 2005


Ontario schools have failed black students by having too few teachers of colour, too few courses on black thought and a zero tolerance code that hits black students hardest, charges a leading Canadian researcher into race and schooling. And sociology professor George Dei drew an explosion of applause from a crowd of 500 last night when he called for black alternative schools to right some of these wrongs.

Dei, who is chair of equity in education for the Ontario Institute for Studies In Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto, was one of several panellists at a heated forum last night called "Making the Grade: Are We Failing Our Black Youth?" The town hall-style meeting at the St. Lawrence Centre on Front St. drew a standing-room-only crowd and left dozens more disappointed in the lobby, unable to enter because of fire regulations. "Are we failing black youth? Yes, yes, yes," said Dei, who has done extensive research on why black teens often feel disengaged in Toronto high schools. "The curriculum doesn't reflect their lives, there are too few black teachers and the zero tolerance policies stigmatize them. The dropout rates don't tell the whole story: black students are being pushed out."

Cheers broke out when Dei called for the creation of experimental black-focused schools that would have more black teachers, guidance counsellors, Africa-centric curriculum and more open discussion of race. "These schools would be very different from the segregated schools of the South, because those were designed to disconnect blacks," Dei said in an interview. "These schools would be created to address a problem and they would be open to students of any colour."

Dei was reviving an idea first raised in 1991 when Ontario's Royal Commission on Learning urged school boards to set up alternative black-focused schools to address the lower graduation rates among black students. "Black students tell me they graduate from high school without ever being taught by a visible-minority teacher," said Dei. "Some speak of the low expectations teachers have of them. Some say the schools are just not welcoming." Speaker after speaker supported his case......

The Toronto District School Board only recently decided to start gathering statistics on student performance based on race for the first time since 1991, when the board of education for the old city of Toronto found black students dropped out at a higher rate than students of other racial backgrounds.



It was a shock, but hardly a surprise. The week before, another brick had been thrown through the window as the family were preparing for bed in their Bradford home. The victim of a three-year campaign of religious hatred, Mr Hussein's car has also been rammed and torched, and the steps to his home have been strewn with rubbish.

He and his family have been regularly jostled, abused, attacked, shouted at to move out of the area, and given death threats in the street. His wife has been held hostage inside their home for two hours by a mob. His car, walls and windows have been daubed in graffiti: "Christian bastard".

The problem isn't so much what Mr Hussein, whose parents came from Pakistan, believes, but what he doesn't believe. Born into Islam, he converted eight years ago to Christianity, and his wife, also from Pakistan, followed suit.

Muslims who lose their faith face execution or imprisonment, in line with traditional Muslim teaching, in many Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and Yemen. In the Netherlands, the former Muslim MP Ayan Hirsi Ali had to go into hiding after renouncing her faith on television. The Prince of Wales recently held a meeting with religious leaders to consider ways to stop former Muslims being persecuted in other countries, but Britain itself is also affected.

Mr Hussein told The Times: "It's been absolutely appalling. This is England - where I was born and raised. You would never imagine Christians would suffer in such a way." The police have not charged anyone, but told him to leave the area. "We feel completely isolated, utterly helpless. I have been utterly failed by the authorities. If it was white racists attacking an Asian guy, there would be an absolute outcry," he said. "They are trying to ethnically cleanse me out of my home. I feel I have to make a stand as an Asian Christian."

Yasmin, who was raised in the North of England, has been forced out of her town once, and is now trying to resist being chased out again. Brought up in a Muslim family, she converted after having a vision of Jesus when she gave birth to her youngest son, and was baptised in her thirties.. "My family completely disowned me. They thought I had committed the biggest sin - I was born a Muslim, and so I must die a Muslim. When my husband found out, he totally disowned my sons. One friend tried to strangle me when I told him I was converting," she said. "We had bricks though our windows, I was spat at in the street because they thought I was dishonouring Islam. We had to call the police so many times. I had to go to court to get an injunction against my husband because he was inciting others to attack me."

She fled to another part of Britain, but the attacks soon started again as locals found out about her. "I wasn't going to leave again," she said, adding that it was the double standards of her attackers that made her most angry. "They are such hypocrites - they want us to be tolerant of everything they want, but they are intolerant of everything about us."

With other converts, Yasmin has helped to set up a series of support groups across England, who have adopted a method of operating normally associated with dissidents in dictatorships, not democracies. They not only have to meet in secret, but cannot advertise their services, and have to vet those that approach them for infiltrators. "There are so many who convert from Islam to Christianity. We have 70 people on our list who we support, and the list is growing. We don't want others to suffer like we have," she said.

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