Various notable people have offered their pronouncements about the possible causes of the gun violence in Toronto following the Monday, July 16, shooting spree in Scarborough.
Some blamed it on Jamaicans or thuggish behaviour or fatherlessness. Come on, they're packing guns because they're growing up fatherless?
Many of their fathers and grandfathers didn't grow up with their fathers either, but they didn't pick up a gun. Besides, this fails to give credit to the loving and nurturing homes headed by mothers and grandmothers.
No. The elephant in the room is our education system.
An abundance of studies and reports on education, specifically on streaming of African-Canadian kids in the system, have been trickling in since the 1980s. All give us a longitudinal look at our school system and the effects of its decisions.
Generally speaking, students pushed into higher streams are destined for university.
Students relegated to the lower streams, with few exceptions, never go to university, no matter how much they want to. Many end up in community colleges for training in the trades. Others complete high school and join the workforce. A significant proportion simply drop out.
Of course not everyone can or needs to go to university, but when such opportunities are influenced by race, there is a serious problem.
Streaming is done on the basis of achievement rather than potential. It's also influenced by race.
Here are the facts:
- 64 per cent of black students are channelled into lower streams compared to 32 per cent of white students and only 18 per cent of students of Asian origin.
- Black students are twice as likely as whites and four times as likely as those of Asian origin to drop out of high school. That's been a known fact since 1980, and it's still the same today.
- 40 per cent of black students drop out of high school, compared to 25 per cent of the general student body.
- Roughly 20 per cent of black students tracked into the lower streams complete high school.
How did we get here? The process of streaming starts very early, in Grade 3. That's when children are identified as either exceptional or special needs and receive what is known as an IEP (Individual Education Plan). That information is added to their OSR (Ontario Student Record) and follows them throughout their elementary and high school education.
Usually, less informed parents gladly give their consent to the IEP designation for students destined for lower streams. It's explained to parents that this will give the child special help. No mention is made about the fact that this placement is permanent and follows kids through high school.
There is nothing bad about identifying children to determine if they need special help, because some children really need that.
The problem is that race is often a factor when streaming in high school is neither necessary nor fully justified.
Most students who are inappropriately placed in lower streams soon realize they've been channelled into dead-end courses that don't prepare them for anything.
Many are youth who were born and raised in Toronto or brought here when they were very young. They expect inclusive education and equal opportunity for employment. As a result, many black youth feel that all the time they spent in school was a waste.
Premier Dalton McGuinty needs to look beyond more social services and job creation in his search for solutions to gun violence.
The school system has to stop targeting African-Canadian children for special education designations inappropriately. That vicious cycle must be broken.
Bairu Sium is a teacher, teacher trainer and researcher.