Segregation, for the children.
Despite tribal instincts, modern western sensibilities lean towards integration, to the point of homogenization. Whatever the medium, the message is clear. We’re one big happy family. But life is full of surprises.
The Vancouver School Board, home to the Diversity Team, fountain of many colours, where social engineers like board chair Patti Bacchus come to practice, wants to segregate aboriginal children in a “aboriginal choice” school. Odd, really, because in 2011 the board’s revised “Multicultural and Anti-racism Policy” crossed out race as a social construct, arbitrarily and with extreme prejudice. In the words of Diversity Team chief Lisa Pedrini, “Although science has proven the notion of races and racial differences to be false, the belief… is perpetuated despite evidence to the contrary.” Yet here we are, back to separate but equal.
The aboriginal experience occupies a curious place in the white liberal mind, which bears the weight of historical injustice. As aboriginal communities across Canada wallow in poverty and dysfunction, the white majority, colonists incarnate, remain guilty by association. And no remedy, no matter the cost, is unworthy of reflection.
So when Jo-Ann Archibald, associate dean for indigenous education at UBC, beat the segregationist drum in Vancouver public schools, Bacchus and friends fell in line.
In the United States, de facto segregation defines many inner-city schools, with dreary results.
For example, due to white flight and demographics, the Washington, D.C. school district is predominantly black. According to the U.S. Department of Education, D.C. spends $18,000 per student each school year, one of the highest averages in the country, yet ranks near the bottom of virtually every national achievement category.
Statistically, D.C. (123 public schools, 46,191 students) and Vancouver (110 for 55,994) share similar school traits. Like D.C., Vancouver boasts high per-pupil funding ($6,784) compared to nearby districts. The graduation rate for one D.C. school, Anacostia High, a one-time stop on Michelle Obama’s 2009 “motivational” tour, hovers around 37 per cent, close to the aboriginal graduation rate (32 per cent) in Vancouver.
More broadly, both communities—Canadian First Nations, black America—struggle with dysfunction. Rampant teen pregnancy, single-parent homes, widespread drug and alcohol abuse, poverty and high crime rates. To help, American charter schools, wildly popular in D.C., bus black kids out of brokenness to a better, safer education.
In Vancouver, all schools are safe and well-funded. And yet, with no evidence of future success, the school board wants to segregate aboriginal kids. Prince George launched an aboriginal school in 2010, too early to gauge success or failure. Like the Vancouver proposal, it’s open to students of all backgrounds—a caveat meant to deflect criticism.
According to the Vancouver School Board website, public meetings staged last year by Archibald demonstrated “clearly that stakeholders in aboriginal education believe a school is required which will honour aboriginal values, perspectives and philosophy.”
But wait. That’s already happening. The district employs aboriginal curriculum consultants and an aboriginal district administrator. Fully staffed aboriginal “resource rooms” operate in many schools alongside First Nations leadership training, culture and language programs. Two courses—B.C. First Nations Studies 12 and English 12 First Peoples—spotlight the aboriginal experience. Compared to all other groups, aboriginal students are richly served.
However, despite the best efforts of teachers and administrators, their impact remains limited compared to influences at home.
Finally, the school board last month completed a survey of Vancouver parents. Out of 304 survey respondents, 59 (37 aboriginal, 22 non-aboriginal) said they’d send their child to an aboriginal school while 146 (11 aboriginal, 135 non-aboriginal) said “no.” Ninety-six respondents (31 aboriginal, 65 non-aboriginal) said “maybe” with three undecided.
To recap, 19 per cent said “yes” to an aboriginal school in Vancouver. According to the survey summary, some “no” respondents decried this “form of segregation.”
Which explains why the survey, touted by Bacchus and friends before, was buried after. No website posting. No press release. Exposed only by a formal request from the Courier.
The aboriginal proposal will be discussed Wednesday at school board.