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Ensuring Our Children’s Academic Wellbeing

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Ensuring Our Children’s Academic Wellbeing
By: Patricia Eno Falope CEO, Early Childhood Development Initiative

Under no scenario should police be called to remove a 4-year-old [child] from a school in this Province" (Minister of Education, March 2022).

Yes, the Ontario Minister of Education actually had to make this statement. Mind-blowing is it not? A school resorted to calling the police to remove a 4-year-old child. Before you wonder what, the child did, let me ask a question. What could a 4-year-old child do to so endanger the lives of others that police intervention becomes necessary? As someone with full awareness of the particulars of this case, I can assure you that the little child had neither gun, nor any materials that could be used as a weapon. Yet, the teachers and administrators were so fearful that the police had to be brought in to rescue them.


Picture it! Adult teachers, the vice-principal plastered to corridor walls quivering, knees knocking, overwrought with fear at the approach of the villain. The principal running desperately, slipping and sliding, gasping for breath, looking over her shoulders. Finally, reaching the phone, she dials 911, fingers shaking, whispers frantically "police, help, save us". Cymbals and drums crash, ominous sounds of impending doom. Elementary school attack! Will any survive the prowling, weaponless ... 4-year-old child? The story would be laughable if it did not carry such dreadful stigma and lasting trauma for the child and family. Sadly, the story becomes conceivable when the 4-year-old in question is from the racialized, and especially the Black community.


A few things come to mind for African families to know. The first being a reminder that racism is deeply embedded in the Canadian system. Racism exists not just in the education system, but across institutions and is well entrenched in the policies. Advocacy is working, but the wheels of change are slow. For continental Africans who hope that this is not true, it is time to acknowledge what the leaders of our country and province have publicly recognized. "Even though we've made strides forward in the fight against racism and discrimination, racism still exists in Canada" (Prime Minister Trudeau, 2020). The 4-year-old Black boy, transforms from a child undergoing the developmentally appropriate process of gaining increasing socialization, under the guidance of nurturing kindergarten educators. That Black body instead becomes imbued with negative (of course) super powers, capable of devastating destruction, and especially when male, constituting a threat to society. This underlying social construction of Black men links directly to the grossly disproportionate representation of the population within the criminal justice system.


The second thing that comes to mind is the critical position of parents as protectors and advocates for their children. Collectivist cultures nurture a sense of trust in the extended community. In many African countries, when the school reports a child to the parents, there is trust that the goal is to help the child succeed. In this context, however, parents have to recognize that this is the same system that set out with intentionality to take the "Indian" out of the Indigenous children. I am not attempting to tar all teachers and administrators with one brush, but rather to point out that there are systemic structures in place that promote an intolerance for the cultural differences that African children bring to the classroom.

In my work, we receive frequent reports from African parents, of pressure from the school to get their child diagnosed, of frequent calls to pick children up early, of unending negative reports totally focused on deficits with no recognition of children's strengths "too active", "too aggressive", "low understanding", "poor language" and so on.

While school boards are working to increase their capacity for diversity and inclusion, the system was not set up to understand other cultures. Parents therefore play a critical role in advancing that knowledge to the school. Rather than taking the perspective of the school knows best, parents must take the initiative to meet with teachers and administrators to explain their culture, their cultural expectations for children's development, the fact that the children will be gaining competence in the expected Canadian culture, while also maintaining strong capacity in their own culture. That dual competence is an immense task for children and will require time and patience. Parents should express their availability to provide their cultural perspectives and to work in honest partnership with the school to ensure their child's wellbeing. This contribution from African parents will help expand the cross-cultural ability of schools, increasing their capacity to be more supportive towards your child.

Trusting and listening to their children is another critical role that parents must play. Regardless of what a child is reported to have done, it is important that parents invite their child's side of the story, in the presence of the teacher or administrator. As an educator, I came to recognize a major cultural difference in parents’ response towards their children when they receive a negative report. Typically, immigrant parents would take ownership, apologize and castigate the child, whereas Canadian parents would physically lower to the child's level and say something like "did you have a bad day? What happened?". This seemingly minor reaction makes a huge difference in forming the teachers’ attitudes towards your child, and more importantly, in strengthening your child's sense of security and trust in you.

Finally, African parents must attend parent-teacher meetings. This is not an option! And beyond that, seriously consider becoming more engaged with the education system. Join the School Council. Join Regional School Board Committees. Attend School Board Meetings. Know the candidates running for School Trustee in the Ward and vote for the candidate who reflects your values. Better still, run for the position of School Trustee. Remaining on the sidelines means leaving the decisions regarding your child's educational wellbeing in the hands of parents who have little or no knowledge of your culture, values or your child.

When asked why they made the decision to move to Canada, most African parents report that giving their children a bigger platform for life success is one of the top two reasons. Let us step up to the plate and ensure that sacrifice is worthwhile.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Patricia Eno Falope
Patricia Eno Falope CEO, Early Childhood Development Initiative
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