Black history important, month not: students

West Hill student Tashwna Jackson, (right) and friends
West Hill student Tashwna Jackson, right, says students should be taught all cultures in school.

Black History Month is officially underway in Toronto, and some local high school students are not impressed.

While the Toronto District School Board marks February as African Heritage Month and lists on its website ways schools can participate, many area students are not happy with the way black history is recognized.

“All year round, Canadian history is taught to me, and then there’s one month where we touch the tip of the iceberg on black history,” said Joseph Whiteway, a Grade 10 student at West Hill Collegiate. “Making it a month gives me the impression of racism, almost as if to say ’well, they need some attention, let’s just give them a month.’

“To me it seems unjust and unfair, that they only be appreciated strongly for a month,” he said.

Local high school students agree the contributions of black people are important.

“[Black people] have been oppressed and given us so much to learn,” said Samuel Prima, a Grade 9 West Hill student.

Hamza Bham, in Grade 10, agrees: “Black History Month shows how a race of people who faced much discrimination can accomplish a lot.”

Ashleigh Catibog-Abraham, also in Grade 10, also believes studying African history is important not “just in the black community, but for Canada as a whole.”

West Hill students say their school tries to recognize Black History Month in small ways. This includes pictures and quotes of famous black historical figures posted around the school, excerpts of African-Canadian and American accomplishments slipped into the morning announcements, and an assembly planned for the end of February.

Other suggestions to promote African Heritage Month listed on the board website are: discussing black stereotypes and racism in the media; researching how and when historical racial barriers were overcome, such as the first African-Canadian hockey player, judge, or doctor; and inviting community visitors to speak to the students.

Despite these suggested initiatives, some students said they do not learn much about black history in school.

“I remember learning a bit in my English class last year in February and it was because we were reading a novel that had to do with it,” said Anusha Panchakrishnan, a Grade 10 West Hill student. “I find it stupid that out of the 12 months, we only talk about black history in February.”

However, a board staff recommendation passed by trustees on Jan. 29 may lead to more balanced coverage of all ethnic histories in the curriculum.

According to the approved report, starting in September 2008, three existing schools will integrate “the histories, cultures, experiences and contributions of people of African descent and other racialized groups into the curriculum, teaching methodologies, and social environment.”

If this pilot program is successful and it is spread throughout the board, schools might not feel as pressured to cram all black history into one month.