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26 Nov 2005

"Without education, you''re not going anywhere in this world." -- Malcolm X

I was by no means a fan of high school, but I knew I had to go. I know many others who disliked it and eventually dropped out.

But education is vitally important. According to Ontario Education Minister Gerard Kennedy, the province’s high school drop out rate in 2003-04 was 32%. And if you consider that four years in high school can either make or break a student depending on the school they go to and how well they do, that statistic becomes even more important.

From an early age, students must decide whether they are going to university, college/trade school or straight to work.

For Black students, there is more to worry about. According to Toronto teacher Bairu Sium,[read Bairu''s recent Now Magazine article on education ] “Black students say they often don''t get asked questions and start being streamed away from academic paths as early as kindergarten.”

Black kids also have an especially hard time in school because they are not taught about themselves, their culture and the contribution of their ancestors, something that can make them feel like they belong to this country. Also they must deal with the social elements of school and the sometimes ignorant teachers and guidance counselors. Bairu says that “Black students still deal with mostly white guidance counselors and teachers, so I am cynical about what gets done to encourage them. The kids start to see themselves as non-academic. We need to show what can be done to encourage their potential.”

The most significant moment of my high school life was when I went to see my guidance counselor in my final year. I wanted to go into computer science. My goal was to go to university. I had good grades especially in that last year. But instead of guiding me and pushing me to apply to different universities, my counselor indicated that I wouldn’t be accepted anywhere and therefore I should apply to college. Thankfully for me, I didn’t listen to him. I chose some universities and applied. That experience led me to be weary of guidance counselors and teachers. That also taught me to listen to myself more and always do what I wanted to do.

Being a smart black youth is not easy. You will be called a “nerd” and many other awful names.
When I was in school, I was called the “professor” since I was doing quite well. I had to dumb myself down and develop an attitude problem in order to fit in and be cool. It was hard to be taunted everyday by the same people over doing homework and getting good grades. I responded by isolating myself from all the madness and just studying. The drive to study stems from the passion to want to achieve something higher than settling for whatever is given to us. As Malcolm X said: "education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today."

My mother and my older brother helped me get through school. I remember my mother always making an effort to show her face at school. She always told the teachers and administrators that she was keeping an eye on them and would not let them get away with anything.

Parents need to take an interest in what their children are doing. None of my high school friends went on to higher education. The one thing they all had in common was that they didn’t have the support or the push to go forward. I believe that is what a lot of the youth today lack. Many have no one to push them on and show them the possibilities that lie ahead. Many of the troubled youths in the GTA can be saved if the extra time was taken with them. And maybe “the single black-focused school” idea advocated by Lloyd McKell, the equity chief at the Toronto District School Board is an option to explore. I don’t think it will solve all the problems, but I do know that something must be done soon or we are going to lose many more children.

Ultimately, a lot of the responsibility on how well students do in school falls on the students themselves. Many kids make the wrong choices early by being lazy, not doing homework, not caring about school altogether, and focusing solely on sports. Of the people that I’ve known over the years many have turned to drugs. Some even deal. Others just settled for the easy way out and didn’t push for something greater. I always remember my brother saying “if you work hard now later on it will pay off”, which I’ve come to find out is true. Working hard gives options: success in high school opens up opportunities for scholarships to the colleges and universities of your choice which in turn opens up many more opportunities for graduate school or a job (if that’s what one wants). It is like a train slowly moving ahead and if derailed before reaching its destination, it’s hard to get back on. As Bairu states "Inequality and poverty are huge topics, but education is something we can work with. It''s in our hands. We can change it and give students hope."

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