Learning Lessons Anything but Elementary

January 29, 2007

Author: Jennifer Lewington

Source: The Globe and Mail


As more and more visible-minority students step through the doors of Toronto-area schools, education officials brag about their warm welcome: websites in multiple languages, special English classes and adjustments for religious practices.

But among many visible-minority parents, frustration and anger runs deep over a system they say leaves too many of their children lagging academically or unfairly targeted for discipline.

"They don't know which door to open," says Alimamy Bangura, a founder of the Muslim Educational Network. "That is the problem that leads to frustration and frustration leads to anger . . . We have to bring down the wall."

Canadian-born education activists empathize with newcomer parents who come with little English and no knowledge of school rules here.

"The system works on a series of secret handshakes," says Annie Kidder, founder of Parents for Education. "Schools are a foreign institution. There is not the same level of understanding [among parents] on how it is supposed to work."

The barriers between school and home take many forms: teacher jargon; parent-school councils with little scope to talk meaningfully about curriculum and student achievement; highly-variable school discipline policies; and the culture shock for immigrant parents now expected to show up at school even when their children are doing well.