Schooling the System: A History of Black Women Teachers

by Funké Aladejebi

Image of the book cover beside a photo of a bookshelf and opened book on a table.

Schooling the System: A History of Black Women Teachers by Funké Aladejebi deftly reviews the experiences of Black women teachers in Canada. For years, some Black women educators have experienced challenges within the education system. As they attempt to make a name for themselves within the system by seeking leadership positions, they are scrutinized and assumed not to be able to handle pressure. Many Black educators have been historically overlooked for high-ranking positions due to the colour of their skin. If lucky enough to gain employment within the teaching profession, they were not permitted to teach white students. Africentric education was missing from the curriculum. As Black educators were only allowed to teach Black students, they were forced to teach from a Eurocentric lens. Aladejebi noted that the creation of the Africentric Alternative School in Toronto “saw increased enrolment numbers and strong standardized test scores.” This evidence convinced some critics of the importance of centring Africentric education in the curriculum. Even though evidence showed that Black students weren’t underperforming, many were streamed into college-level courses while their white peers were placed into university level courses.

In the 1940s, the intersectionality of race and gender made it, and continue to make it, difficult for Black women in the labour market. “Educational qualifications did not translate into high economic rewards for Black Canadians.” Though educated and qualified, Black women found themselves unemployed; and, if employed, were paid significantly less than their white colleagues. As time progressed, it appeared that Black women were beginning to get the same opportunities as white women. In the 1950s, there was a teacher shortage. It forced Ontario to “allow Black women to enter the field.” An influx of immigrants from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) opened the proverbial door to allow Black teachers to be hired and educate the children from
the diaspora.

While there have been many challenges faced by Black women educators in the 1940s and on, it is essential to highlight the positive changes that have taken place. In 1992, the Ministry of Education amended the Education Act “to allow for the development and implementation of antiracist and ethnocultural equity policies.” The Ministry also established “an Anti-racism and Equity Division to hold school boards accountable for their work on equity-related issues.” Schooling the System is a must-read to better understand the long history of systematic anti-Black racism in the Canadian education system, and to situate the gains made as we work towards greater equality as Black women.

And while the book chronicles the steps that have been taken towards equality for Black educators and students, Aladejebi reminds us that, “until Canada’s long history of Anti-Black racism within its social institution is fully acknowledged and addressed, there will continue to be challenges facing racialized students and educators within.”

About Solange Scott
Solange Scott is the District 12, Toronto PSSP Bargaining Unit president and sits on the provincial Black Persons and Persons of Colour Advisory Work Group, Equity Advisory Work Group, and Status of Women Committee.

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