Education Action: Toronto

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3. Anti-Racist Education

What follows is a set of broad policies for an anti-racist education within our school system.

They are in early draft form. We hope you will contribute to strengthening these policies with us. Please send us your criticisms and your suggestions for change. We can be reached at

As a background to Education Toronto’s anti-racist’s policies, we are including an article by Antoni Shelton entitled “How do we build an anti-racist curriculum and culture in Toronto schools?” Antoni chairs Education Action: York West and can be reached at EA:YW’s website is In this article Antoni writes:
“It is our common humanity – the shared values of children and communities – that provides the core of an anti-racist curriculum and culture in our schools. Of course, different cultures, different histories, different languages have to be incorporated into such a curriculum and culture – and we’ll get to that in a short while – but it’s our common humanity in all its different expressions that counts most of all.”

How do we build an anti-racist curriculum and culture in Toronto schools?


We believe that policy on race and anti-racism in education rests on four foundations:
how we define race for the purposes of policy, how race fits within the determinants of social inequality and injustice, how the experience of racialization varies from group to group, and how we position race-related policies within our overall commitment to human rights.


Race can be used to classify human beings along an axis extending from purely biological definitions to purely socio-cultural definitions. Biological definitions view racial characteristics as fixed, essentializing, open to definitional refinement but not to change. Socio-cultural definitions allow for variation across cultures and through time, and the assigned characteristics are open to both definitional refinement and change. There have been and there still are those for whom either pole is sufficient unto itself as the basis for a definition. Most definitions, however, include a combination of biological or physical factors and socially constructed characteristics.

For progressive policymakers, biologically biased definitions (whether anthropometric or perceptually based) have no value, since they do not carry useful meanings with them into the educational process. If we believe that education can contribute to social progress, then we must consider race socio-culturally. All children’s chances of success in school must not be affected by whatever racial identity they assume or is assigned to them. All individuals must have access to full citizenship and well-being (physical, intellectual and spiritual) independently of questions of racial identity. To the extent that social constructions of race lead to stereotyping, profiling, false expectations, prejudicial discrimination and hostile behaviour, our policies must be designed to counteract those effects and everything that contributes to them.

Race and Social Inequality

Race is only one of the determinants of social inequality. Indeed, for many observers, social class (or socio-economic status) is a more salient determinant of social inequality. Gender, sexual orientation, age, physical or intellectual capabilities, behavioural characteristics, physical appearance, place of birth, place of ancestral origin, languages used, religious affiliation or opinions, political affiliation or opinions, and public records of past behaviour are other determinants of social inequality that have attracted attention as barriers to educational success. We have to be sensitive to these interlocking determinants, in order to ensure that by tackling one form of social injustice we do not overlook or exacerbate another. At the same time, we must not be derailed from addressing the most flagrant forms of social inequality out of a concern that we may be missing a connection with other forms. Currently, progressive educational thinking in North America connects racialized identities with socio-economic status as the most flagrant determinants of social inequality within schools. We believe that this must be our focus in race-related education policy, even as we remain mindful of the other intersecting social determinants of inequality.

The differentiated experience of racialized identities

The understanding of the effects of racialization varies significantly within any society stratified by social class and racial identity together. Those with wealth and power do not give the same importance to those attributes for their privileged position as do those who disproportionately lack wealth and power. Those with more are as clear in their own minds about the justice of their rewards as are those who have less about the injustice of their disadvantages. Those differences of perception frequently act as barriers to efforts to overcome the injustice of racial prejudice and discrimination. Anti-racist education addresses those differences in perception for the haves as well as the have-nots.

But a better understanding of how social injustice is created and experienced is only a first step. The education of future citizens has to include the determination to reduce such inequities and end such injustices. The knowledge and implementation of strategies to end them must be the responsibility of policymakers, administrators and educators alike. But the responsibility does not rest solely with them. The knowledge and means to put it to work must be passed on to the students in our classrooms as a central feature of the rights and responsibility of citizenship.

An overarching commitment to human rights

When societies recognize and deal with their diversity and the unfair treatment of racialized groups within it, public policy wavers between accommodation and assimilation.

Accommodation of difference in education can be beneficial. Examples in the classroom are flexible teaching strategies and diversity-conscious curriculum content. Examples beyond the immediate learning context are flexible school-community interactions and diversity-conscious employment practices.

But accommodation of difference can also be detrimental when differentiated placements ending up separating groups into different programs, classes or schools along lines of racial and social class difference. Streaming and profiling are both examples of this at work. Both reinforce and entrench social inequality in the outcomes such separations engender.

Assimilation is often invoked as the policy response to this danger. The effort to end discrimination and prejudice along lines of social difference often involves the effort to erase social difference. This is one of the explanations for positive outcomes arising from mainstreaming and a common curriculum. Two objections must be taken into account in the light of past experience.

Firstly, a shared, common learning experience in a context of existing inequality may do nothing to overcome the inequality. Indeed the psychological impact of the continuing inequality may actually reinforce or exacerbate it. Secondly, the classroom and the curriculum are both culturally conditioned. When the intake of that classroom is culturally diverse, the danger is that the assimilation policy becomes a homogenizing policy. That means that it privileges a dominant culture against others and privileges those most familiar with that culture to the disparagement or exclusion of those least familiar with it.

Underlying all this is a tension between an inert respect for cultural diversity and the impasse of cultural relativism. The progressive policy solution is a commitment to human rights in the pursuit of social change. Daily intercultural contact may well provide valuable occasions for mutual understanding of difference and shared respect. But the respect for diversity cannot leave room for the uncritical tolerance of social injustice and the abuse of human rights, whatever the cultural explanation may be.

Anti-Racist Education

We are for

  • A school system in which all students learn together what all citizens in a democratic society need to know without fear of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, home language, social class, wealth, gender and sexual identity, faith, physical and mental ability, and other characteristics used to assign identities to groups within the general population
  • A school system dedicated to the active pursuit of equity including racial equity wherever it is endangered
  • A school system that understands that racism is learned and can be unlearned in everything that it does
  • A school system that places an understanding of racism within an acknowledgement of the origins and consequences of the unequal distribution of wealth and power among social groups including racialized groups
  • A school system that monitors the outcomes of student choices and placements in order to ensure that principles of equity are being respected
  • A school system that will include a place for specialized schools only if they can show compliance with principles of equity, both in admission policies and in retention and graduation rates
  • A school system that acknowledges that it has a role to play in overcoming the social inequalities that affect the communities it serves
  • A school curriculum that is inclusive of the multipartite heritage of the school population, which means a deep respect for a sense of Canadian nationhood based on an understanding of three demographic components: the unique and privileged place that must be recognized in its first peoples, the historical significance of its founding peoples in defining its constitution, and its long history of immigration from all parts of the world that has enriched its cultural diversity
  • A school curriculum that makes an understanding of human rights and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship a central feature of what is learnt, how it is taught, and how schools operate
  • A school curriculum that engages students in debates over how struggles for social justice have failed and succeeded in different historical contexts and why
  • A school curriculum that views all local community members as full participants in the education of the community’s children, both within the school and beyond
  • A school system whose teaching staff, administrators and support staff reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the communities that it serves
  • Pre-service and in-service teacher training that compulsorily includes training in cross-cultural communication and anti-racist education within a framework of educational equity
  • A community use of schools policy that is monitored to ensure that the diversity of the community is reflected in the programs that take place on the school’s premises
  • A policy on fundraising in school communities that acknowledges the differences in wealth and power among those communities and attempts to remedy them
  • A discipline policy that is sensitive to the social and psychic injuries of racism and is administered in ways that ensure that no racialized social group is or appears to be placed in judgment over another racialized social group
  • An approach to instances of racism in schools and school communities that challenges even the least incidents of racist behaviour and that removes within 24 hours any physical traces of racism on school premises or property

We are against

  • A school system that develops anti-racist education in isolation from a systemic approach to equity-oriented education in all its aspects
  • A school system that groups students in schools, classes, or programs that re-inforce the chances of academic success for some at the expense of others, or that diminish the chances of access to the full range of learning opportunities in later life for any and all
  • A school system that builds its compensatory efforts around the promotion and re-inforcement of self-esteem to the exclusion of the urgent need to foster mutual respect and press for equity and social justice
  • A school system that allows the practice of social profiling (including racial and ethnic profiling) to infect recruitment, teaching, evaluation, placement, discipline or any other organizational feature of school life
  • A school system that tolerates even the least incidents of racist behaviour or the failure to follow up on racist incidents on the part of any of its officials in accordance with the principles of due pocess

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