Uncomfortable Conversations: Talking About Race In The Classroom

Good interview with Richard Milner of the Center for Urban Education at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Rac(e)ing to Class: Confronting Poverty and Race in Schools and Classrooms:

So how can teachers incorporate those outside realities into curriculum? You mention a case study in the book that involves a robbery that happened right around the corner from a middle school. When you talked to teachers at that school, what did you recommend?

I was doing a professional development session with the teachers, and I just posed a question. I said, “I’m wondering why you guys didn’t mention the robbery in the classroom,” and the educators in the room just got offended.

There was a guy who sat in the back and said, “I teach math and science, what does a robbery have to do with my teaching math and science?”

So I gave some examples: You could talk about the relationship between well-lit communities and those that aren’t. You could count the number of streetlights in a particular vicinity. You could pull up Google Maps and have the students guesstimate the amount of time it would take the police to drive from the police precinct to the robbery scene at different rates of speed. You could have the students look at the relationship between gun shop access and crime.

There are all these mathematical ways of engaging the incident and being responsive to the things that the students are concerned about. But it takes the teachers’ willingness to delve into, to be creative, and to be consistent with and align with the things that they’re supposed to be teaching. I would never tell a teacher to teach anything that they are not supposed to teach. Teachers can make lessons relevant and accessible to students and still align with and be consistent with the Common Core standards and so forth.

In the book you give examples from your classroom visits — but you don’t always offer solutions or answers. Why? Is that intentional?

So this work is contextual. With the cases, I really want teachers to read them to reflect about their own practices, to problematize them, to call me out and say “I disagree with this.”

Just because it’s complex and we don’t know for sure what’s going on doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be interrogating and trying to figure it out. And that’s where I think we really fall short.

We see that particular groups of students, like black and brown male students, are constantly being suspended and expelled from school, and we’ve got to stop it. We’ve got to recognize what’s going on, and we’ve got to address it. So with each case, it invites readers to strategize about what they would do in a particular situation.

Uncomfortable Conversations: Talking About Race In The Classroom : NPR Ed : NPR.

Inside the Qur’an — an author’s journey to the heart of Islam

Interesting interview with Carla Power, a former Newsweek journalist who studied the Qur’an over a year:

You describe movingly your father’s terrible and untimely death. How did that change your views on faith?

My father was murdered in Mexico in 1993. His death was the first time I saw the glimmering of the friendship that was going to happen with Sheikh Akram Nadwi. I ran into him in the office at Oxford and told him what had happened. He stood up and started reciting a poem from the Pakistani philosopher poet Muhammad Iqbal, an elegy to his mother. ‘Who will wait for my letters now? Who will wait for me in the night to return now?’ It was the most comforting thing I heard in the months of mourning. The notion that grief and death are universal and part of life was tremendously comforting. Later I realized what was holy to me as a secular humanist: connecting to other people who are different from you. If I do believe in something that is holy, it is that. The idea of recognizing and accepting differences is also a Qur’anic value.

Sheikh Akram has written a biographical dictionary of 9,000 female scholars in Islamic history. It seems extraordinary because I doubt most people can name even one.

The stereotype is a grey-bearded man in a mosque. But he found women who were riding across Arabia on camelback and horseback to do lecture tours. He found a woman in Samarkand who was issuing not only her own fatwas but writing fatwas of her less-talented husband. These are unthinkable freedoms for many women in this day and age. I thought that these women were forgotten for the same reason Western women had been until recently, that women’s history had been buried because it was mostly males writing about the corridors of power. But in the Muslim context there was another reason: Muslim notions of modesty and not putting women’s names in the public space.

What did the Qur’an reveal to you?

When I sat down for my first lesson with the sheikh I thought I would read the book and understand it like a good schoolgirl. But through the course of our lessons I realized it was so much bigger. We would discuss and debate the Qur’an and the hadith, the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad. To call the Qur’an a book would limit it to a human-made notion of what learning is. The only way I could see it in the end was a return, again and again, the 35-times-a-week prayers that many Muslims do. The Qur’an is a place you return to and learn of your God.

… You considered converting to Islam but didn’t. Can you talk about that?

A lot of my Muslim friends said, ‘Ah it starts by reading. You are going to convert, we know it.’ But I couldn’t make that leap. I found bits of the Qur’an were absolutely beautiful but I couldn’t make the interpretive leap that one has to. I admire it, I admire Islam but it’s not a bridge I can cross.

Inside the Qur’an — an author’s journey to the heart of Islam | Toronto Star.

First Nations chemo case ruling amended to include child’s well-being

A welcome development:

The clarification of a controversial court ruling that allowed the mother of an 11-year-old First Nations girl to pull her out of chemotherapy says the best interests of the child are “paramount,” but traditional medicine must be respected.

It is a “significant qualification” of Ontario court Judge Gethin Edward’s November 2014 ruling, according to one legal expert, which means the child’s well-being has to be balanced against rights to traditional medicine.

Nick Bala, a law professor at Queen’s University, says the clarification “walks back” the original ruling that put First Nations constitutional rights as the major factor to be considered in the care of the child.

The clarification, read in a Brantford, Ont. court Friday afternoon, comes with news the child restarted chemotherapy in March when the cancer returned after a period of remission.

The family’s lawyer, Paul Williams, said the clarification prevents the previous ruling regarding aboriginal rights as being interpreted as an ‘absolute.’ The child’s best interests must also be considered. (Jeff Green/CBC)

The joint submission from the auditor general of Ontario, as well as counsel for the Six Nations, the child’s family and McMaster Children’s Hospital, was celebrated as a collaborative conversation rather than a confrontation among the parties involved.

First Nations chemo case ruling amended to include child’s well-being – Latest Hamilton news – CBC Hamilton.

Chris Selley: Want to be atheist? Be coherent first

Chris Selley on Webber Academy losing its case against no prayer allowed on its premises:

But it’s not hard to see why they lost. Webber claims visible religious practice is a direct affront to its central ethos, but its ethos doesn’t seem to be very coherent: It allows students to wear turbans and hijabs, for example. The school tried to distinguish between garments as “a state of ‘being’” and prayer as “a visible activity,” which the tribunal kiboshed on principle; but in any event the activity wouldn’t have been “visible” had the school provided a private space. And Neil Webber, the school’s president, certainly did himself no favours by suggesting a student quickly crossing himself might not be a problem.

There was confusion as to what was allowed and what wasn’t: At the time they were enrolled, the students’ parents say they were assured prayer space could be made available; the school claims the exact opposite. In fact various teachers were happy to find them prayer space at first. And the confusion is understandable, considering it all rests on an interpretation of the term “non-denominational institution” that precludes prayer. That simply isn’t what “non-denominational” means. Per Oxford, it means “not restricted as regards religious denomination” (my italics).

A school that was more coherently dedicated to a religion-free environment might fare better

Webber is appealing. Sarah Burton, a lawyer at the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre, told CBC she wouldn’t be surprised if it wound up at the Supreme Court. But Richard Moon, a University of Windsor law professor who has written extensively on religious freedom, thinks the tribunal got it right. “The school purports to be open to students from all backgrounds,” he notes — indeed its statement of “beliefs and values” promises “an atmosphere where young people of many faiths and cultures feel equally at home” — “and so [it] must accommodate the students’ religious practices … if [it] can do so without great hardship.”

A school that was more coherently dedicated to a religion-free environment might fare better, however. “There is no reason to think that a strong, sincere and sufficiently comprehensive secular belief would not merit protection,” says Victor Muñiz-Fraticelli, a law and political science professor at McGill University: “a strong and principled atheism,” for example; or the French laïcité model promoted by the Agence pour l’Enseignement Français à l’Étranger — a French government agency that accredits francophone schools abroad, including several in Canada. Moon agrees, suggesting a “Bertrand Russell School” or “Richard Dawkins Academy” would also have better luck in the courts.

That’s cold comfort for Webber Academy. But the good news is that any school clearly articulating a “no prayer” policy is very unlikely to attract students for whom prayer is a daily obligation. And if it did, I’d like to think most people would consider any complainers far more unreasonable than the policy.

Chris Selley: Want to be atheist? Be coherent first

Public prayer debate doesn’t need to create winners and losers: John Milloy

Former Ontario cabinet minister John Milloy on public prayer:

In 2008, the legislature reviewed its policy concerning its practice of opening prayers. Although a decision was made to maintain the Lord’s Prayer as part of the daily routine, a rotation of prayers from other religions was added. Each day members begin by also hearing a recitation from one of Ontario’s other faith traditions — Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and many others. Recognizing many Ontarians hold no religious views, a moment of silence is also included in the rotation.

The Ontario system is far from perfect. The continuing presence of the Lord’s Prayer troubles some, but within the Ontario practice may be the seeds of a different approach to the present situation.

A city council meeting that began each meeting with a prayer or reading from a different faith community would send a powerful message of respect for our many religious traditions. Including a moment of silence or a non-religious reading or meditation would give non-believers an equal and important voice. An approach such as this has been successfully used by the City of Edmonton. Each municipal meeting begins with a prayer or reflection, some non-religious in nature, chosen from a roster suggested by community members.

Politics is a rough-and-tumble game. It is easy in this hyper-partisan political world to lose sight of your immense responsibility as well as the seriousness of the issues before you. Taking a moment before the opening of a session and thinking about the gravity of the situation through prayer or reflection can be beneficial. Anything that reminds politicians that there is something beyond their own self-interests and the need to win re-election can only lead to better decision-making.

Whether approaching this ritual along the lines suggested would comply with the Supreme Court ruling is a question for legal experts and ultimately the courts themselves. But we have to find a way to make our diverse society work. Religious faith has much to offer. Religious traditions have often been at the forefront of progressive change, they are not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom and call on all of us to focus on something that transcends our immediate selfish needs. A society where no effort is made to accommodate and celebrate these beliefs and relegate them to merely a “private matter” is one that is greatly diminished.

Public prayer debate doesn’t need to create winners and losers | Toronto Star.

Why Mark Saunders is a ‘bittersweet’ appointment for Toronto’s black community

More on the appointment of Mark Saunders as the new police chief of Toronto:

Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Clunis, who became Canada’s first black police chief in 2012, disagrees. The Jamaican-born police-chaplain-turned-chief says his black identity features prominently in his leadership, and is a significant asset in a racially divided city.

Winnipeg is often the focus of national criticism for the high level of violence involving the city’s First Nations population; earlier this year, Maclean’s magazine said Winnipeg was “arguably Canada’s most racist city.”

Clunis believes his heritage allows him to identify with some of the challenges facing aboriginal residents.

“Cultural understanding is what you can help to build into your community as a chief of police, because you do have that perspective,” he said in an interview this week. “Sometimes it’s very difficult to understand something unless you’ve actually experienced or walked in that particular shoe yourself.”

Clunis, who knows Saunders well and calls him a “fantastic guy,” said he will bring to the job a greater understanding of the black community and what its members experience — “he understands what it means to walk in that skin as he goes up and down the street.”

Asked in 2011 if the homicide squad needed more black officers to help solve the high number of shooting deaths among black men, Saunders — then head of homicide and the only black officer in the unit — said it was not necessary. The colour of his skin did not give him an advantage, he said.

“When I walk into the room, I am a police officer first,” he said at the time.

Asked this week if he felt there was a heightened expectation he would be able to ease racial tensions in the city because he is black, Saunders gave an honest response. It is also one that should be promising, considering that his legion of supporters within the force all point to one major strength: the man listens.

“Being black is fantastic. It doesn’t give me superpowers,” he said. “What will happen is there will be lots of open dialogue, lots of talking. More so than ever before.”

Why Mark Saunders is a ‘bittersweet’ appointment for Toronto’s black community | Toronto Star.

Bill Blair wants to run for Liberals in fall election

Quite a coup, and interesting the public reasons for Blair choosing the Liberals over the Conservatives.

So while the Conservatives have Julian Fantino (also a former Toronto police chief) of veteran abuse fame , the Liberals have Bill Blair who, while not without controversies, talks the language of inclusion. Advantage Liberal:

The recruitment of Blair is a coup for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and a boost for the Liberals in Toronto and across the country, given the profile of the former police chief, a senior party official told the Star.

“He’s an excellent community leader. He’s got a depth of experience I don’t think you would find anywhere else in the country,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“We’re thrilled,” the official said.

In going with the Liberals, Blair rejected strong arm-twisting by the Conservatives to run with them, including personal overtures by senior cabinet ministers, a source said. Blair declined to comment, saying only that he had “respectful discussions” with a “number of people.”

“I was asked to consider a number of different options for the future,” he said. “I’ve made my choice and for me, it’s a values-based choice.”

Blair says his decision was cemented in personal discussions with Trudeau. It was influenced, too, by a major speech the Liberal leader gave in March that laid out a vision for liberty and diversity in Canada while condemning the Tories for a “corrosive” style of politics.

“It really for me articulated some of the things I really believe in and the things that I think make communities safer and more livable,” Blair said.

“In my conversations with Mr. Trudeau, I felt there was a tremendous alignment in our values,” Blair said.

In his speech, Trudeau accused the Conservatives of deliberately stoking terror worries among Canadians, warning “fear is a dangerous thing.”

Blair picked up on the theme saying that the “great threat to public safety is fear.”

“I understand the very real threat that terrorism presents to Canadian society and I think we’ve got to do everything we can to fight extremism and violence,” he said.

But he said that the communities impacted by radicalization cannot be further isolated as part of that terror fight.

“Their help is critically important. I would not in any way further alienate them or isolate them. I would want to include them in the solution,” he said.

Bill Blair wants to run for Liberals in fall election | Toronto Star.

The real reasons why migrants risk everything for a new life elsewhere: Saunders

Good in-depth piece by Doug Saunders, putting the current situation in context:

Even in its worst years, the Mediterranean boat-people flow is only a small part of the migration picture: tens of thousands of entrants in a continent of half a billion people that receives three million immigrants a year. Most Africans living in Europe are fully legal, visa-carrying immigrants who arrive at airports. Even the majority of illegal African immigrants in Europe aren’t boat people: They’re legal visitors who’ve overstayed their visas.

What has compounded the matter during the past 24 months has been the conflict in Syria. While only a fraction of people fleeing that country have attempted to go to Europe – the vast majority are encamped in Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon – that fraction has multiplied the numbers of boat people dramatically in 2014 and 2015. It now accounts for perhaps half of Mediterranean boat migrants (though the boat that was the subject of last weekend’s tragedy carried passengers almost entirely from sub-Saharan Africa).

Refugees tend to be temporary (the much larger exodus of asylum seekers that confronted Western Europe during the Balkan wars of the 1990s – a population shift that seemed even more intractable – mostly returned to their countries after the conflicts ended), and are dealt with through different policies than are migrants. In Europe, those policies are deeply dysfunctional, with little agreement among the 28 EU countries about how to handle refugee claimants or how to deport illegitimate ones – which has contributed to the death toll.

“There should be no reason for Syrian refugees to be getting on these boats, except that there has been no proper pathway for safe refugee acceptance opened up,” Dr. de Haas says. If Western countries would take their United Nations refugee responsibilities more seriously, Syrians wouldn’t be dying at sea.

The most insidious notion is the one that holds that the Africans on the boats are starving villagers escaping famine and death. In fact, every boat person I’ve met has been ambitious, urban, educated, and, if not middle-class (though a surprising number are, as are an even larger number of Syrian refugees), then far from subsistence peasantry. They are very poor by European standards, but often comfortable by African and Middle Eastern ones. And no wonder: The boats cost upward of $2,000 to board (and you need more money to make a start in Europe). That’s a year’s income in many African countries.

Why would somebody risk their life, and their comfort, for a journey that at best would promise a marginal life in the underground economies of Europe?

Linguère Mously Mbaye, a scholar at the Bonn-based Institute for the Study of Labour, conducted a study of hundreds of people in Dakar, Senegal, who were planning to make the crossing to Europe.

The migrants tended not to be very poor. And they tended to be well-connected in Europe: They knew large numbers of people from their home country already living in Europe and working in similar occupations. In other words, they were tied into “migration networks” that communicated information about employment, small-business, housing and migration opportunities. Migrants tend to choose their European destinations not according to culture, language or history, but according to the number of people from their network who are living there – and also according to the economic success of their destination country.

The Syrian refugees are less tactical – and not as well linked into existing economies – than the Africans, but they, too, tend to come because they have connections to people or organizations in Europe. Concludes Dr. Mbaye, “Illegal migration starts first in thoughts, based upon the belief that success is only possible abroad.”

Both major studies found that the Africans who get onto the boats are not running from something awful, but running toward a specific, chosen opportunity, in employment or small business.

That’s a big reason that the boat-people flows have gone up and down so dramatically: Dr. de Haas’s studies found that the main driver of cross-Mediterranean migration is not any economic or political factor in Africa but “sustained demand [in Europe] for cheap labour in agriculture, services, and other informal sectors.” Even those who are fleeing – the Syrians, some Eritreans – are choosing where they flee based on a sense of opportunity.

The real reasons why migrants risk everything for a new life elsewhere – The Globe and Mail.

Racism fuels terrorism recruiting, says visiting French justice minister

Hopefully, Canadian ministers will listen to her words with an open mind and recognize that radicalization has also to be considered from a socio-economic, not just a security perspective:

The marginalization caused by racism has an alienating effect that makes people more vulnerable to terrorist recruiters, says France’s visiting justice minister.

Christiane Taubira knows of what she speaks: as France’s most prominent black politician, she has faced repeated public racist slurs in her country.

Taubira made it clear that she doesn’t see being discriminated against as an explanation or excuse for terrorism.

“I’m not sure I want to understand the causes of terrorism,” she said in an exclusive interview Thursday at the French Embassy in Ottawa. “Terror is terror, just absolute.”

But Taubira said there is a link between a young person being pushed to the margins of society and “how easy” that makes it for a terrorist to recruit them, especially using the Internet.

“Because it’s so easy for (terrorists) to say, ‘You will be very important because you will be very powerful, you will be able to kill, and afterwards you will be happy,’” she said.

“The link is there. It’s easy to convince young people that there is a better life in terrorism than in hoping in the society.”

Taubira said being on the receiving end of some vicious racist slurs has only made her stronger.

“It keeps me vigilant because I realize how violent a society is against so many people who are not as strong as I am. I’m strong because I’ve been fighting for a long time.”

She said this week’s appointment of Toronto’s first black police chief, Mark Saunders, carries the sort of symbolism that can give some young people a sense of hope. But she was quick to add: “I don’t want just one person on TV, one person in the government … I want equality for all.”

Taubira was on a visit to meet her federal counterparts in Ottawa, Justice Minister Peter MacKay and Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, and will travel to Montreal on Friday.

Racism fuels terrorism recruiting, says visiting French justice minister (paywall)

Blair urges officers to reach across cultural divisions in parting words as police chief

Despite all the controversies (G20, carding etc), good parting words on inclusion:

In his parting words as police chief, Bill Blair asked officers to reach across cultural divisions – including, perhaps, those that separate them from civilians.

“More than half the citizens of our city have chosen to come here,” Chief Blair, two days before ending his 10-year term, told hundreds of top-ranking Toronto Police Service officers at his retirement gala dinner on Thursday.

“The reason they’ve chosen to come here is because this is a place of inclusion,” he said. “It’s more than merely tolerance… it is an example to the world.”

Chief Blair was appointed in April 2005, the youngest-ever Toronto police chief at the time. After a career partly spent walking a beat in Regent Park, his term was marked by breaks with tradition. On the day of his appointment, he acknowledged publicly that racial profiling existed within the force. He went on to heavily recruit women and members of ethnic minorities.

Ten years later, Chief Blair is ending his policing career amid criticism related to racial profiling, as well as much praise over his wider work as chief. One of his last acts as chief was to negotiate future terms for a policy that has long angered Toronto’s black communities–“carding,” in which officers stop and question people who aren’t suspected of a crime.

He has said repeatedly that the practice, which many critics would like to see abolished, is a useful public safety tool.

But in Thursday’s speech, he also asked officers in general terms to understand others’ perspectives.

“Let us all be careful,” he said. “Let us be careful that we do not succumb to…those forces, that would divide us, those forces which would separate us, those forces that would make us afraid of each other.

“Let us always be careful to return to each other, to support each other, and to be that place of social cohesion and inclusion that we should all aspire to be,” he said. “Because that’s what makes the city of Toronto, the country of Canada, an extraordinary place.”

More should follow this example.

Blair urges officers to reach across cultural divisions in parting words as police chief – The Globe and Mail.