In the final week of Black History Month, President Obama announced the creation of "My Brothers Keeper", a program targeted at improving the lives of young African American men. The well-meaning initiative reminded me of a similar program in Canada, so-called Africentric schools. Purportedly, such schools in Toronto have been a success, according at least to the Toronto Star and other, less high profile proponents. Nonetheless, what precisely is being celebrated? And has the program truly succeeded in any meaningful measure?
The Toronto Star, in a glowing and no doubt well-meaning article about the schools, describes its students as 'thriving.' This is of course wonderful and likely to be true. The relevant question is however, whether or not, but for the afro-centric school, those same students would not be "thriving."
There are other tremendously valid questions of course (even if such schools were shown to enable a set of students to excel, that would not necessarily mean they had sufficient merit) but setting that more complex point aside, consider the manner in which success of such an initiative may one day be measured; the problem is, one would expect higher test scores and improved behaviour from students who attend such a school, as the program (and this is important) will self-select parents who care more about their children and are engaged in their education.
Parents are required to enroll their children in the program, which means it screens automatically for parents who are involved in the lives of their children, have done research on the program and are more likely to be intimately involved in their children's education. In other words, precisely the criteria required to ensure your child is not dropping out of high school, underachieving or being "pushed out", prior to graduation.
It will be tremendously difficult to ascertain what academic success among students is a result of the program and what portion of the students would have excelled anyway. Conjecture on this point for many minds continues forever, but I am unfortunately burdened by what I know and cannot un-learn -- which is that the conjecture is unnecessary -- specialized schools always self select the parents most interested in their children's success.
So the quantitative results, although not yet in, will not be disappointing and will show improvement over average grades/ test scores at the very least (or best). They will not, however, plug the hole in the black community that gave rise to the need for such schools in the first place. Just as aboriginal schools (which already exist) have not and will not plug the hole that too many of its young people (they are our young people too) are tumbling through.
Facts are inconvenient things -- and sociopathic in the extent to which they are unconcerned with the "feelings" of those who stand in opposition to them. The fact is, as confirmed in countless studies, that the collapse of the black family within a segment of the black community (most concentrated amongst descendants of slaves) is the primary reason so many of our children fall through the cracks of society, to be broken against the hard, unbending steel of racism, prejudice, failure and depression.
We must all, depending on our fortune and fortitude, combat these evils to one degree or another. But those of us without a father in their lives, a father who lives in the same home as we do, will find those evils doubly strong, doubly determined, and doubly difficult to overcome. So long as an enormous portion of black children -- in the interest of speaking plainly here, children from the Caribbean and elsewhere who have survived the legacy of slavery -- are being raised by single mothers, there will be no filling of the hole leading to their fall. No cushion the state can provide, in Canada or the United States, large or soft enough to prevent many from breaking.
The real solution lies in telling our children the truth -- that the best way to ensure their children succeed is to ensure they are raised by two parents in a committed relationship -- in other words, two people who are married. Single parenthood has been a disaster for our community -- indeed, as statistics bare out, for all communities in which it is prevalent. One person cannot do it all; no parent can be a father and a mother. The very notion that a single mother can be a mother and a father (a vacuous idea I hear often) is as obtuse as it is demeaning to the role of father in the lives of their children. So long as so many black children are being raised in these homes, no amount of 'specialty schools' will save them.
Parents are the first teachers any children meet, their home the first classroom. Let's take a long, hard and honest look at that 'school' before blaming teachers, society, prattling on about specialty ones.
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