Book Review

Shunpiking Magazine
Black History & African Heritage Supplement
February/March, 2000, Volume 5, Number 32

FOR MANY Nova Scotians in Black communities, segregated schools were reality. For over 150 years, to 1964, the government of Nova Scotia maintained a separate and unequal system of education. Segregated schools also existed in Ontario until 1965 and, throughout Canada, for the Aboriginal peoples, as well as those of Chinese origin and others.

Education was a luxury shared by the privileged -- regardless of colour. Segregation was challenged by members of both black and white communities, as a component part of a struggle for genuine public education and to end the division of Canadians on a racist basis.

School conditions were often deplorable. Facilities, supplies resources, and wages were paltry. The content was Eurocentric. There were only three black university graduates in the first 135 years of settlement. While the training for teachers was limited, many overcame this barrier and made an invaluable contribution. Doris Evans, now retired and living in Dartmouth, is one of the surviving teachers.

In her book, Telling the Truth: Reflections: Segregated Schools In Nova Scotia, with fellow retired teacher Gertrude Tynes, Mrs. Evans relates her experiences. What stands out in reading it and talking with her are the many stories of the connection of the community to its school. Where funds weren't received from the school board, the difference was made good by the community through concerts and bake sales. Throughout, people strove to put the "public" in education and to abolish segregaed schools.

The end of formal segregation has not solved the educational problems facing the Black community. As recently as 1994, 60 per cent of Black youth in Nova Scotia aged 20-24 had not graduated from grade 11 and 30 per cent grade 10. Black youth are considered three times as much at risk of dropping out of school than other students. They often have to bus to other schools, and youth also face criminalizing by the police.

There are those who propose a solution to this ongoing crisis with a unique twist: they would like to return to segregated schools, arguing that Black students cannot learn in an environment where they constantly feel threatened. In response, Doris Evans and Gus Wedderburn, a former principal, state that to segregate schools now would mean going back in time. Wedderburn compares integration with modern technologies: "It's like saying we don't need television because there is violence ... you don't go back, you go forward."

*At the time of writing, Suzanne Rent was an intern at shunpiking before going on to attend Ryerson School of Journalism and becoming a professional journalist..

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