Race to Equity: Disrupting Educational Inequality

Tim McCaskell

Published by Between the Lines, 2005
ISBN 10: 1896357962 / ISBN 13: 9781896357966
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Synopsis: Race to Equity is a dazzling, detailed view from the inside of the experiments, successes, and mistakes in the Toronto Board of Education's quest to provide truly equitable education for a diverse student body. For almost three decades McCaskell and his colleagues fought to reshape the system. Their attempts to deliver anti-racism, anti-sexism, and anti-homophobia education garnered national and international attention. McCaskell's astute blend of personal reflection and political theory illuminates a time of significant social struggle, cultural transformation, and deep learning. Drawing on a number of sources--his own memories, interviews with key participants, Board minutes, academic theory on different aspects of the work, and the wealth of documents produced along the way--McCaskell traces narrative threads through the "booming buzzing confusion" of institutional and social transformation. The result is a magical blend of personal reflections and political theory.

From the Author:
"So if what we're looking at now is McJobs, then we're looking to train people to become hamburger flippers. The vision of education that was predominant in the old Toronto Board was not that."
Tim McCaskell

in conversation with Adam Rennie, April 2005

ADAM RENNIE: What compelled you to write this book?

TIM MCCASKELL: Well, I left the Toronto School Board in 2001 in the midst of the Harris Revolution, having seen, in the previous 3 or 4 years, not only the work that we had done destroyed, but the memory of it disintegrated, so that nobody, other than a few of us who had been involved, seemed to have any idea of what had been done--a situation exacerbated by the amalgamation of the Board, when a whole bunch of new people who had never been involved were suddenly in positions of power. So my major motivation was to try to preserve the memory of what had been done for those 20 years.

I guess a second motivation was personal therapy, because it had been a very dispiriting experience to see all our work destroyed, and I really wanted to revisit the times when the world had been much more hopeful. In a certain way, it was quite therapeutic to remember what had been accomplished, which, as it turned out, allowed me to figure out exactly how things had been connected, because when you're in the thick of it, there's often a whole lot of stuff you don't pay attention to.

AR: You've clearly witnessed a lot in those 20 years. Considering all the setbacks and everything you've seen, how far do you think we've come in the race to equity?

TM: We came a long way--although right now I would say that we are, in many respects, worse off than we were before that struggle began in the early 70s. The important thing that has remained is a vocabulary for describing different kinds of oppression, and that vocabulary seems to have seeped into a kind of a general consciousness. In the early 70s, people were really struggling for names to call things and often didn't have real concepts. Certainly, that is now available, so it's easier to talk about what's happening.

But in terms of a systemic response, we are worse off. For example, one of the things that the old Toronto Board did from the early 70s was to collect data on students on a regular basis that included information on socio-economic class, gender, first language, and race. It was relatively easy to correlate student success and student streaming to all of those kinds of factors, which meant that you could then begin to look for ways of changing the situation and engage in a critique of the way the system was shaping the lives of particular students, based on race and gender and other factors. Now, after much lobbying and fighting, the trustees have finally pushed through a motion to begin gathering those statistics again, but the administration of the Board is doing everything it can to make sure that that doesn't happen, because this kind of thing is "so controversial." They're now involved in some kind of bizarre process of setting up an expert advisory committee, which would include luminaries from God-knows-where to guide this terribly controversial project. As a result, nothing is happening. What is really galling about all this is that one or two of the people who actually did that kind of work in the Toronto Board were the only people in the country who really have experience with doing it, and have been completely iced out of the process. They are now approaching retirement, so if they don't begin to do this work and pass on their experience to a new generation, the ability to do this will be completely lost.

The Board is saying that because this gathering of information is so controversial, we're going to have to get some outside organization--probably some big American firm--to do it, which will cost millions of dollars, when it could be done in-house for next to nothing. And that will mean that since it costs so much money, it will only be done once and they'll be off the hook. That's simply an example of how far we've slid back--something that was obviously important and done without controversy twenty years ago now becomes this incredible hot potato that everybody is bouncing around.

AR: So given this current climate, what do you see as the challenges--the work that needs to be done NOW to further equity programs in our schools?

TM: Well I think it goes beyond equity programs

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Title: Race to Equity: Disrupting Educational ...
Publisher: Between the Lines
Publication Date: 2005
Book Condition: Very Good

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