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Dennis, Erica. “The Experiences of Black High School Girls in the Toronto Education System: A Race, Class and Gender Analysis.” M.A. Thesis, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, 2003.


The purpose of this study is to critically examine the experiences of Black high school girls in the Toronto educational system with respect to issues of racism, sexism and class inequality. It will also explore whether and/or to what degree implementing alternative versions of schooling for these girls can lead to different outcomes not only in their education, but in their whole lives. What type of education did they receive? What were the teachers’ attitudes to Black girls? How did their race, gender and class affect their gaining a meaningful education?

Two sources of data are used for this research. Data was first collected from a review of literature that speaks to the experiences of Black students in general and Black female high school students in particular. Common themes from this literature review were also identified and examined. The second source of data is from the Self; that is, an account of the author’s lived realities in high school and the tremendous challenges she faced. Overall, the data collection and analytical stages will include not only reflection and analysis, but also reinvention and discovery of the personal self.

The education system is still a powerful bastion of racism, sexism and classism. It is partly through the activities of schools that the reproduction of racism and sexism is confirmed. Black women are not regarded as playing a special and specific part in the schools and in the curriculum; instead, it is as if they do not exist. It is assumed that the experiences of White males are general to other sectors of the population. Another way in which invisibility is illustrated, aside from simply disregarding Black women, is the production of interpretation and explanation from a White male viewpoint as if it is the only legitimate stance. This study also finds that the curriculum is discriminatory by providing Blacks with few role models and failing to mention the contributions that Blacks have made to Canadian society.

This study includes a discussion of: a herstorical perspective of Black women in Canada; a review of relevant literature concerning the educational experiences of Black women; teachers attitudes towards Black students; the relationship between curriculum and representation; and personal reflections from a critical anti-racist and Black feminist standpoint.

Students do not enter schools as generic, disembodied youths. Questions of racial identity are real, and race is a significant part of a student’s identity. The education system needs to take on an anti-racist discursive framework as well as a Black feminist framework to better address the needs of Black females, who are presently made to feel inferior and devalued due to their race, gender and class. This has to be done from a critical non-European framework, and teachers can play their part by promoting ways of knowing and behaving that may not be considered in the mainstream curricula.

Mary Chaktsiris