After some reflection, I realized that my questions revealed some of my own guilt; guilt for advancing through a school system that seemed to fail my peers; guilt for my unearned privileges that supported my growth and development and quest for knowledge; guilt for feeling that I did not belong in a space where I excelled academically.
In an attempt to gain further insight into the lasting impacts of streaming, I facilitated a virtual roundtable discussion with eight of my closest high school and neighbourhood friends - all Black people now in their late 20s and early 30s. Of the 8 respondents, 3 were female, and 5 were male. I think it is also important to note that the neighbourhood in which we grew up was and continues to have a high immigrant population and is considered “at risk” with high crime rates. The goal of this meeting was to reflect on our late middle school and high school experiences and to critically analyze some of the potential lasting effects that high school had on our lives. The scope of our discussion was focused on looking into the potential lasting impacts of Grade 9 streaming.
From this sample group, it is evident that the lasting effects of Grade 9 streaming for Black youth living in marginalized communities are profound. To begin with, there were three recurring sentiments amongst my academic friends. The first lasting effect of Grade 9 streaming for them resembled my own feelings of guilt. When I questioned why they felt this sense of guilt, a friend shared that they felt as though they had not done enough to help other struggling Black friends and peers. This overall feeling of guilt due to abandoning peers tended to be shared amongst the university graduates of the group. Guilt persisted throughout high school, and university, and even now during the professional years.
The second lasting impact that we discovered was an impostor phenomenon. (Authors Bridgette J. Peteet, LaTrice Montgomery, and Jerren C. Weeks describe Imposter phenomenon or IP, as "an internal feeling of intellectual phoniness that is often experienced by high achievers and also occurs among URM (underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities). The friends who were streamed into the academic route, who subsequently attended University, spoke of trying to find ways and spaces to fit in. One was that some learned to overcome this by “code-switching” out of a dialect popularized by many Black Torontonian youth heavily influenced by Jamiacan patois, and into mainstream Canadian English.
The third lasting impact that I noticed was an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Friends who were streamed into academic classes described themselves as fortunate and spoke of their indebtedness to parents and siblings who were aware of the system and had the tools to guide them along the way.
Amongst my applied streamed friends, I wish I could say that the impacts were as minor. There are three significant things that I noticed. The first impact on them are very strong sentiments of regret. This regret comes from having to play catchup during their adult years to attain skills and professional opportunities that they feel they should have already secured. I noticed that all of my friends who were streamed into the applied route are aware that some of their marks were not far off from some of our friends who were streamed into the academic route, yet they still share a conflicting sense of responsibility for ending up there.
This leads to the second major lasting sentiment that I noticed - significant resentment towards some of their old teachers, schooling and the education system. There was a common sense that because they and their families were not totally aware of what applied streaming meant, they had been led down a path that was not in their best interests - a dead end. One friend elaborated that as a result of being lead down this path, he had to spend much of his young adulthood filling in the gaps, proving to himself and others that he was not “dumb”, and proving that he was capable of abstract theoretical thinking.
Thirdly, for those who managed to bridge the gaps in postsecondary education in order to establish sustainable careers, we realized that there is a definite need to overcompensate now particularly when it comes to work and career, in an attempt to prove oneself and to make up for everything they think they missed.
Moreover, we asked ourselves what impact the end of Grade 9 streaming will have for the Black community and other racialized and marginalized people. We concluded that it will decrease the ability for teachers to use their bias to stream students from a young age, it will limit the division between students and limit the feelings of guilt and abandonment, and it will limit the stigmatization and self-doubt that young students face as they question their own intelligence. It is our hope that to this end, unnecessary psychological stressors will begin to decrease for Black, racialized and marginalized communities so that they will have a higher capacity to focus on their own positive mental health and acquire a love of lifelong learning that transcends any further barriers they may face within the formal education system.
Elesha Daley is a teacher with the York Region District School Board. She is currently completing a Master of Education degree with a focus on themes, patterns, and impacts of race in education. Find her on Twitter: @MissEleshaMay