From the editor

| August 18, 2014 | 0 Comments

But there has never been a more interesting time to be involved in education!” was my astonished answer to a recent question: “Isn’t writing about education boring?”

Heeding the ancient curse: “May you live in interesting times”, I might add, these are crucial and indeed dangerous times for schools and schooling too, in too many parts of the world to mention here; where tragedies are unfolding that demand urgent solutions. On page 18, for example, we cover the humanitarian disaster unfolding on the Rio Grande and just one of its causes, the infiltration of drug cartels into schools in central America.

Some issues have older roots. In our ‘Conversations’ section on page 30, two writers recall watershed moments in history: Lars Laamann remembers that “On 4 June 1989… I turned on the TV set… the only announcement to be broadcast was a sombre sign reading “Tiananmen Square is being cleansed with blood”” and Murray Thomas, head of St Peter’s College in Johannesburg, recounts how St Peter’s Prep “remember[ed] the… 1976 youth protests in South Africa”. To connect today’s young people to global issues of social justice, explains Murray, in the weeks preceding 7 May 2014 when South Africans went to the polls, the young St Peter’s pupils participated in their own age-appropriate but equally important mock elections around pertinent school issues.

More and more teachers and other education stakeholders also believe that the time is ripe for changes of all kinds in our schools (almost 40 years after the Soweto school riots).

I make this assertion because, for this edition, we received record numbers of contributions from passionate authors eager to share how their institutions and initiatives are working to create positive perceptions of South African schooling, (see, for example, ‘Is South Africa bottom of the class in maths and science? Why ranking is risky’, on page 34).

These authors concur with what Michael S. Roth, president of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, in the US, has written in an article (page 54) adapted especially for our readers from his new book, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters (Yale: 2014): “‘[C]ritical thinking’… often means that [students] have gotten rewarded for showing they can find ‘mistakes’ in somebody else’s work… is it not more interesting to put ourselves in a frame of mind [to be open to] inspiration?”

The nine ISASA schools who submitted snippets to this edition of Independent Education about extra-special recent events are undoubtedly infused with inspiration. So, too, is the African School for Excellence on the East Rand. Its principal, Mampho Langa, believes the school “signals the birth of a revolution in township education” (page 36).

On page 51, Lara van Lelyveld tells us of a triumphant teaching moment in a gender-conscious class at St Nicholas Diocesan School in Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal: “I could have leapt for joy. Here was a young man who had… taken on board larger abstract concepts of how societies are organised, and who was applying this knowledge to what he saw around him.”

At Southern Cross Schools in the lowveld (page 64), ‘bush lore’ is a key curriculum driver and in the big city, Marc Falconer – the first non-Jewish head of King David High School – writes on page 21, at an apposite moment in world history: “One of the reasons I took this job was because I was fascinated to probe… what makes this people so resilient…”

The story of FastracKids Sandton, which utilises ‘educational zigzagging’, (page 40), is also a reminder of a larger current education debate. The school is one of 160 licensees, all part of FasTracKids International Ltd., a franchising organisation educating thousands of children in more than 30 countries.

It is an example, says ISASA executive director Lebogang Montjane on page 12, of a shift. “New entrants into independent education provision,” observes Montjane, “are turning to… for-profit models, rather than the benevolent motivations of founders of schools established in earlier times”. The issue is further explored on page 26 in an article about the American charter schools movement; on page 19 where we cover the collapse of Swedish for-profit firm, JB Education; and will certainly be a future focus for this magazine.

All the stories in this edition point to a fundamental characteristic of sustainable independent schools: their recognition of the need to be open to change, be it wholescale, or small-scale. It thus seems right to offer you the words (the entire magnificent and totally relevant speech is worth revisiting) offered by Rd. Martin Luther King, Jr, in June 1965, to the Oberlin College of Ohio graduating class:

There are all too many people who, in some great period of social change, fail to achieve the new mental outlooks that the new situation demands… There can be no gainsaying of the fact that a great revolution is taking place in our world today. It is a social revolution, sweeping away the old order… In a real sense, the idea whose time has come today is the idea of freedom and human dignity… And so we see in our world a revolution of rising expectations. The great challenge facing every individual graduating today is to remain awake through this social revolution.

Category: Regular Columns, Spring 2014

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