It is perhaps no small coincidence that I am currently reading Mary Beard’s excellent SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome.
As one critic has put it, this book’s subject matter “insistently resonates with the concerns of the early 21st century”. Beard herself says: “[History] is always being rewritten, and always has been. It is a work in progress, and the myths and half-truths of our predecessors always demand correction – as our own myths will no doubt be corrected by our successors in due course.”
Many education stakeholders have had these kinds of thoughts uppermost in their minds as they either participate in, renounce or analyse the #RhodesMustFall campaign, which first began late last year, at South African tertiary institutions.
It is the kind of idea that ISASA’s executive director, Lebogang Montjane, addresses in his succinct article on page 13. Here, Montjane looks simultaneously at the #RhodesMustFall campaign and the concurrent demands of many American students (as part of a larger protest around racial issues) that the name of Woodrow Wilson, that notorious 19th century figure, be removed from Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs, and from a residential college. Montjane asks the key questions: “Can the good be accommodated with the unsavoury? After all, is that not the perennial state of the human condition? Can you retain noxious symbols whilst being truly inclusive?”
Montjane goes on to observe: “As an independent school sector, ISASA schools cannot ignore issues of great concern to present students. As schools that should endeavour to educate our charges to become critical and intellectually engaged citizens, how are we contending with institutional traditions, narratives, customs and symbols as the demographics of our student and academic staff populations change?”
The ISASA schools that represent their fellow members and the organisation in this edition of the magazine are indeed “educating their charges to become critical and intellectually engaged citizens”. They have gone much further with the project: they are engaging with multiperspectivity across all domains within their schools and communities. Multiperspectivity is the new multiculturalism and is widely considered a vital 21st century skill, requiring students to look at life based on mutual respect and an understanding of cultural diversity as an enriching factor.
Furthermore, says the Council of Europe: “Teaching should reflect the full complexity of this approach, including controversial and sensitive issues, but at the same time, avoid creating or reinforcing images of enemies or give pretexts for new confrontations.”
It makes me tremendously proud to see the lengths our ISASA schools go to in this regard. On page 18, for example, we have the story of new ISASA member, Faithway College in KwaZulu-Natal. Battling against almost intolerable odds, says author Cheryl Santini, in 2010 this school was asked to send a representative to Cape Town, “to address Parliament on how we were able to achieve so much with so little, and to give input into the development of the [then] new Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) curriculum.”Faithway continues to work in deep harmony with state schools in its area.
The LEAP Science and Maths School in Jane Furse, Limpopo (see page 20) is another beacon of hope. Its remarkable principal, Raphael Mukachi, says: “We value diversity in race, religion and views, and these values reverberate in all the classrooms, corridors and staff rooms… the waves of higher expectations are not deterred and they flow swiftly through the school classrooms, corridors and playgrounds and straight to pupils’ homes and study areas.”
Sue Raath, of Capella House (page 33), says of the school’s traumatic, three-phase, sudden and forced move in 2015 from its settled premises to a totally new undeveloped site (a move caused by mass protests in the nearby township): “It was an opportunity to reflect with the children on what constitutes the essence of our school: the buildings, the location or who we are as a community.”
At another Cape Town school, Herzlia High School, At another Cape Town school, Herzlia High School, Marc Falconer, Daniella Conibear and staff have made sure that a specific model of mentorship underpins each and every activity. At Herzlia, everyone is busy becoming what Falconer and Conibear call “a generation of ‘change-makers’, equipped with the tools to build and nurture, to give rather than to take for their personal gratification… [who can be] listeners and who have the grit and the resilience to take on and even to relish the challenges that life will certainly present. No person is wholly defined by what they can or cannot do, but rather by their mindset and how they field the problems of the world in which they find themselves.”
In an unmissable article on page 40, Michael Curle writes about his school, Maranatha School in Piet Retief, in Mpumalanga province. He says: “The town of Piet Retief was established in 1883, right on the border of the Zulu kingdom, steeped in traditions of racial tension and mistrust… There are many towns like Piet Retief – towns where racial tension (whether between blacks and whites or between locals and foreign nationals) is always simmering just below the surface… Just having children from many different cultures in your school is not the same as having a reconciliationbuilding multicultural school. Therefore, we would like to submit this list of suggestions for making your school a vehicle for reconciliation.”
Montjane concludes his article by saying: “Hopefully, unlike our colleagues at the tertiary level, we will not wait for national tragedies or student agitations to adopt practices and symbols that make all our students feel welcome and that they belong.” He can rest assured, but let us leave the very last words to Mary Beard: “We do [historical figures] a disservice if we heroise them as much as if we demonise them. But we do ourselves a disservice if we fail to take them seriously – and if we close our long and complicated conversation with them.”