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From the editor

| September 4, 2013 | 0 Comments

On the cover of Independent Education, volume16, number 2, spring 2013, is a young archer from Clifton College, Botswana, her eyes fixed firmly on a target. We chose the image because it reflects the central theme of this edition, courage.

It was a word that cropped up again and again during the recent Africa tour of President Barack Obama and his retinue. He said to an audience of university students and academics, “Now, tomorrow I’ll be down in Cape Town at the University of Cape Town, and I’ll speak about the future that we can build together – Africans and Americans. That’s where [Senator] Robert Kennedy delivered his eloquent address to another generation of young people. The challenges of our world, he said, demand ‘the qualities of youth; not a time in life, but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.’ That’s what young people are. That’s the spirit of youth, and it’s still true.”1

Over at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown, Johannesburg, on a chilly 2013 winter’s evening, the US First Lady, Michelle Obama delivered an equally resounding address to young people. She called to mind the bravery of the children in Soweto in 1976 and the children in Little Rock, Arkansas in the US in 1957, saying “they weren’t rich and they certainly weren’t powerful. But these young people decided to face down beatings and bullets and abuse because they desperately wanted an education. And by taking a stand to change the course of their own lives, they changed the course of history.”

We tend to forget that it was ‘mere’ children who fought so fearlessly for a basic right – to learn. And they did so, continued Obama, in the name of heroes like Nelson Mandela, who fought with equal “courage over timidity” from “the confines of a tiny cell”. Alongside him were comrades like Mosibudi Mangena who on page 18 of this issue writes that nothing, neither imprisonment nor exile, could stop him from pursuing his passion for life-long learning about mathematics through the University of South Africa.

Years later, the country is still full of children thirsting for an education, a future. Yet, says Mangena, “we are a strange country that wages an undeclared war against its own children… when given an opportunity, our children have shown, again and again, that they do fly… there are a few islands of academic excellence scattered around the country that demonstrate what our youngsters can do, when they are given love and other opportunities… their success has been everything to do with the fact that teachers [there] do teach.”

Consider for example, Zenzeleni School, an ISASA member and “an island of academic excellence” flourishing in what some may regard as a depressing part of the Cape Flats. This school, managed democratically by the teachers, is featured on page 30 and sustained by the Waldorf-based Centre for Creative Education (CfCE) in Plumstead, Cape Town, (see page 28). From the CfCE come teachers steeped in Rudolph Steiner’s theories about childhood development, learning and teaching. Says Beulah Reeler, senior lecturer at the fully accredited teacher-training centre, the experience of training aspirant teachers has revealed some disparaging facts about the levels of neglect and abuse in impoverished areas. “Our society needs creative and inspiring teachers to guide and develop a new generation of children. Teachers must be equipped with new ways of involving children in the process of learning,” she says.

It’s a line we’ve all heard before, you may say, but Jane Hofmeyr, writing on page 16 of her visit to the 2013 American National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) conference, held this year in the city of Philadelphia, confirms that courage is indeed the new watchword. She quotes well-known author Jim Collins who in his conference keynote address “stressed that greatness is a matter of conscious choice and discipline; it is not circumstance. Great schools are brave, while mediocre schools perpetuate past practice in an uncritical way and they are stuck in the 20th and 19th century versions of educating young people.”

Courage reveals itself at all of the schools we feature in this edition. At Hartford College (page 50) students are learning in the most direct way about the impact of the environment on our future; and on page 54, our current ‘Teaching Tips’ columnist Katy Mthethwa urges teachers to reconsider understanding that, for example, “learning spelling is… about learning the 21st century skill of striving for precision and accuracy”. At the Three2Six project at Sacred Heart College in Observatory, Johannesburg, are to be found some of the most courageous students and teachers of all, refugees, who have found a stopping place along their journey to express their complex experience, and at Western Province Preparatory School, the COOL TO BE ME programme is helping young men develop resilient self-esteem.

One of the most courageous schools featured this time around is the Lungisisa Indlela Village School (LIV), a new ISASA member school situated near Verulam in KwaZulu-Natal. It’s based on a unique multigrade and multi-age teaching and learning model: situated in the middle of 96 homes that collectively form a place of safety for abandoned and abused children. Presently, it’s headed by Margo Reid a well-known educationist. The LIV model has shown her, she says on page 41 that “unconditional acceptance of children in such a learning environment can promote academic and social progress.” Her dedication has shown us that retired teachers are an untapped goldmine. Consider the possibilities that could arise from one of our letter writers, who on page 10 states: “[I wish] I were starting my teaching career rather than ending it!”

She’s the brave sort who like Michelle Obama, would say to her students: “Know this: I’m already proud of you. The next step is yours. How about it? You all ready? All right.”

1. President Barack Obama made the comment at the Young African Leaders Initiative Town Hall at the University of Johannesburg-Soweto, in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 29 June 2013. Robert Kennedy made his “Day of Affirmation” speech on 6 June 1966 at the University of Cape Town.

Category: Regular Columns, spring 2017

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