From the editor

| September 12, 2018 | 0 Comments

From an early age, human beings are conditioned to think in binary terms.

Everything I learned at school in my day was proof of this assertion. In literature classes I learned that there were heroes (good) and villains (bad). In history, there were democracies (good) and communists (bad). And so on.

In the realm of science fiction movies (my favourite genre), specifically ‘alien’ spaceship movies, this nonsense has continued for years. Aliens (very bad and very ugly) colonise our planet; their singular purpose the immediate and violent destruction of the human (good) race. Sadly, in the real world, as conflict drives populations from their homes to seek refuge in other countries, the phrase “illegal aliens” has become common parlance by those who fear their way of life is under threat. American blogger Justina Ireland picks up this awful thread, writing:

Comparing black people to space aliens, or any marginalised group to any fictionalised group, is a flawed analogy beloved by the ignorant. It ignores the fact that space aliens aren’t real, but more than that lack humanity at a fundamental level.

They are, at the most basic level, the ‘Other’. Comfortingly, Nathalia Giersoe, a senior lecturer

in developmental psychology at the University of Bath in the UK, believes that humans are not naturally inclined to be racist. Her work with young children indicates that an effective strategy for teachers and parents is often to talk very openly about race – and, importantly, racism – with children. Other studies have shown that this approach leads to significantly less prejudice. Similarly, says Giersoe, “Children given the opportunity to interact regularly with people from different races in a positive way show weaker race biases in infancy and more positive racial attitudes in childhood”.

The ISASA member schools that share their transformation and diversity stories in this edition of Independent Education all demonstrate an understanding that transformation is an unending journey, characterised by incremental and vital small steps and inevitable pitfalls. Schools embarking on such a journey must also understand that at its core, transformation is about shifting power relations, moving from a hierarchical ‘top-down’ adherence to rules and regulations to an attitude of listening to all stakeholders, from pupils to support staff, about all kinds of future possibilities.

On page 24, Kim Barker and Tami Maiwashe, co- chairs of the Diocesan School for Girls’ (in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape) transformation and diversity committee, explain in detail the journey this historically rich school is on. Say the two authors: “We investigated, consulted and brought about changes in areas as diverse as curriculum, artworks and photographs on display, terms we use, hymns sung in chapel, meals offered in the dining hall and the naming of buildings as the opportunity has arisen – most recently naming our new Grade 8 House “Manyano” meaning “unity”.” These are but a few steps taken by this school community.

Transformation is not only about using our critical thinking to embrace the way other people experience the world culturally or racially. On page 44, Philippa Fabbri, director of communications, fund raising and school design at Elsen Academy in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, writes that: “It is now widely accepted that as many as 8-11% of children and adolescents [in South Africa] suffer from an anxiety that affects their ability to get on with their lives”. Teachers should consider that much of this anxiety may stem from the child feeling like an ‘alien’, an ‘other’, and should make every effort to intervene.

Another highlight in this edition of the magazine can be found on page 28. It is the story of two open- hearted people, Eliza and Louis Botes, who, upon finding themselves in the conservative town of Bethal, said simply, “What role could we play in creating a better South Africa?” Says Louis, “We both had a background as teachers and we concluded that starting a school was the best thing we could do”. Their determination was such, he adds, that when the mission seemed impossible, “…We decided to buy our own tractor, and, during school holidays and weekends, I worked to level the fields… I learned to do everything, from project management, to planting trees, planning classrooms and overseeing construction to save money.”

The Botes’ and the rest of the Bethal Independent Primary School community should remind us that transformation takes endurance, true grit and honest, ongoing conversation. I was heartened by the appearance of a fairly recent ‘alien spaceship’ movie called Arrival, starring Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams. Despite the usual fear and panic, Renner and Adams plead for calm and time. Adams (character name Louise Banks, a linguist) finds herself inside the spaceship with a member of the US army. The following few lines should give us some hope for the future of humanity:

[Referring to the whiteboard in Banks’s hand] Colonel Weber: What’s that for?
Dr Louise Banks: A visual aid. Look, I’m nevergonna be able to speak their words, if they are talking, but they might have some sort of written language or basis for visual communication.

Colonel Weber: Okay. Let’s get started.

Category: Spring 2018

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