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From the editor

| January 22, 2020 | 0 Comments

I’ve just watched the documentary Fire in Paradise on Netflix. It’s a look at the wildfire that wiped out the community of Paradise, in Butte County, California, in the US, in November 2018. The film hinges on cellphone footage recorded by frightened residents as they fled their homes. Nicknamed ‘Camp Fire’, the blaze killed 85 people, ravaged 153 336 acres and caused damage amounting to $16.5 billion. Two teachers spent six hours on a school bus with their students, convinced that they would die. Co-director Drea Cooper said: ‘Big questions are going to have to be asked and answered about rebuilding places that suffer from climate
change-related disasters like [the Camp Fire.]’ In the ISASA community there are those who know how quickly fire can run. It’s absolutely devastating to watch flames engulf rows of houses in a matter of minutes.
And the faster and hotter a fire burns, the bigger it gets. This film serves as a warning to humanity. However, it can also be viewed positively as a reminder that we need urgent, powerful changes in our schools and communities.

While editing this edition of Independent Education
together, I was conscious of the number of voices I heard calling for and celebrating change; voices that became clamours and then clarion calls. I salute, for example, the community of St Benedict’s College in Johannesburg (see page 74) which responded to continuing violence against women and girls everywhere by creating a Manifesto on Masculinity. Gathered together as a community, every boy, staff member and invited guest signed the manifesto which will bring perspectives on gender, power and
sexuality.

Lebogang Montjane, ISASA’s executive director, was also there to sign his name to the manifesto. In his powerful article on page 10, he says:
We know that children do not do what adults say, they do what adults do. They are keen observers of everything. Do they see females represented at every level of staff? Do they see (and experience) women in power? What do they hear when adult male interact, speak to and, more importantly, speak about women?

Ann Morton, principal at public school Pinelands North Primary School in Cape Town, challenges all schools to make a further leap with regard to gender identity. You can read the story of how this amazing school is well on the way to becoming gender-neutral on page 57. Says Morton, ‘Commitment to gender neutrality is not erasing gender, rather it is the work of equality and human rights, and allowing each child to reach for their potential without gender telling them what they can or cannot do or achieve.’

Streetlight Schools is an ISASA member which articulates as one of its founding principles respect for all people and their right to seek asylum in a country not their own. On page 28, founder Melanie Smuts has written an
article entitled ‘A school secured what leaders couldn’t: a negotiated truce’. The title is important: in September this year, when the inner city of Johannesburg where the school is located erupted into xenophobic violence, in order to protect all school children in the area, Smuts
and her colleagues stood up and spoke truth to power. She asks:
Is it a success of our democratic dream that a Afrikaner woman, two primary school teachers (one a 25-year-old Zulu woman, the other a Tsonga
man) and a Chinese American sat with the residents of Jeppestown to do what the leaders of this country could not: break bread with izinduna
and talk to each other as people about what happened and how to move forward?

Embedding immediate change in your school may mean revisiting basic academic systems. Recently, I was lucky enough to review Oxford University Press’s new resource, Teaching Reading Comprehension (see page 79). After learning just how much I had taken for granted the process of learning to read, I deduce that: ‘knowing where students were let down when they first tried to learn to read, can be the first step to a more positive academic experience.’

Such an understanding is fuelling change in primary schools across South Africa. At ISASA member Winterberg School, located in a remote part of the Eastern Cape, reports Amy Bryant, chairperson of the Winterberg School Trust, (see page 42), Some pupils are the first generation within their
families to receive a structured and quality education. The winner of last year’s reading prize is an example of this – her father did not have access
to education; he is illiterate and unable to write his own name. Within one generation, the school has changed the prospects for members of families in
the community.

You’ll find more inspiration in the other stories we’ve included in this edition of the magazine. While you read, perhaps you’d like to hum that old tune from the musical West Side Story. Here’s a snatch to get you going:
Something’s coming… It’s gonna be great…
With a click, with a shock
Phone’ll jingle, door’ll knock
Open the latch, something’s coming…

Category: Summer 2019

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