By a local teaching born-frees

2015-04-12 15:00

A core concept of successful teaching is that children need role models. Family, friends, communities and schools play an influential role in shaping the values of our youth, but society at large and the government we elect are also significant teachers of conduct.

We must all acknowledge accountability for the South Africa we create through what we teach our youth.

Last year, my Grade 10s learnt about King Louis XVI’s botched escape from revolutionary France. Louis nearly made it across the border, but was recognised by a postmaster, who alerted the authorities. One pupil asked why he didn’t merely bribe the postmaster for his silence. This struck a chord with many others in

the class. They weren’t being flippant or cynical – they were serious.

I told them not everyone offered or accepted bribes, and that it was possible to be ethical in politics. Thankfully, some pupils agreed. Others seemed pleasantly surprised, but too many smirked at my naivety. I realised then the extent to which our teenagers have become acclimatised to immoral behaviour.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Nkandla hit the news in 2012, when this class was in Grade 8, and remained unresolved throughout grades 9 and 10. The president is still evading questions about his home, and now they’re in Grade 11. This and other stories create a sense of normality around corruption.

Have our youth seen any examples of dishonest officials being dismissed or, even better, witnessed their voluntary resignation? Government and the ANC’s actions have created an attitude that there is no shame in negligence, fraud and the betrayal of public trust.

But government alone is not to blame for normalising unethical conduct. I grew up when robust debate was encouraged. Now our children experience a society where the very people who pursued a dream for a different, better South Africa treat such behaviour as treachery.

I introduced political cartoons to my Grade 10 class last year with an old cartoon of George Bush being derided. One pupil asked if “it was allowed” to mock presidents. I explained that, yes, political satire was legal in South Africa and had been used by cartoonists like Zapiro during apartheid.

I was alarmed that a class of “born-frees” were unsure about the legality of political satire and commentary. But what else could I expect? They were 13 when they saw government throw a fit about the Spear of the Nation painting, and they are exposed daily to the SABC’s insipid journalism.

But government alone cannot be blamed for this. You and I need to take responsibility for the government we elect and the way we react to it.

Our children are watching us. Every act of corruption, or passive acceptance of it, they see lays the foundation for their future behaviour. Every person they come across who stands firmly on his or her principles, rejects injustice and demands accountability reinforces the values and behaviour an equitable society strives to uphold, and presents an alternative to our present world.

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