Dashiki Dialogues: Schools that fail and my first gun

2013-10-01 10:00

The first real gun I ever touched was in the back of the classroom during high school. I was in Standard 6 back then (Grade 8 in today’s system).

Having left primary school the previous year and high on gangster rap music and mafia movies, we thought being “hard” was cool.

The occasion was simple. Our ability to draw had put a friend and I on TV. We were part of the lucky few attending Saturday art school at the Unisa-sponsored Pretoria community art project, Arts For Africa, which was profiled on some SABC programme.

Long story short: our fascination with all things gangster meant we started drawing guns of all sorts too, just for fun. As boys we had grown up playing with toy guns.

It followed that one of our classmates then wanted us to draw a real gun. So he brought what he said was his brother’s “piece” to the class.

It was a beautiful silver revolver with a black handle. During one period where the teacher was absent, a few of us huddled at the back of the class to see and draw this shiny jewel.

The student who brought it obviously did it to gain respect from his older, more famously hard, classmates. The huddled group comprised boys who would later be convicted of rape, robbery and other crimes.

The last time I saw my drawing partner, he was wandering around the taxi rank in Ga-Rankuwa with a mental condition.

I remembered this dangerous scene last week following reports of a student who beat his teacher while his classmates cheered him on.

The incident, which was caught on camera, involves a Grade 8 pupil yanking, hitting and kicking the teacher in the classroom at a school in southern Joburg. The teacher calmly walks away, even as the pupil grabs a broom and throws it repeatedly at him.

The story was followed by an announcement by the Gauteng education department’s spokesperson, Gershwin Chuenyane, confirming that a team of senior officials had been sent to the school to ensure the pupil’s immediate suspension.

The outrage sent me down memory lane to my school days.

I must admit I went to township schools while the Joburg school in question is much better resourced than the one I attended.

But I must also acknowledge that I owe much of my learning to a number of committed, hard-working teachers who saw their work as a duty to the nation, and not as a means to a salary.

The recent controversy only points to what has been going on unreported for a while now. We need a dialogue that deals with bad schools far more urgently, and to focus on how students’ lack of respect affects their learning dashikis.

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