A flawed picture of our schools

2008-09-02 00:00

I am incredulous that two supposedly competent academics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal have the temerity to cast aspersions on two of our city’s schools apparently without conducting proper research.

As a teacher at a local government high school where assemblies are held twice a week, I would like to draw

Saajidha Sader and Whitfield Green’s attention to the fact that the primary function of “these Christian rituals” (sic) is not religious, but utilitarian: assemblies are an efficient way of regularly disseminating important information to about 1 200 pupils. Furthermore, they also serve as a platform for the communal celebration of the academic, sporting and cultural achievements of all pupils, many of whom, incidentally, do not come from a Christian culture. Moreover, had the writers done their research, they would have discovered that the “hymn book” is in fact a song book that contains not only hymns, but many ordinary, popular songs. And, while it is true that passages from the Christian Bible are read, there are occasions where passages are read from the sacred writings of the three major religions represented by the pupil population. The prayers are also usually applicable to any of these major religions: never is the name of Christ invoked in these “exclusionary” gatherings. In addition, to compare the carrying of song-book exemption cards by school children to the “dompas” is surely a travesty of the suffering endured by victims of apartheid whose lives were ruined by that iniquitous re-quirement.

Another vital fact overlooked by the writers of “Insiders and Outsiders” (The Witness, August 27) is the other ways in which the school in question has sought to accommodate the “right of all citizens to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion”. The uniform has been changed to accommodate Muslim pupils in particular; certain items of jewellery re-quired in the Hindu religion are allowed; the wearing of certain garments during religious observances is freely permitted; school functions are rearranged, where relevant, to accommodate fasting pupils during the holy month of Ramadan; Diwali, Eid and Easter are all celebrated, usually in those “exclusionary” assemblies mentioned. Many of the texts used as resources reflect a wide variety of thoughts, beliefs and opinions. And, were the writers to examine the Life Orientation syllabus, I think that even they would be reassured that the school is responsibly promoting education on religion, religions and world views.

Interestingly, the writers further incriminate themselves with regard to the narrow focus of their criticism: they “admit” that there are “numerous other possibilities” for exclusion and marginalisation: language, race, class, gender and HIV status ... they forgot sexual orientation. Perhaps their article would have been more convincing had they done research into how these areas are being earnestly and sincerely addressed on a daily basis at the school in question.

Furthermore, were they to spend time in the classrooms, observing the interactions between pupils, and between pupils and staff, they might have found that our progressive Constitution is being realised in the promotion of the “core values such as equity, tolerance, multilingualism, openness, accountability, social honour, non-racism, non-sexism and redress”. In fact, one day in my English class might have given them a wealth of information that would have brought much- needed balance, perspective and intellectual rigour to this dubious example of sophistry and academic posturing that seems to have as its subtext a rather thinly disguised element of personal offence.

I can’t help wondering whether, in taking the “logic” of their article to its conclusion, the writers usually take exception to the singing of our national anthem at any public gathering because it is, by virtue of its opening words and ac-cording to their definition, constitutive of the observance of an exclusionary Christian ritual? I suppose every South African could find something to complain about if they weren’t busy with the work of rebuilding this nation in one of the most exciting, yet demanding, sites of social change in our society: a multicultural, multitlingual, multiracial and multiethnic South African high school.

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