Strange thinking in today's world

2008-12-03 00:00

In Cape Town, in a way I had never understood it to be in Johannesburg (or even, for that matter, Pietermaritzburg), access to resources de-pends pretty much entirely on where you live. So when I was moving to Cape Town a friend implored me to consider only buying in the southern suburbs. Her reason was straightforward. “That is where the best schools are,” she said.

So, being the compliant type that I am, I obeyed. And the past year has been about selecting an appropriate school for our eldest child. Now our circumstances are not the usual. We are a same-sexed, white couple, with two adopted black children. And most of the time, life is just as ordinary and as straightforward as anyone could want it to be. But sometimes, one is taken aback by how dif- ferent other people’s reality is. Our first interview with a pro-spective school principal was a case in point.

She was a homely looking, somewhat pleased with herself white woman, with very clear understandings of what a teacher is and what a parent is. I think I would go so far as to say that she has a very clear picture of what teachers know and by contrast how little parents know, because during all my encounters with her, I could not help feeling vaguely patronised. There has been, in every encounter we have had so far, the basic assumption that parents over-worry and over-indulge their children.

Now understand, this interview process is, by its very nature, a lopsided one. She is in a position of some considerable power. And you, the parent, are trying to put your best face forward because you want your child to have access to the school, which, from all accounts, is one of the “good” ones.

So, when she sits you down, folds her arms and says: “Look, I’m a very straightforward person. How long have you two been together?”, you might be pardoned for wondering whether she would ask a heterosexual couple the same question. You may be pardoned if you bit a large hole in your tongue and refrained from asking her that question, which would certainly be what she deserved.

The problem is, she is in a position of some considerable power in this situation, and you are not. So you sit there like a deer caught in the headlights and meekly say that you have been together for nine years, for what it is worth.

You are then told that your child will not be allowed to have dreadlocks, if he were to be accepted at her school. You are given a bogus anthropology lesson on the “meanings” of various styles of black hair. They are so preposterous and bizarre that I can’t even remember them.

And then yesterday, at an orientation session with parents and children, she started by addressing the children.

“Let me tell you,” she said, “this is a safe place. And the teachers are going to be just like your mummies. You will get to love them and they will get to love you, just like your mummies love you.”

Now there is nothing essentially wrong with this. The sentiment is obviously well intended. But she hasn’t thought a centimetre beyond what is usual. Our child doesn’t have a mummy. And, I bet our child isn’t the only one sitting in the audience without a mummy.

Mummies sometimes don’t love their children. Mummies sometimes run off with others and leave their children with someone else. That isn’t something gay, or straight, it is just the way the world sometimes works.

We also went to another school — a much more free-spirited school — where the same-sex thing was seemingly of no consequence. But the prospective teacher, with both parents and the child in the room starts saying: “Oh, but he doesn’t have parents, does he?”

I don’t despair. I have no doubt that they are all good and kind people. But isn’t it weird that, in this day and age, this kind of thinking is probably the norm?


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