In Fact, Prof. Jansen Is Right

2013-10-03 13:24

They say you judge a society by how well it treats its children, but I request to add to such a judgment that the development of a society may also lie in the richness of the arguments from its intellectuals. A society that invested beyond average in the education of its children (who may well have become adults at the moment) is always rewarded by sober, critical and progressive thinking.

I doubt ours is enjoying such rewards, if what I saw in Die Volksblad today regarding the ridiculously twisted statements made by Professor Jonathan Jansen is a prerequisite of the classification. Every argument deserves to be treated within its scope. You see, the problem in our society is no longer in the area of misreporting only, but also misreading; what I sometimes refer to as opportunistic interpretation—selecting a paragraph and consciously choosing to engage it far outside the scope provided by the speaker or writer. This is appalling and constitutes a regrettable intellectual hollowness.

Without any predetermined intention to defend Professor Jansen since there is absolutely nothing to defend, universities must take transformation seriously and this push towards transformation must not be about manipulation of numbers, but a genuine collaborative investment in creating shared spaces; “a purposeful pedagogical and political intervention that brings black and white students into a learning commons”, to borrow text from Prof. Jansen’s lecture.

I have never seen anything wrong with taking pride in our native languages, but I have always seen everything questionable when our pride hinders the advancement of the nation-building agenda.

Universities harbour intellectuals. In universities we expect to find critically-thought solutions to theoretical and pragmatic societal complexities. Ideally, universities must be discomforting to every student. If universities offer security to conservatism, then there is less hope for the world. As devoted campus agents of change, our biggest struggle is to detonate the institutional conservatism structures that give us a white picture with a few scattered black dots as an image of “transformation”.

The nature of human interactions is that if a setting makes one comfortable, the general likelihood is the other will feel foreign and unwanted, despite continued efforts to integrate. Ultimately assimilation will be misrepresented as integration, thus forcing the uncomfortable to find comfort in the space that was not designed for them.

Well, I know this is not a topic some of our Afrikaner friends enjoy and trolls will of course will purge their 'sense of unease' by throwing around insults. However, if we are really serious about redefining our future and letting go of the divisive colonial artefacts, courage is needed to discuss issues as ‘sensitive’ as the language policies of previously Afrikaans universities.

Difficult questions must be posed.

Are formerly Afrikaans universities transforming or just creating a parallel space for others to feel like they are part of us when in fact they are on the other side?

If they understand themselves as architects of academics and corporate professionals, why can’t they create “learning commons” that resemble in accurate sense the composition of workplaces?

Are these universities prepared to have our graduates standing out not for excellence, but for their insecurities as far as working in diverse teams is concerned?

Isn't there a better purpose we can have for the millions used in sustaining these para-lingual policies?

It is not true that if one such university could decide to use English only as a medium of instruction majority of Afrikaans-speaking students will flee to other ‘conservative’ institutions. That argument reduces our fellow Afrikaans students to mere antagonists of social cohesion.

What will happen when those ‘alternative’ universities reach maximum admission capacity, should the fleeing argument win?

Will these young people then opt for a stay-at-home just because they don’t want to challenge themselves to learn with other races in a language of common engagement?

Unbelievable! This notion in fact qualifies as incitement. The argument has not even been tested. It shows how some people can become so unnecessarily threatened, as shown by one Charles Smith's  article in Die Volksblad where he classifies Prof. Jansen's statements as "hate speech".

Realistically, these language policy changes may not happen any time soon. In light of the unlikelihood, it is only fair to have lecturers whose language proficiency in both English and Afrikaans is equally excellent. At least Black students will feel leniently ‘robbed’.

Indeed, before changing policies we must invest in an “English competent citizenry” from lower grades, as Prof. Jansen among many other issues correctly said. Beyond that we should advocate for shared learning in the basic education level.

Universities exist to produce academics, assist students in undressing pre-existing assumptions and join them in re-imagining the future.

Conservatism is an enemy to learning. Language conservatism, the preservation of colonial artefacts such as colonial names for buildings, and the lack of willingness to test ideas, are all partners in the crime against learning.

Prof. Jansen is correct in his lecture.

While acknowledging the value of mother tongues, let's admit that the economy is English-dominated. And so universities must prepare graduates who will meet the expectations.

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