The Dark Continent: Education, Equality, & Extenuating Circumstances
Some think only young children should be granted the “socially constructed appropriateness” that allows them to imagine. Contrary to this belief, it is my understanding that there is power in the process of “imagining” for both adults and children. So come with me and let us use our imagination. Imagine a principal that acts as a dictator (who is also not from the area that the school is located in). This authoritarian ignores the parents that live in her community. Imagine the parents rallying together, confiscating the school entrance, and setting up human made black-aides, so that no one can enter or exit the school that day. Imagine these parents screaming phrases violently at the principal: “you’re not from here,” “we don’t need you here” and “you’re destroying our school.” Well, for those who think it is trivial to imagine such things, you don’t have to, because in fact this situation did occur, and even made it into the press. I want to extend this particular situation to join the discourse on education both in South Africa and in the United States of America. Furthermore, how the politics of education, power, and resources control the quality of education that many receive will be acknowledged. These inequalities exist in a time-period that is labeled as post-Jim Crow/post-Apartheid. On the other hand, many of these inequalities that occurred inside these oppressive eras, sadly are still prevalent today.
Before I go into more depth about these issues I want to explain more about this parent vs. principal protest that happened less than a month ago in a community in Cape Town called Phillipi. Mandia Mnyakama wrote an article in the New Age News Paper that focused on the parental political action that occurred in the city (an area that is mostly filled with coloured people being defined as people of two or more races). Mnyakama reports that there is over twenty parents that literally stood in front of the school house door as teachers joined in. They were all joining together to claim that the principal is an actor that “runs the school like it is her own kingdom.” Another women literally yelled out “Down with the principal we want her to pack and go because she is also from Khayelitsha [a Black African area in Cape Town] and does not belong here.”
This article is a representation of the many tensions and social issues that have emerged and re-emerged in communities and local education systems around the country of South Africa. We can find remnants of racial tensions surfacing between a coloured community and a Black African principal. But overall, we can see the consistent struggle, fight, and desperation of marginalized communities to receive their human right to fair, equal, and quality education.
Many try to view Africa as the “primitive other,” yet I find it ironic that a plethora of inequalities that are faced in South Africa are mirrored with the same type of inequalities faced in the States. One example of this is the distribution of resources and its’ connection to the geography of the city. To be more blunt, try finding a school in South Africa that is placed in a majority white neighborhood and compare it to a school placed in a majority black neighborhood (but supposedly both public schools). You will surely realize that inequality of the opportunities and distribution of resources will be quite obvious. Enter into a secondary school in a white neighborhood and you will find up to date facilities, flourishing libraries, functioning swimming pools, well paid teachers and often times luxurious landscapes of beautiful plants and flowers that make public high schools in South Africa look like private colleges in the states. [This is from my experience of visiting a high school in the Claremont area of Cape Town]. Go into a black area and you will find the contrary. Schools will be surrounded by dirt/weeds and portray images that reminds one of a jailhouse. Schools that have frustrated teachers and stressed principals, out of date facilities and non-existent libraries. [92% of schools in South Africa do not have functioning libraries]. And in extreme cases over four hundred schools in South Africa, that are labeled as “Mudd Schools,” have no facilities, no electricity, no running water and an atmosphere that is not fit for learning. This is the reality of the education system in South Africa. And in several aspects this is the reality of some education systems in the United States (Just ask people about Shaw High School in the 90,s). The disparities are definitely under a very different context, however they still do exist and similar inequalities and resources in education and opportunity occur.
Imagining is nice, and I encourage it, but for those living in these situations they don’t have to imagine the pattern of class and race being correlated with the access and quality of education that is received. They don’t have to imagine as they see the rich getting richer and the poor remaining with nothing. They don’t have to imagine struggle and pain and desperation. These words are not just aspects to be read in a blog, these issues are lived experiences for many communities in South Africa and in the United States.
I got the opportunity to talk to and perform some of my poetry to a group of facing the past teachers here in Cape Town. I had a chance to inspire them, but they inspired me. I still believe when all is said and done, NGO’s do some of the best work in the world, as long as the work is well intentioned and not romanticized. I will be coming back to South Africa for my summer break in the states to work with an organization called equal education. I am excited to try and learn from my surroundings and keep in open mind about the experiences I am confronted with.