Antidote for a Soul

Having just completed the reading of the newly published ‘Song for Sarah: Lessons from my Mother’, I cannot but comment on this milestone by Jonathan Jansen and Naomi Jansen.

It is, indeed, an ‘antidote’, as Jonathan and Naomi determined it would be. It shatters the stigma we hold of the ‘Cape Flats Mother’.

But here is a work, a literary work, that goes beyond that noble purpose. It paints the clear markings on a journey down memory lane that everyone born in the late 50s and early 60s in the Western Cape will recognize. More than recognition, you will laugh, sigh and you will weep and probably feel a great deal of healthy guilt all so carefully and skillfully crafted by the genius and authentic reflections of both authors – she is, after all, their mother.

Their very thoughtful 3rd person stance is a tribute to the humility needed to let Sarah speak to us all, untainted by the sometimes lopsided ambitions of authors and publishers. I particularly valued this attitude because it cleared the way to visualize the dreams and childhood of Sarah more clearly, become inspired by her brilliance and genius, felt awe and amazement at the skill of navigating life, saddened by the tragedies of a mother’s loss, a society’s brokeness and a stumbling community of faith.

Through it all, Jonathan and Naomi allowed us into a private place where, as they themselves concluded, ‘When you go home, you go to your mother.’ In doing so, without them alluding to it in any way, we, who know them, understand that the crafting of this memory, the journey and accomplishment of the authors are all, by Grace, the evidence that the Song for Sarah is still being sung.

I heard it and felt it in my soul – ‘How Great Thou Art’.

It’s available as an eBook on Amazon, Takealot,  select stores in South Africa in hardback and expected in softcover on 1 August, 2017.

Unhealthy Access to the Internet

The divide in the Henley neighborhoods is a micro example of the division in South Africa’s national communications landscape. The story pitted the deep concerns about ‘health and environmental consequences’ against the ‘benefits in cell reception (that) the (proposed Vodacom) mast could have for the nearby farming community and informal settlements.’

The construction of the tower is Vodacom’s response to ‘the growth in data traffic’, as (and if it is attributed to him), Vodacom spokesperson, Mr Byron Kennedy explained.

It is possible that the folks in Kalkgat, Disaneng and Vaalwater would relish the problem between GREAT health and GREAT mobile reception. It is so, however, that they have neither despite the fact that a priority exist in the country ‘to achieve universal service and access to ICTs by all South African citizens.’

Not all health or mobile reception are created equal despite the fact that the ‘growth in data traffic’, which Mr Kennedy so loftily spoke about, is equally or more so the case even in rural South Africa.

 

 

 

The Flawed Foundation of Failure

School is, or should be the place to fail because it is at the junction of failure where a unique opportunity to learn collides with a heightened sense of alertness and attention.

It is problematic that the dialogue over learning in the formal environment persists in looking scornfully at failure. Being that time of the year in South Africa when we are dissecting student performance and where we begin the waiting process of the national Grade 12 results, it becomes clear, yet again, that we do not look kindly on failure.

Consolingly, motivational initiatives, from small snippets on social media to Ted Talks and blogs that seek to bolster confidence are accessible and it healthily combats the negativity of failure.

But it is not enough. Man cannot live by motivational snippets alone. Authenticity of encouragement must be embedded in real relationships which are strengthened over time to turn the culture of disdain for failure into a culture of truly learning from failure.

Man cannot live by motivational snippets alone.

As long as schools are structured around artificial interactions where acquistion of knowledge and the testing thereof form the sole basis of learning, our young people will be imprisoned by the fear to fail, even if the requirement for success is lowered.

 

 

The school infrastructure we need and why we don’t have them

In South Africa, we do spend an awful amount of money on building schools and we are building them based on the view that the best learning takes place when the teacher stands in front of the class and deliver education to students sitting in neat rows. To be fair, the newer building projects of post-apartheid South Africa are aesthetically more appealing, compared to what we had before. But, while the buildings look different, the structure is still the same – teacher in front, students in neat rows.

This is not the only problem. There are more students than space available to teach them. This is aggravated by migrations between provinces as parents, for obvious reasons, seek greener pastures for their children. Some provinces are perceived to do a better job in providing good education than others.

Also, the complex interchange between the life of the school and the burdens in the community are inhibiting Principals from thinking of the school buildings as multifunctional facilities. High crime levels, for example, deter a Principal from opening the doors of the school to the community. Many well-intentioned development initiatives ignore this reality and show little appreciation for the Principal’s deep concerns.

Lastly, young teachers who exit teacher training colleges with bright innovative new ideas find structural obstacles to their newfound and 21st century pedagogical ideas. They find no sympathy or help in the existing physical structure to implement all the new high-tech, disruptive and blended learning frameworks that excited them in the lecture at college or university. Consequently, they quickly revert back to ‘chalk-and-talk’.

What then are the conditions for future infrastructure planning?

Planning for 21st century infrastructure in South Africa will have impact if:

  1. Infrastructure solutions and its design involve more than just the department of education. Schools exist in broken and pained communities where multiple factors contribute to its fragmentation.
  2. The department of education decentralized the design of the structure to allow forward-looking and creative Principals to influence design decisions. The Principal must cease to underestimate the difference her insight can make and government must aggressively solicit knowledge and skills from Principals.
  3. Curriculum design was modified to connect learning with current needs and realities. This will include students as collaborators for infrastructure solutions. Imagine if school was the place where students’ knowledge and skills are immediately put at use in the design and construction of infrastructure?
  4. Teacher training and development is transformed to strengthen young teachers’ capacity to creatively modify strategies in favour of the best learning.

Ignited by History to Lead Wisely

One of the most unnerving questions a student can pose, circles around the matter of relevance. ‘Why am I doing this?’

In the study of History, for example, this probe is never meant as a genuine delving for answers. In fact, for most of structured learning, the same applies. The question is a suggestion that the discipline is completely useless and irrelevant. As the smart people put it: ‘The question is rhetorical.’

For our young people, historical studies is, in the words of a sage from another age, ‘a cruel strain on the memory for the sake of passing exams.’ 

But there is a permanent good, in sharp antithesis to a cruel strain, that comes to mankind so aptly described by the historian Burckhart when he concluded that historical studies is not intended ‘to make us more clever the next time, but wiser for all time’. The problem for our young people, when searching for relevance is that they have not seen much of that wisdom. Instead, they have seen foolishness, irrationality, selfish and nationalist ambitions, greed, revenge and ignorance displayed in too many forms of leadership. Although we think that most of these leaders are out there, they pop up so now and then when, at that awkward moment, you look into the mirror.

If we agree with the sage, Mortimer Jerome Adler, that ‘The highest value of history is prudent judgement in worldly affairs’, then we can appreciate why our students see no relevance in understanding history. The evidence around them shows that understanding history made no difference in us. From our calloused leadership in the refugee crises to the cold shoulder a parent give to a child needing appreciation, we have all failed to be an example shaped partly by a lack of understanding history. So, instead, our young people opt for alternative ‘examples’ often those in flashy cars, dark glasses against the glare of moonshine and, ironically, with chains around their necks.

But there are some amongst us, whose examples shine like bright lights in a grim world. They know that although emergencies are real, you cannot spend all your days putting out fires. Hasty decisions have become a rarity for them and they know when and how to say ‘no’. Also, they make time for reflection and refueling and would rather ‘do less but do it better’, than ‘progressing’ one inch in a million directions.

Most of all, they lead by example. They understand that their words and their actions are sparks that can either inflame hatred or ignite hope. They choose hope.

Of Sol Plaatje it was said that ‘personal example was his prime strategy’. 

Now there’s a word from the past that can make us ‘wiser for all time’ and inspire us to ignite a generation of thinkers whose understanding of history will enable them to lead wisely when the time comes.

Sources

The Boer War Diary of Sol Plaatje, (1976)  Edited by John L.Comaroff 

The Paideia Program,  (1984) Mortimer Jerome Adler

The Essentialist, (2014) Greg McKeown

Long Road of Loneliness

A rather compelling case has been made for the ‘unnatural’ introduction and flawed recruitment processes of school principals in South Africa. Tony Bush noted that “school leaders begin their professional careers as teachers and progress to headship via a range of leadership tasks and roles” (Tony Bush et al. 2011).*

This “exit” from their familiar teacher network of friends have not been extensively researched, but it is very likely that the new “tasks and roles” (Tony Bush et al. 2011)* of the ‘new journey’ for the principal comes with a range of complex psychological ramifications of which loneliness is a real possibility. Alone he must fight for the school’s financial survival. While everyone else sleeps their full 8 hours a day, she is up in the middle of the night, in solitary pursuit for solutions to teacher shortages, large class sizes and a never-ending set of demands from the department of education, the parents and the community.

This lonely road feels even worse in the absence of a home, a hub of comrades wherein she can be herself and find support from peers who can support with strength and upliftment that leads to rejuvenation and empowerment.

Truthfully, too few leaders have access to, or are bold enough to participate in such a needed ecosystem and too many leaders believe the myth that they are untouchable – unaffected by the perils of loneliness. The truth, of course, stands tall against this myth.

How then, does one lead wisely in a world where loneliness is a real threat?

* REFERENCE:

Bush, T et al. (2011)  Preparing new principals in South Africa: the ACE: School Leadership Programme1, http://sajournalofeducation.co.za/index.php/saje/article/viewFile/356/236 (Accessed 8 March, 2016)