This morning, seated in one of my lectures I had to once again deal with traces of injustice. I know that for the longest, about three lectures long, I hoped that I was reading too much into things. I mean we are being trained to be teachers who are radical about social justice in the classroom. What happens when these very same people who are training us to do this very thing are doing the opposite? Do we sit and keep quiet? Well, I did. Did I feel good about it? No, I didn’t. It literally drained me having to attend this class. I had to remind myself as to why I chose to leave my comfortable life and become a student once again. Still, this gave me migraines. How am I supposed to be an advocate for social justice in my classroom, when I am witnessing the opposite? Is being a Student Teacher always going to be conflicting? Surely, not? This has to be some sort of test. Yes, it must be some test that is well-hidden within the module. We’re being tested on who keeps quiet the longest. Yes! That’s it.
But if that is the case…I think I just failed the test.
Let me take you back a lot of year back…I grew up fighting against being oppressed in my own home, by those who were supposed to teach me that I should not accept that kind of behaviour from anyone. Well, I secretly fought in my head. Yes, I kept quiet. It seemed everyone around me saw it, but no one was supposed to say anything about it. Me, included. It took me a long while to realise that I was supposed to be quiet about it. I had all sort of reminders; there was the blue slipper, the navy slipper, the pinching, the brown belt, the name calling, the black belt, the navy slipper, the water-filled bucket, the backhand clap…the variation was amazing. So, when I finished my studies and God blessed me with a permanent job while studying, I knew something was up. I just did not know what. Little did I know that I would start speaking up. Not for me, but for other people. I did this a lot. It felt, oh so good! I didn’t want to stop. I don’t want to stop. That’s until recently…about three lectures ago…
We were told to respond to “The state of education in South Africa is of nationwide concern – and so it should be. When almost 80% of grade five learners are judged to be at “serious risk of not learning to read”, as measured by the international benchmarks, it is not an overstatement to say that South African education is in crisis..” Now, catch this, we’re supposed to respond in the form of a “TV style documentary”. For the past three weeks, I have witnessed great acting of a group of students in class who deserved at least 93%, animated docies that deserved 88% and these received a “class assessment” of far less than that. Well, this “class assessment” is basically individual students marking their peers after each presentation, an assigned group of students marking the presenters and the ultimate decision comes from the lecturer.
So, when a group of students almost received 88%, this morning after reading their PowerPoint presentation to us when the instructions clearly stated that this presentation should be TV style documentary, something just died within me. I could not believe that this person who is supposed to be in authority would disregard the very rules that were from his instructions. When queried about this, he states that it is because “they had a list of references”….ooooook… my posed question was/is “how are we supposed to be advocates of social justice in schools when it is not evident in our very class? what are we supposed to take as practising teachers to our schools, never mind what we’re currently supposed to think as students?”. There was no substantial response. None whatsoever. Oh yes, then there was “they’re a group of science students and do not have that skill”. What about the very first presenters who were scientists and acted out a powerful presentation, that had a list of references and answered the posed questions? He may have dropped the final mark to 80%, but I still remain unconvinced.
Growing up, I never aspired to:
- be an advocate of social justice,
- speak the truth, even if it makes me unpopular, but these things have become part of who I am and I accepted them. I cannot, knowingly, allow someone else go through what I went through.
Guyton (2000) states that “Teacher education for social justice develops teachers who are able to achieve social justice in their classrooms. Jennings, Crowell, and Fernlund (1994) described a classroom reflecting social justice as one in which students have voice as well as equal access to resources and opportunities.” I cannot take someone else’s decision for them, but mine is to actively become a developed teacher who thrives on making sure that social justice exists in my classroom at all times. Decisions I make are not bias, when either speaking or marking my learners, may I remain true to my calling and not be clouded by favouritism and break a future adult at the same time.
Won’t you please feel free to share your thoughts and views on social justice in the classroom. It could be things you’re personally experienced or just what you have seen happening to someone else.
Many thanks for reading.
Guyton, E. (2000). Social Justice in Education. The Education Forum, 64 (2). pp.108-114. doi:10.1080/00131720008984738