CRT: the next challenge for schools to face

The Constitution should be the lodestar for transformation charters in schools. Teaching children to judge other children by the colour of their skin is is counter to the ethos of the Constitution.

The persistence of educational inequality –  with poor, primarily black, pupils continuing to attend under-resourced schools and receiving a substandard education – is highlighted in a recent article in Daily Maverick by Faranaaz Veriava, head of the Education Rights programme at Section27, a public interest law centre that advocates for access to healthcare services and basic education.

Veriava is correct in highlighting persistent inequality, but her article goes on to issue a ‘call to elite and middle-class private schools and former white public schools to provide spaces where all our youth can belong’.

Referring to the ‘ongoing struggle of black learners attending elite and middle-class private schools and former white public schools’, Veriava writes: ‘Because public interest organisations cannot always direct scarce resources to addressing the transformation issues at these schools, it is incumbent on parents and educators to do this more proactively.’

‘Black learners attending elite and middle-class private schools and former white public schools experience racism, other forms of discrimination and alienation in myriad and often subtle guises,’ according to Veriava.

‘To survive at these schools, learners must assimilate to archaic cultural norms or risk having their identities and conduct questioned, if not pathologised, in ways that other learners do not experience.’  

Speaking from personal experience – I am a non-practising lawyer now, but with 17 years of practice, and I also spent 13 years of my children’s schooling on the governing bodies of their government primary and high schools – I believe that to address these concerns, readers need to understand the issues that Veriava talks about.

Particularly, readers who may be perpetrating these acts need to be given concrete examples of the racism, discrimination and alienation. White parents and children may not realise they are being discriminatory. They need to understand what may not be readily clear or better understand what issues are seen to be racial, discriminatory or insensitive.

Fraught disputes

Veriava is probably correct to say that at an unconscious level, black parents feel a gratitude that their children attend these schools. Might there also be an element of guilt because so many other black children are subjected to a substandard education? These issues need to be considered as well when dealing with the potentially fraught disputes that may arise.

Veriava then refers to situation where allegations of discrimination were made, but not whether discrimination was actually found. In this regard, she first refers to the 2015 Curro School incident, where it was ‘reported’ for racially segregating students.

The MEC for Education in Gauteng, Panyaza Lesufi, appointed an independent firm of attorneys to conduct an in-depth investigation of alleged racial segregation. The investigation was later expanded to inquire into the possible existence of racial practices at all the Curro schools in Gauteng.

The attorneys found that Curro was not guilty of racial discrimination. The segregation of classes was not racial, but based on the division between Afrikaans-medium classes and English-medium classes. The practice has been changed.

In 2018 Curro again faced allegations of racial discrimination at Waterfall Castle (Pre-school). The South African Human Rights Commission conducted an investigation and found Curro not guilty of racial discrimination.

Veriava also refers to the infamous Pretoria High School for Girls controversy of 2016. Black students protested against ‘institutional racism’ at the school, their main complaint concerning the implementation of the Code of Conduct, in particular its policy on hairstyles. 

Lesufi literally helicoptered in to ‘sort out’ the problem, having pre-warned the media he’d be there. The incident became a cause célèbre in local and international media. I wrote about it at the time here.

The girls, and Lesufi, were interviewed by the media at the time.

Lesufi, however, prevented staff members from talking to the media.

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga found nothing racist about the school’s hair policy. Nevertheless, Motshekga came under fire for defending school hair policy that some ‘believe’ is racist – note the word ‘believe’.

The event that launched all this controversy occurred when a girl in Zuleika Patel’s class asked whether they could swop places because she couldn’t see the board beyond her afro. Patel cried racism. Patel’s hairstyle is pictured.

 

Then the matter exploded. Patel, 13 at the time, was a self-proclaimed activist.

The GDE appointed attorneys Harris, Nupen, Malebatsi to investigate claims of racism at PGHS. Their report found that there were instances of racism on the part of some teachers and recommended that disciplinary action be taken. The report did find that Patel had lied.

The report is too extensive to canvass in this article. What is disturbing, however, is that the report failed to examine the role of two political activist groups at the school in the crisis. A protest at the school with girls wearing ANC T-shirts on a civvies day should raise flags. That such groupings should even exist at a school is disturbing.

Veriava talks about statements and acts of unconscious bias ‘that shame our children’ and which ‘make them feel “less than”, which they struggle to name or understand.’  She doesn’t offer suggestions as to how unconscious bias should be handled.

Apparently, according to Veriava, when students challenge transformation in schools, black students tend to be punished more severely than whites. Again a claim is made without substantiation.

Veriava also refers to research into corporal punishment practices which occurred prior to the practice being banned. It reveals that –

  •  corporal punishment was used in both black and white boys’ schools;
  • white girls’ schools did not practice corporal punishment;
  • black girls’ schools did practice corporal punishment.

This research proves nothing and particularly nothing about the main thrust of the article.

Veriava is correct when she says that the Constitution should be the lodestar for transformation charters in schools.  

She cites the numerous prohibitions against unfair discrimination. This includes learners demanding accommodation for their religious and cultural practices in schools’ codes of conduct; learners with disabilities demanding accommodation and equal provisioning; and LGBTQ learners demanding accommodation in respect of uniform requirements. 

These examples are all open to discussion and different schools may have different responses, as not all discrimination would automatically be unfair. For example, not accommodating other religions in a private school based on a Christian ethos may not be unfair. The specifics of each case would have to be scrutinised individually.

What the article also suggests, without saying as much, is that Critical Race Theory (CRT) is becoming the basis for dealing both with issues of discrimination as well as the content of curricula at schools. This is a dangerous development.

CRT is the theory that rights are determined by a hierarchy of eternal victimhood that identifies blacks as victims and all white males (in particular) as eternal oppressors. The fact that a school child has not victimised another child matters not. A child is judged, literally, by the colour of his or her skin only.

CRT is illogical, intended to separate races (irony of ironies!) and create unaccountable guilt for which there is no redemption. It is the next challenge for schools to face.

[Image: Oberholster Venita from Pixabay]

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