Saturday, August 21, 2010

finding the language

One of the challenges of doing postgraduate studies is understanding other people’s ideas and trying to generate personal ideas from those about how to approach one’s own research. Another fancy word for this is finding a theoretical underpinning for ones research or an approach to explain the phenomena or people one will be working with. I have been on the verge of tearing my hair out trying to find the relevant theory to explain the classrooms I hope to do my research in. My proposal writing got to a point where I could show that I understand the issues and complexities around teaching literacy in many South African classrooms. I exhausted relevant research explaining literacy as a social practice and my supervisor was satisfied with this but it was not sufficient to explain the research I am looking to do. I was left with the question “And then what?...So what if I understand the issues?”

The trick has been finding the language that speaks to what I see in the classrooms. How can I explain what I know? Why is it important to explain what I see in the classroom? The essence of my research is a response to the literacy results in SA that show that learners are performing below the international benchmarks when it comes to reading and writing. An extension of this has been trying to understand what is happening in South Africa’s foundation phase classrooms where learners are taught in their mother tongue (particularly African languages)> This has not been without the understanding of what is happening in SA’s education system as a whole as education is implicated in the social and political structures we have currently. My thinking has been that if we can understand the different facets of education we can begin putting the pieces together and making the right decisions whe it comes to education especially where mass education is involved as it is in SA. We boast high learner enrolment but poor results on all levels...something’s got to give. I chose the teacher as my focus because apart from the blame heaped on teachers, very little attention has gone into understanding how they make sense of their role as teachers especially in the foundation phase. This is also at a time where teacher numbers are dwindling and the teachers in the system at the moment are reaching retirement age or taking early retirement. So learner numbers are increasing but teacher numbers are dwindling. How does this affect the teacher who, despite OBE and a learner-centred approach, is still central to teaching and learning in the classroom in spite of the external factors that affect many of the learners in SA?

So I stumbled across a book that is beginning to unpack the issues for me. Understanding reflective teaching might be the approach that I am looking for. This is an entire field that has been used to help understand the teachers and how they understand their practice. This has also help give an understanding into teacher education, which should be the bigger picture for research where teachers are concerned. I am assuming that if we can understand how teachers make sense/meaning from their teaching, then we can make informed decisions about the reforms (pedagogic, policy or curriculum related) that we needed in SA to make sure that learners are reading and writing for meaning at the end of Grade 1.

So this is just the beginning. I’m seeing my supervisor next week, and she might have other ideas, but this is my story for now.I doubt this blog will be of interest to many people unless they are conducting research or have done so before. And if my supervisor reads this, I hope she will agree with what I have found so I can stop wishing this Masters research away!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Inheriting the new South Africa

In trying to transform South Africa, a new generation is emerging and we are at odds with what we have inherited. In pursuing a non-racial society (as well as many of the issues on South Africa’s wish list such as removing the class and gender inequalities) we are also confronted with ourselves. Some of my peers and I recognise that we still need to talk of race while trying to undo the damage of the past that named, shamed and discriminated on the basis of the colour of ones skin: being black. Emerging from this, I am one of the people who reject the label of being black and would rather embrace being human on the basis that I wasn’t born black, history decided this for me, I was born a human being. But because I am part of the new South Africa and part of the generation that has inherited the task of rebuilding South Africa, I have realised that there is a disconnection. In trying to rebuild South Africa, race is still important.

I was offended and infuriated by this realisation while at an internship with a company in Cape Town. While working with the company I realised that one of the their social responsibility initiatives involves the following, “financial scholarships to assist black students with special focus on black women, to access and finish their studies”. My immediate reaction was fury as this had never been communicated to me. I felt as though I was compromised as an individual who saw herself as simply a student coming into a company to experience the world of work. I felt compromised by the nature of the relationship as I was no longer a student but seen as one being granted a favour simply because my racial classification means that I have been disadvantaged. What I didn’t realise was that the “company” feels justified in this policy as this is what is expected of companies in South Africa to some extent.

The tensions in transforming South Africa is that in trying to undo the past some of my peers and I have decided to reject the labels of the past forgetting that it is still early days to do so especially when in the cross-fire of what this means on a practical level. Young, educated, black females are hot property in South Africa. Once upon a time we were at the bottom of the food chain and now the world is slowly beginning to recognise that society cannot change unless we are placed in decision making roles which were designated for everyone except black women. But as young, educated, black females we wish we could get the opportunities on the basis that we are human and our credentials speak for themselves. When these issues are raised the danger is that racism becomes the focal point and managers in companies (who are mostly White people) get defensive rather than encouraging honest dialogue about the real issues. How does South Africa transition into a non-racial society without forgetting that race still matters? Am I to accept that I am black and therefore need a “helping hand” (as affirmative action has been pejoratively referred to as) or should I reject this and any attempt that attempts to use this against me when opportunities abound?

I do not take South Africa’s history lightly, neither do I reject the attempts of making the necessary changes in order recognise that all men and women are equal in South Africa and that South Africa belongs to all of us as the Freedom Charter reminds us. But how do I do this when my individuality and the right to assert my identity in whatever fashion or form is in the danger of being compromised as I have tried to explain? Being a Mandela-Rhodes Scholar has implicated me as someone who has to recognise that my privilege due to the education I have received has to be extended beyond my personal comfort, but my public duty has to recognise that I am part of the transformation that calls on the recognition of race while trying to remove these labels.

I find that I am between a rock and a hard place. In order to remove the scourges in society that still disadvantage many women my age I have to recognise that my “blackness” is going to play a role in this. Because I have accepted the responsibility of being part of the transformation in South Africa I have to endure the good with the bad. The issue is not whether or not I accept being black, but, what to do with the implications of identifying with the social construction as well as what the label can often translate into (often negative given our past). This tension has also unfolded while reading Antjie Krog’s Country of my skull and it has unravelled the gravity of what reconciliation really means more than 10 years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. What does reconciliation mean when the gaps between the rich and the poor are getting wider? Does reconciliation really mean a strong emerging black middle class as opposed to striving for the equality of the millions still living in rural areas and informal settlements? Am I reconciled with myself when I assert that being human takes precedence over the biological factor of pigment and my sex? I’ve been caught in the crossfire with no warning.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The adventures through Khayelitsha...and Equal Education

Today was my first time in Khayelitsha. The first time I encountered Khayelitsha was my first trip from Cape Town International Airport coming for the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship interviews. I was with my friends who had been to Cape Town before and had spoken so highly of it; the grand metropolis, the New York of South Africa or something to that effect. So I had this wonderful image of what it would be like driving through Cape Town for the first time...the land of milk and honey.

I was crestfallen.And today was a reminder I why was crestfallen.It's different seeing Khayelitsha and all the shacks and sand everywhere. It's different when you can actually see the people and hear their conversations, the bellowing gospel music from the shops screeching about a reality that is nothing like the one in this township. Today, I had to travel from N1 city to Khayelitsha. I took a taxi to Elsies River in order to find a taxi to Khayelitsha, when I got there a taxi driver told me I had to take a taxi to Belville. When I found this taxi,I was delayed in Parow.Eventually I arrived in Belville and found a taxi going to Site C in Khayelitsha. This took me and hour and a half and R40. I am amazed at the disconnections in South Africa. I don't blame people who live in the suburbs who have no idea of another reality apart from their own.The admin of getting out of ones comfort zone and seeing the reality in townships such as Khayelitsha is made impossible by simple structures such as public transport.

Eventually I arrived and was dumbstruck at the level of squalor that close to a million people have to call home. I haven't had a charmed childhood and I understand the struggles in South Africa first hand but I had the buffer of a good education that worked out the way it did by the grace of God (people never believe me when I tell them I went to Clarendon Girls High while both my parents were unemployed for most of my school going years). The real reason for this trip(I wasn't really site seeing) was to meet up with Equal Education. Meeting the Equal educators, the staff members and the learners at the youth group was worth the trouble. I met a group of people who reminded me that it's still a good idea to make time and conscientise learners about their rights and role in a democratic country. I was reminded that it's okay to hope that things will change in SA, but not without the work and the sacrifices. Everyone in that organisation sacrifices their time and energy for the learners that they work with. I caught a glimpse of why equality is an important ideal to keep pursuing and why it is important for me to keep hoping that things will change. At least I'm prepared to die trying, rather try than live comfortably knowing that other people don't have the basic necessities, not because they don't want to work for these, but that there are complexities in their lives that need a collective effort to overcome.

So I'm sold, I'm an equaliser, though I'll do what I have to do in a city that does not involve an hour and a half in the traffic to be part of the change. I'm happy with Grahamstown, where I can walk everywhere and take one taxi when necessary and I'm happy in the Eastern Cape...for now, we need more equalisers here too!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

My girlfriends

This past weekend was an unplanned girlfriend’s weekend. It started on Thursday with a cooking date for my Grahamstown duo. They helped me pack banging outfits for my internship in Cape Town, they helped me keep calm about not knowing what to expect with this experience and the usual, we ranted about our relations with the opposite sex. The evening was also very celebratory with sparkling wine, celebrating a successful week rubbing shoulders with Trevor Manuel, Dr Kenneth Kaunda and Joaquim Chissano! I arrived in Joburg with the hopes of meeting with my latest crush at some point during the weekend. Instead I spent the day with a friend who was in desperate need of retail therapy and someone to listen to. Her boyfriend has had to leave South Africa as a matter of life and death. After the retail therapy another friend met up with us and we reflected on the 10 year friendship, moving from girl into woman with each other. Over supper we reflected on the throes of love, loss, loneliness, longing and the caution against loosing all inhibitions with the opposite sex of course! Friday ended with a birthday countdown with the birthday girl fully embracing being a grown ass, badass woman, and trying to edit her boss’s reference list for an article he wrote; don’t ask why we weren’t out dancing or something more exciting! But we stayed up till 1am trying to keep each other awake to get most of the work done (she probably did more work keeping me awake so she could stay awake)!

Day two was spent with another girlfriend, shopping for an outfit for yet another wedding she had been invited to with her boyfriend. We went from crazy Joburg town to Rosebank the Zone, looking for something that would make her look gorgeous! In the midst of choosing dresses and deciding against wearing high heels (yay for sensibility) we spoke about I what I think is a wonderful job at the Constitutional court, trying to understand the complex issues in our country. We shared our tensions about wanting to take the road less travelled and dare the world by going out to meet it in whatever form because we fear mediocrity on all levels. We laughed about how she had bought 4 dresses and that amount did not equal how much I had spent on one pair of shoes (my justification for this is that I will not buy another pair of black pumps for the next 4 years!). We laughed about how far we had come from sleepless nights in university which have been substituted for 3 hour sleep trying to get through proposals or reports instead. This date ended in a rush, trying to pick the right earings and losing a wallet in the car and trying to make sure that my friend doesn’t keep her boyfriend waiting. Again!

After this date I headed back into Joburg town to find another long lost girlfriend whom I have managed to keep in touch with despite her jaunts in America and Europe, conquering the world like the early explorers. Amidst taxi drama and trying to find a good Indian restaurant to satisfy our famished bodies we tried to make up for what seems to have been a lifetime since we saw each other. The obvious topic with us is our crazy families with the head of the pack being the point of contention, our beloved mothers. Apparently few black women can call their mothers their best friends regardless of the fact that we are growing women as we would like to see it. Our mothers will never forgive us for being able to think for ourselves, for no longer being dependent on them to change our nappies or buy our underwear.

When it comes to relationship with men/boys (I tend to conflate the two actually: in my mind boys can be men and men can be boys, but this doesn’t apply to women, there’s a huge distinction between being girl and a women), we are all in differing phases. One has a solid long term relationship of three years going through a new phase, another is facing the looming marriage question, another is trying to find her feet after a disappointment with a university relationship that left some wounds, and the other is simply flowing with the ebbs and flows of a new tenuous romance. And then there’s me, single and content but begging God to explain why this is the case, despite my foolish declarations to my latest crush!

What are men supposed to do with such women? We are young, daring, beautiful, lacking nothing, intellectuals, we are learning not to be scared, we are grappling with our mother’s lessons and desperately hoping not to repeat their mistakes. We desire to be wonderful, loved, gorgeous and to live with no regrets. We want to live a life of love, owning each mistake and attempting every limit that the world has put before us, daring that we can have it all (but maybe not at the same time). But the dreaded question, do the men in our lives understand these desires?
Do the men in our lives (whether in intimate relations or not) understand that to some extent, whether we like it or not, are products of our education and societies. At some point we have had to deal with the question of what it means to be a feminist and whether we want this kind of identity for ourselves. Some of us have burned our bras but decided we won’t drive men into the sea. We want to be women, but we don’t want to be bound up by anything, we want to be free, in a chid-like way almost, pining for the childhoods some of us never really had. We understand that we are loved hence we know we are sufficient as we are and refuse to settle for nothing but love.

The kind of love that doesn’t take or exploit, but restores and builds the person to become their best. Love that is kind, patient, that does not envy, is not boastful, that does not keep record of wrongs, that overcomes fear, love that reminds us that we are sufficient as we are, that says to the world we are here and we are destined for greatness.