Yesterday South Africa “celebrated” Human Rights Day. I use the quotation marks as March 21st marks the anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre; hardly something worth celebrating. I guess we should celebrate the country we have now; our freedom, our constitution, our democracy … or perhaps the promise of how great a country we COULD have.
When I was living and teaching in California, in the early 2000’s, I was lucky enough to attend some wonderful teaching conferences and seminars. A particularly inspirational speaker (whose name I wish I’d written down, or committed to memory) said something that made a huge impression on me:
“Never deny a student their right to fail.”
Hamlet and The Picture of Dorian Gray are the prescribed texts for South African government schools’ Grade 12 English First Language exam this year. As my Matric students might say, “Whaaaaaaaaaaaat??!!?”
Please do not mistake my alarm for a personal aversion to these texts. I am a classicist at heart and will defend the inclusion of Shakespeare in the English curriculum till my dying day. “Hamlet” is one of my favourite dramatic texts; dense with existential anguish, wit, dramatic irony and a great big knock-down-drag-out in the final act. I adore Oscar Wilde and am loving revisiting “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” in preparation for helping my private Matric students. I’m chuckling away as I reread it, giving frequent mental nods and bows to the genius of Wilde and his acerbic wit. I, however, am not an 18-year old student.
It’s back to school for South Africans on Wednesday and that means very tight belt-straps for families who’ve been kitting-out their kids.
In 2106 it will cost a parent around R1 000 to get the basic uniform and phys-ed kit for their child. This is just the summer uniform. Then there’s the school fees and the stationery. Sometime near the end of January, once books have been covered and glitter-pens-cos-everyone-else-has-them purchased, parents will breathe a collective sigh of relief and perhaps even plan a date night … and then sports teams are chosen!