Thursday, 31 May 2012

Criticial Reflection of a book for one of my Honour's subjects

Critical Reflection of
“Diversity High: Class, Color, Culture and Character in a South African High School”
By SaloshnaVandeyar and Jonathan D. Jansen
“Sunnyside just became too black...” I was given this explanation as to why a running partner had decided to move out of Sunnyside, Pretoria and into Newlands, Pretoria after 15 years of residing in Sunnyside.  My running partner said that he was the only white face there and it just became too dangerous to live in Sunnyside.  And so the conversation continued as we trekked up a rather steep hill on our time-trial yesterday afternoon.  “People probably think you live in Eersterust or Laudium hey – since you’re Coloured but look Indian“; he asks good-naturedly as the pace slowed down considerably to give our legs some space to breathe. My response: “Yes, they do and I take great pleasure in telling them that I live in the East of Pretoria and that I speak English.” 
This conversation transpired in Afrikaans, albeit a breathless version and it made me acutely aware of how the landscape changed so suddenly for the inhabitants of Hoërskool J.G. Strijdom upon the fall of the National Party.  Initially only serving the educational needs of the white working-class South Africans and shaped by the political innuendo of an Apartheid Government – these individuals still considered themselves a cut above the Black South African who was not fit to learn anything more than physical labour.  It did however put a spin on the changes faced by Hoërskool JG Strijdom because “when apartheid ended, the surrounding community of whites lost this fragile social status and economic advantage and gradually found themselves living and learning alongside black residents” (Vandeyar & Jansen, 2008).
This stark reality is aptly portrayed through portraiture.  The use of portraiture as depicted by the Chapman (2007:161) in Vandeyar and Jansen (Vandeyar & Jansen, 2008) is that “researchers move beyond depictions of the half-full or half-empty glass to interrogate perceptions and behaviours that are floating around in the water”, provide the reader with a picture with distinctly bold colours showcasing successes that are achieved at the school through the various interventions that were put in place by the school principal Anita.  It also casts shadows of challenges that were faced in the form of deteriorating discipline, loss of good teachers and violence which tainted the grounds broken by staff and pupils alike.  In documenting the first hand experience of those in leadership, the reader is more attune to how decisions taken unfolded and affected teachers, students and the community alike.  Through the inclusion of photographs the layering of the school’s history also seems that much richer as it shapes a tangible timeline of how things have transformed over time.
I remember when Model C schools were opened to non-white learners.  I do not recall all the fancy words that were spoken on the news but I do remember seeing an image of a board with the word Model C written on it, to the right of the newsreader’s head.  I also remember the conversation that followed in our home. It was decided that I would be completing my Sub B year at Harmony Primary School – a local school in the coloured community of Steenberg where my grandparents lived – to attend Kirstenhof Primary School.  The excitement which ensued with preparations being made and the big day of starting school in my brown school shoes and blue blazer was wonderful.  And yet – after reading this account of Diversity High accepting Black pupils into their school and expecting the learners to “adapt or die” was perhaps not quite the same attitude I was exposed to.  This may be due to the fact that I was in an English environment which is generally considered being more open to change than the Afrikaans dominated environment. 
The “structural social change” as articulated and promoted by Anita in Vandeyar and Jansen (2008) where “an empowering school culture and social structure” was important to the way the principal exercised her “management categories” that were “intertwined, contested and messy functions within a changing school, a changing community, and a changing country” (Vandeyar & Jansen, 2008).  With cultural borders becoming more porous (Vandeyar & Jansen, 2008), change was inevitable and through efforts of including corporate companies and the surrounding community, Department of Education and sourcing experts in fields that would benefit the school were included taking Diversity High forward. 
Her efforts to make the SGB, the school’s name and staff more reflective of the school population are commendable.  It is evident that she worked tirelessly and made every effort to practice inclusion.  I did however find it a bit odd that in the changing of the school’s name from JG Strijdom to Diversity – the ceremony although attended by many, particular platform was given to Mr. Roelf Meyer and Mr. David Quale.  I realise that the purpose of their inclusion was to allay fears that Afrikaans-speaking parents may have of their diminishing cultural heritage being evident at the school and yet it speaks of how the schools identity became more fluid to suit the needs of the persons which are now in co-habitation within Diversity High.  However, I do think that a leader of colour should have been included in the fanfare of excitement in the new chapter of Diversity High, especially because a Black church minister was approached to assist in the counselling of difficult learners at a later stage in the transformation process of the school.
Things certainly have changed.  Where previously tremendous efforts were made to bridge the cultural divide through activities that encouraged “revelling in the new spaces for expression and accommodation” (Vandeyar & Jansen, 2008), it is sad to see Diversity High becoming the talk of the town for incidences of corporal punishment in July 2011 (SAPA, 2011).  I am sure that the school still continues much like other schools in an attempt to put the Lego pieces together in order to provide an environment for students and teachers to fully develop their potential and become productive citizens in the rainbow nation.
I finished the 7 km run in just under an hour with my running partner for the day.  I could not help to replay our conversation in my head, especially when he made the remark that most people prefer to serve in their own community.  I responded that most of my life has been a mixed environment and although I now find myself in a previously Afrikaans institution, I function far better in a diverse environment.  I think it further lends itself to the title of the book “Diversity High” because although it is meant to express the name of the institution – I believe that it also tells of high levels of diversity which exist and cannot be ignored.


SAPA. (2011, 07 24). Probe into horror school beating. Retrieved 03 12, 2012, from News 24:
Vandeyar, S., & Jansen, J. (2008). Diversity High: Class, Color, Culture, and Character in a South African High School. Lanham: Univerisity Press of America, INC.

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