In preparation for my time in South Africa, I read a number of books: Long Walk to Freedom, Cry, Our Beloved Country, and My Traitor’s Heart. In each book and movie, Soweto (Southwestern Township, outside of Johannesburg) plays an important role. It is, after all, where Nelson and Winnie called home (8115 Vilakazi St) and where student uprisings created leaders and martyrs alike. With over 1 million residents, Soweto is now the representation of the new South Africa, a teeming township that still bears the scars of apartheid.
Our bicycle tour of Soweto started easily enough (for everyone except for Kelly, who earned her South African nickname “Gear 7”) on a narrow incline. After crossing a major thoroughfare, we cruised into the informal settlement area. We crisscrossed dirt roads, running sewer water, barefoot kids and groups of men hanging out in front of shoddy shacks. Our tour guide Laredo explained that newer nearby apartment buildings remained empty because only 500 units were built while 10,000 families still shared 4 bathroom/water facilities. This first part of the tour left me with a pit in the bottom of my stomach. Next we were shown where Hector Pieterson was gunned down by South African riot police. By the time we reached Mandela’s home (or as the tour guide explained the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize winners lived), I was still overwhelmed with the sights, smells and sounds of our initial foray into the informal parts of Soweto. This was made worse by the tour guide’s explanation that the ANC held out development because voters in that area did not support the part. Not a wicked problem after all.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. ~Nelson Mandela
Walking through the Pine-Sol scented rooms of Esikhisini’s administrative offices, I glanced a paper sign above the door frame with a photo of Mandela smiling face and the exhortation to MAKE EVERY DAY A MANDELA DAY. It was my first full day in South Africa – I was woozy with jet lag and with reading about Mandela’s inspirational life. The sign was a sign, literally and figuratively. I was in the country to learn and practice inclusive education. I was in an under resourced school that overflowed with an abundance of energy, love and spirit. The first day we listened to Esikhisini’s educators concerns about promoting a reading culture. Thinking of the times that I had gone to read to my own kid’s classrooms, I offered up that we should read stories to the kids the following day.
The second day at Esikhisini, we worked directly with 6th and 7th grade students and helped them fill out a Culturally Responsive Student Transition Project (CRSTP) form. Grade 6 learners in my group were open and enthusiastic about sharing their goals and interacting. One learner said he wished to be a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. Another, an aspiring artist, asked me if I had ever been to New York City. The 7th graders were a bit more closed off and required much more prodding to elicit conversations. One learner, Maggie eventually shared that she enjoyed Telemundo soapies and she asked me if there were black people in Mexico. These students were my first direct connection with the South African spirit and culture. My whole being expanded and was captivated from that moment on.
While reading to learners in grades 1-3, I gained the first of many of my South African nicknames – Jakalas! The children were happy to read and sing along with us. During recess, they swarmed around us and we played and took photos with these students. In a closing tribute, the entire student body collectively sang and dance for the USD contingent. I had to push back tears.
The barriers to education were very visible at Esikhisini – multiple languages, lack of parental involvement, lack of resources. Through our class lectures and readings, I was prepared to encounter these obstacles. What caught off me off guard was the overwhelming spirit and energy that these learners radiated.
1. How does the school to prison pipeline and translanguaging fit with what you know of Freire’s work? Explain with a specific example for STPP and translanguaging.
The school to prison pipeline and translanguaging fit with Freire’s work. Freire’s work centers around critical pedagogy and examining the role of oppressive structures in education. The school to prison pipeline would be part of the oppressive apparatus Freire rails against. A specific example of the STPP is how students of color receive greater punishment for disciplinary consequences. Translanguaging is how multilingual students present themselves as learners and navigate academic systems. An example of this is how schools will discourage students use of other languages that are not the official language.
2. How do we shift academic mindset (Hammond, 2015) and can we create strategic learners (Brownell et al., 2012)?
We shift academic mindset through validation or validating student’s experience in the larger sociopolitical context and by helping students connect with their current expertise and competencies.
3. What are two things educators need to keep in mind when building intellective capacity (Hammond, 2015)?
Two things educators need to keep in mind when building intellective capacity are chunk and chew. Chunk is feeding the brain right-sized pieces of information. Chew is helping the brain process the content.
4. What steps will you take to be safe throughout this course?
I will be mindful to never walk alone. I will leave my jewelry at home. I will be mindful to carry be alert as I’m walking.
5. What did you learn from current events that you would like to know more about?
I’m interested in learning more about the economic impact of Chinese aid as well as the current politics of the country – more specifically is the ANC still a strong force?
It is important to create an environment where students are validated and empowered. Educators can build trust with learners by listening. It’s important to give full attention to students and understand the feeling behind what is being said. Other ways to being an effective listener are to suspend judgement, listening with compassion and honoring the student’s cultural context. Teachers can also build trust and rapport with students by showing vulnerability. Teachers can use feedback to foster relationships and build skills effectively and culturally responsively. This can be accomplished by providing affirmation, validation and rapport. Rapport consists of emotional connection and building trust. Feedback from students is important to support the teaching process. For South African teachers teaching required curriculum, a great tool to start with is the Culturally Responsive Student Transition Project (CRSTP) to be able to individually tailor teaching and support for students. Beyond this, creating learning partnership with students by connecting emotionally will be helpful to tailor teaching.
I filled out a CRSTP (https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1etw3y7Ezsc0A4v1SJScyvU8AYZXv_n4qCIg5i-TIIa4/edit?usp=sharing) with my 9-year-old son Vincent. Vincent is in 4th grade and has struggled with math and handwriting. He is in “small group” in math, meaning he is placed with a group of students who are falling behind in math. I worry about his handwriting which is extremely messy, his hand-eye coordination and self-regulation skills. In the third grade, I asked his teacher and principal to have him evaluated. His teacher thought it would be best not to since he was making good progress academically and that I should have him practice his handwriting at home. His pediatrician has also said I should practice hand-eye coordination skills with activities like playing catch. I provide this context so that you can understand that I was excited to have the opportunity to interview him. I did not have to change the form, although with some questions I did have to provide greater explanation. I appreciated that he said he learns by receiving praise, something that I struggle with as I’m not the “cheerleader” type of mom. One other thing I noticed was that his answers were very brief and that I often had to prod him for more details or on the “how” to his answers. My 6-year old daughter also wanted me to interview her (https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1P8jEfZqlWBhb91cumoJUPPJ0deQg7m8RMzr_nLgTmjU/edit?usp=sharing) and it was amazing to see the difference in their responses. My daughter demonstrated more confidence although my son was more self-aware. Having these revelations with my own kids makes me realize what a great tool this can be to help educators personalize their approach to individual students with differing needs. It also empowers the students to think about what their needs and goals are.