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.
In Chapter six of Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain, Zaretta Hammond speaks to the institutional inequities that students of color face. (Hammond, 2015) Institutional inequities are “the realities of education in the sociopolitical context that creates unequal academic outcomes for students of color, English learners and poor students”. (Hammond, 2015, p. 90) When students lack quality resources and educators, they struggle to learn and lack the basic foundation to thrive and succeed academically. In San Diego the contrast can be seen neighborhood to neighborhood. Areas such as La Jolla, Del Mar and Carmel Valley tend to have less diverse students and greater access to resources. On the contrary, neighborhoods like National City, Southeast San Diego and San Ysidro, have more diverse students and less revenue for schools.
Another barrier to learning is internalized oppression. Hammond describes internalized oppression “whereby the student internalizes the negative social messages about his racial group, begins to believe them, and loses confidence.” (Hammond, 2015, p. 91) Internalized oppression, just like learned helplessness and stereotype threat, are ways in which students of color internalize the stereotypes and discrimination thrust upon them. Over the summer, I had the opportunity to observe a leadership training for Hispanic community college administrators. One participant, a Latina with a PhD, said that she had once been an at risk student. She went on to say “at-risk students become at-risk professionals!” This statement resonated with my own experience and I think that the effects of internalizing stereotypes and learned helplessness linger into our adult lives.
Even when nations, such as South Africa and the United States, make a concerted effort to embody and implement inclusive education, an examination of these systems is still in order. Structural inequalities tend to linger and racism and discrimination also have pervasive and lingering effects on people, cultures and systems. In “Inclusive Education: A Tame Solution to a Wicked Problem,” Elizabeth Walton describes promoting inclusivity as “a Sisyphean task against the mountain of exclusionary pressures that the education system presents”. (2017, p. 86) Hence, Walton likens exclusionary education to a “wicked problem”.
Wicked problems are defined by Walton as problems that are “complex, dynamic, multi-faceted and intractable”. (2017, p. 85) The wicked problem of inclusive education mainly lies in not having a deep understanding of the problem of educational exclusion before attempting to carry out inclusive education. Inclusive education, particularly in light of historical apartheid and racial inequality, cannot be superficial. It requires depth and buy-in from all stakeholders.
Phasha, N., Mahlo, D., & Dei, G. J. S. (Eds.). (2017). Inclusive Education in African Contexts: A Critical Reader. Springer.
“Indigenous like corn, the mestiza is a product of crossbreeding, designed for preservation under a variety of condition.” ~Gloria Anzaldua
Cristina’s Social Location: My social identities are very perceptible to me at this point of time. I am a mother of two energetic kids, Vincent and Lila, ages 9 and 6. I am Latina, the daughter of Mexican immigrants. After 9 grueling months last year, my father Jose, age 75 survived a rare form of lymphoma only to come down with an excruciating chronic pain condition that has lasted for over 12 months. I am also a 3rd year doctoral student, struggling to balance coursework with a full-time job, and teaching an undergraduate course.
SA & US Inclusive Education: Both South Africa and the United States have culturally diverse populations. In both settings, educational systems clamor for greater inclusivity and cultural responsiveness to facilitate the engagement and learning of diverse students and populations.
Hammond Textbook: In Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor among culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students, an educator’s ability to be aware of culture, context and poverty is key to engaging diverse learners. A helpful tool for educators is ascertaining whether students have an orientation towards collectivism or individualism.
Changemaking: In the two different undergraduate Leadership Studies minor classes that I have taught at USD, both require students to focus on a social justice project that they are passionate about on campus or in the community. I am always amazed at the work and insights they produce. I’m definitely excited to reach across cultures and continents to step up to the challenge to collaborate with our counterparts in South Africa!
I chose this course is because I listened to the audiobook Born A Crime by Trevor Noah on a road trip to Arizona last year. Hearing his story in his own words was humorous and heartwarming. I knew very little about South Africa, aside from being vaguely familiar with the notion of apartheid and the leader Nelson Mandela. Hearing Noah’s story made South Africa real and enticing. He is both black and white in a country where there are tensions between those two realities. Being bicultural (Mexican and American) in the U.S., his story resonated deeply with me. Last year, I visited Belfast and studied educational systems in post-conflict environments and I drew parallels to the plight of Latino students in urban settings in the U.S. Studying inclusive education in post-segregated South Africa will also shed light on the Latino educational experience in the U.S. I hope to learn about best practices for inclusive education that can be applied to Latino communities.
I have started reading A Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. Similar to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the race struggle in S.A. was also inspired by the civil rights movement in the U.S. There are parallels that exist(ed) between races in both countries – cognitive dissonance, need for unifying leaders, the grave ethical dilemma, etc. From watching the 2018 movie Chasing Feelings, I drew parallels to America’s attempt to define itself as post-racial society after President Obama’s election. The tension and residue from historical racial divide even in academic and intellectual settings still persists.