Sandra Laurence | 28 November 2022
Without the experience and wisdom that comes with age, teenagers cannot take control of a school environment: the management and teachers are in control and for good reason. But that seems not to have happened at Fish Hoek High School over alleged racism claims, which raises the importance of school management retaining its authority.
Often children imbibe the creed of wokeness, believing their subjective feelings about an allegation are what matter, not the context nor the intention. Schools must disabuse children of the idea that a finding will be based on subjective feelings. Unless the staff of the school are wrong, the department must support its employees, even at the risk of alienating some students and parents. Bullying must be dealt with head-on, not pandered to. – Sandra Laurence
A harsh lesson: when school authority is usurped by ideology
By Sara Gon
The crisis that has evolved at Fish Hoek High School over alleged racism raises the importance of school management retaining its authority to deal with an issue. The genesis of the crisis dates back to late May when an Afrikaans teacher was teaching the set work Fiela se Kind by Dalene Matthee. Fiela se Kind is set in the forests of Knysna in the 19th Century. The final paragraph of the text contains the following line of dialogue:
‘Dis ‘n eerbare naam, ‘n ou Hottentotnaam.’ The teacher explained to the class that terms – such as ‘hottentot’ – may have been used in the 19th Century, but are now considered to be racist and unacceptable. The facts, as far as we have been able to ascertain them, are summarised below. As the WCED is investigating the matter it has not been possible to have our questions answered at this stage.
It is claimed that some students accused the teacher of racism and complained to the school’s management; that the teacher apologised to the class the following day; and that her apology was rejected as being weak and insincere. The teacher was suspended and attended a disciplinary hearing convened by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED). The teacher was found not guilty. This didn’t end the matter and, as a result of pressure, she resigned. Presumably the issue kept boiling over, since on 31 October the WCED organised an ‘intervention’ with a well-known ‘diversity consultant’. Said consultant came in and addressed white students on their culpability as ‘whites’ in terms of the principles of Critical Race Theory.
The consultant gave a two-and-a-half-hour presentation to approximately 800 Grade 8, 9 10 and 11 pupils. Staff were asked not to attend, evidently to ensure an atmosphere of ‘neutrality’. A teacher who tried to remain in the venue was ushered out by one of the consultant’s assistants.
Should have raised suspicions
According to a media report, pupils were instructed not to make recordings, and warned that if they tried, their phones would be confiscated and any recording or photo would be deleted. The very instruction should have raised suspicions about what was coming. Needless to say, some recordings were made.
One recording has the consultant saying that only whites can be racist; blacks cannot be racist because they have no power. She also said that if there truly was reverse racism there would be no white people in the room, and more. She read out a poem which some parents regarded as an affront to their Christianity.
Some children attempted to leave the hall but were prevented from doing so by newly elected student leaders who had been instructed to do so. According to one parent, the rest of the nine-member team from the WCED did nothing to intervene during the presentation. The parents of these children were outraged by what transpired and complained to the school. Management could not stop an unwanted initiative that had been forced on them by the WCED.
Much can be debated about the substance of the claims and allegations, but the key issue is the importance of process.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is often the antithesis of what it suggests. Underpinned by the principles of CRT, it is based on the premise that blacks are the victims of systemic racism which is perpetuated by whites by virtue of their hold on power. The purpose of these processes is to reverse that situation and part of that is done by convincing white children that as a result of their ‘whiteness’ they should suffer from ‘white guilt’, and their unearned ‘white privilege’ essentially makes them guilty in perpetuity of the sins of their ancestors.
The result is usually not mutual understanding, but withdrawal and divisiveness.
CRT practitioners have largely got the upper hand because they come into schools with the element of surprise: they are confident and the staff at schools (and the WCED) are unprepared for what DEI and CRT involve.
The underlying principles are essentially a political programme that is no different in nature from the wide range of political ideologies that exist. The ultimate aim of CRT is to overturn power relations and ultimately abolish racial inequality. CRT holds that a few systems of thought sustain white supremacy such as capitalism, constitutional neutrality, enlightened rationalism and non-racialism. The final result should be the creation of a utopian state.
Children are seen as a blank slate onto which this ideology can be lastingly impressed. Generally, parents are sidelined while their children are taught in line with a political ideology. This is key: the praxis of CRT in the form of DEI is teaching children to follow a distinct political ideology. There is nothing wrong with children learning about ideologies at school, but that includes classical liberalism, socialism, fascism and communism; not just CRT.
The environment then descends into a situation where teenagers and their supporters control the narratives on race, gender and other minority social issues.
Neither schools nor education departments must allow their positions of authority to be usurped by this ideology. What seems to happen is that every time this process starts to take hold, school management and teachers are sidelined. Education departments either have proponents of CRT or they just don’t play their required role. Management is being required to treat issues of alleged racism, homophobia and so on in a way that no other serious issue is treated.
School management and teachers must understand the theories behind DEI. They must deal with it as they see fit: management must remain in their hands, not in the hands of consultants and their acolytes. Where such consultants hold sway, DEI virtually and often literally becomes part of the curriculum and a disproportionate amount of time is spent by students being exposed to DEI issues.
A complaint of racism should result in an immediate response by being investigated quickly and thoroughly by the management. Given the sensitivity that allegations of racism raise in this society, management can request the education department to help investigate. The department should at least be a resource for advice and information, but school management must remain in charge.
If the investigation reveals that no racism was committed, the school should communicate it, in person, to the complainant and his/her parents and explain why. If the complaint has been made public, then the school must communicate with the parent body and advise that the department has been consulted, and that an investigation is in progress.
If, however, the investigation reveals that racism may have occurred, a disciplinary hearing against the alleged perpetrator must be held in terms of the relevant rules that govern disciplinary issues.
If the hearing finds that no racism occurred, the principal must communicate the decision. In the Fish Hoek context, the management should explain that the teacher’s intentions were found not to be racist and that the allegedly racist words were made in a literary and historical context, and were not directed at the students.
Often children imbibe the creed of wokeness, which is that their subjective feelings about an allegation are what matter, not the context nor the intention. Schools must disabuse children of the idea that a finding will be based on subjective feelings. Subjective feelings may only be relevant to the circumstances pertaining to the mitigation and aggravation of circumstances pertaining to punishment if, and only if, the accused is found guilty.
Ultimately every allegation of racism (like every other allegation of misconduct) is going to be adjudicated by an independent third person who, in order to come to a fair conclusion, is going to have to decide on the facts whether racism occurred. It must be an objective decision.
The students are not entitled to continue to dictate how the school responds and keep pressurising the teacher – or pressurising management to put pressure on an innocent teacher – to resign. If this happens, management must deal with it as the misconduct that it is.
If as a result of due process a teacher is found guilty, if the teacher is not dismissed, part of the consequences meted out may be an apology. In the Fish Hoek incident it happened back-to-front: the teacher, who had not yet been investigated or charged and found guilty, apologised. Only then was a hearing held in which she was found not guilty.
CRT demands apologies but does not allow for redemption. Those making the demand become empowered by having control of whether an apology is accepted or not.
The parents are at liberty to appeal the matter to the department, but unless and until the decision changes, the children are expected to accept the outcome and adjust. The school and the department can offer counselling to reconcile the subjective response with the objective outcome, but if there is further protest on school premises or on social media, disciplinary action will be taken against any students responsible.
Any parent of teenagers knows that puberty comes with intense emotions, a desire to tackle all the world’s injustices, and generally the conviction that adults don’t understand them and have an outdated view on almost everything. It is very valuable to have the services of a psychologist or social worker available to pupils and staff.
In the absence of the experience and wisdom that comes with age, teenagers cannot take control of a school environment: the management and teachers are in control and for good reason. The extreme behaviour and emotion expressed by students must be tempered; sometimes compassion and support is appropriate, but sometimes discipline is necessary.
There may be all sorts of agendas involved in a scenario such as Fish Hoek’s. And the situation can unravel. For this reason, the staff of both the school and the department need to understand these dynamics. Unless the staff of the school are wrong, the department must support its employees, even at the risk of alienating some students and some parents.
CRT praxis is a form of bullying and bullying must be dealt with head-on, not pandered to.
‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’