The yellow piece of paper with its big fat black letters printed in bold is neatly laminated. Stuck on the side of the classroom cupboard it is meant to be seen as students walk into the class. But they barely do, since they are too busy with their own lives. The yellow poster proclaims our current president's words:
"Children should be in class, on time, learning, being respectful of their teachers and each other, and DO THEIR HOMEWORK" - President Jacob Zuma (7 August 2009)
Hmmm... sounds like presidential support for what teachers are trying to achieve day in and day out, lesson after lesson... Alas, with little success it seems. My Grade 11s wrote a cycle test three days ago. Yesterday I started marking. The first paper I opened screamed at me! The student wrote "useless dupless" all over the question paper. I could not help but take it personally. The president's words brought some relief. Or did it really? Indeed, can it? The president is far-removed from reality, and so are his ministers and the officials further down the food chain. In the end it is me and the direct, face-to-face interaction with each and every individual learner, including the scores of students who do not want to learn. Its actually laughable to what lengths they will go to find ways of avoiding being taught.
This is starkly juxtaposed by the remarkable story of Martin Pistorius (distant family of Oscar Pistorius who himself is world-wide inspiration). Martin's story, told in 'Ghost Boy', is one of an intelligent mind trapped in an unresponsive body. Ive ordered a few copies (I like paper -- epubs have their place) and can't wait to start reading the story of his remarkable journey. I also can't wait to give a few away as worthwhile reading to those whom I know need to read a story like this.
So, here we sit with two extremes. On the one hand we use money, energy, effort, resources, talent, time, knowledge, insight, experience, etc in an effort to raise the next generation that must stand tall among nations... Sadly, the sea of ignorance that meets me is overwhelming. What I see on a daily basis is that the majority of the current student corps at the institution where I currently (try to) teach shows a complete lack of work ethic, morals, (self)-discipline and above all respect. Wires have become crossed somewhere and things are going haywire. Instead, what have become prevalent at my educational institution where no child is challenged in a physical or mental way are random drug tests, suspensions (week long, few days), disciplinary hearings, books left at home, and so forth. This ought to have been a place where minds come together, where engagement leads to learning. I cannot help but think of the complete and utter waste... and that we are doing something wrong somewhere.
And the other extreme? To me people like Martin represent that which I thought ought to be a universal characteristic of the human spirit: People who must overcome the most incredible odds in order to live a meaningful life (in their terms) -- and in fact excel in what they aim to achieve.
Thank you Martin Pistorius... Thank you for being!
Tomorrow, like all other mornings, I will take to the highway at sunrise, and drive halfway around Johannesburg to go and teach, inspire, and help develop young minds. I will look beyond the lost souls, the wondering minds, the frustration, and the archaic school system that is out of pace with the real world... I will take care of every child in front of me, for they are not mine. I promise to leave none of them behind.