Complicit in our own domination.

If we are to take Ngugi wa Thiong’o seriously when he calls for ‘moving the center’, then we need to begin to critically reflect on what it is our schools are setting out to produce/reproduce and we need to begin to set race & culture in their proper positions so that we don’t allow schools to operate on the premise of the domination of one manner of being (mostly Eurocentrism) over another.

Makhunga Njobe (1990) writes the following about colonial education and what it sought to produce:

“Education is an important instrument for transforming a society. The school is often used by those who control state power for developing a particular kind of personality. Thus in the colonial school, the targeted objective was often to produce a colonised mind in a colonised personality. This kind of personality was intended to be more well-disposed to accepting the tenants of a colonised status. Acceptance of a colonised status ensured the perpetuation of neo-colonisation. The latter includes continued foreign economic domination and exploitation of natural resources for the benefit of foreign interests even after political power had been transferred to the indigenous people.” (p.29)

Most people would consider it rather absurd if it were to be suggested that we should teach Black students to be more White in order to be successful in life. Yet when we consider the policies, practices and arrangements of middle-class schooling, it is precisely this which schools are setting out to accomplish. In some families, the socialisation is so complete that we would praise children who best can emulate the language, behaviours and deportments of middle-class ‘Whiteness’.

Of course there are definite rewards for students who are able to speak English in a thoroughly British accent, and who are well adapted to the cultural arbitraries of the dominant culture, and so parents would stop at nothing to get their child a placement in a former Whites-only school so that there child may hopefully have a seat at the table of power.

In doing so, parents unwittingly become complicit with the domination. What they are desiring for their children (consciously or unconsciously) is closer association with a very particular kind of ‘imagined learner’ that more often than not implies denigration of one’s own culture and requires a kind of ‘disembodiment’ of the self. Njobe (1990) elaborates on the function of colonial education:

“The colonised personality might be developed to show contempt for one’s own national identity, culture, traditional institutions, value systems and patriotic identification with the way of life of own people. The colonised personality will instead prefer more complete identification with the coloniser’s culture, value systems and way of life in general even to the extent of showing contempt for most of what is indigenous as being ‘uncivilised’.” (p.29)

All of this produces a pain that accompanies the experience of many successful students who entered into the former Whites-only school system. It is the pain of carrying two identities, one which is located in the life-world of the community from which the student comes and one which the student must wear in the world in order to receive access to the benefits a dominated society has to offer to those who can model the oppressor.

Readers must forgive this gross oversimplification but it is worth noting that when we elect to put our child into a former Whites-only school because we perceive the education on offer there to be better, there is a sense in which we tacitly agree on the legitimacy and the value of the dominant, and we become complicit in justifying the inequalities in society.

Bourdieu & Passeron (1990) write:

“One of the least noticed effects of compulsory schooling is that it succeeds in obtaining from the dominated classes a recognition of legitimate knowledge and know-how (e.g. in law, medicine, technology, entertainment or art), entailing the devaluation of the knowledge and know-how they effectively command…” (p.42)

Granted, the overlaps between ‘race’ and ‘class’ in South Africa imply that there are more complexities to take into account. For example, what are we to make of the former Whites-only school that is now populated by a majority of Black (Black African, Coloured, Indian) students? Can ‘colonial’ practices exist even in a space like this? Well, if colonial education is about replacing culture, setting up dominant ways of being as ‘civilised’, devaluing the cultural resources of some students, and inculcating dominant cultural arbitraries, then a colonial education can be practiced long after the oppressor is gone or the oppressive laws have been repealed. Furthermore, any school which fails to take into account the funds of knowledge of the students it serves is an example of schooling built on domination.

Until it is socially-acceptable for those society holds in high esteem to be able to articulate themselves in their own cultural modes of expression, and until speaking a particular version of English is no longer over-valued but set in its place, then we are still living in a dominated society. Put differently, until we value the qualification from the township school as much as we value the qualification from the preparatory school, then we live in a dominated society and we reproduce the domination by continuing to buy into that system.

References:

Njobe, M. (1990). Education for Liberation. Braamfontein: Skotaville Publishers

Bourdieu, P & Passeron, J. (1990). Reproduction in Education Society and Culture. London: Sage Publications