Even though there are ample laws that protect learners and other role-players from exclusion, marginalisation and discrimination in schools, litigation and research have shown that education departments, school governing bodies (SGBs), managers, teachers and even learners struggle to create and sustain inclusive educational spaces.
Diversity and Difference in South African Schools aims to contribute to the field of Education Law by providing practical guidance on how to facilitate diversity and difference in schools. This work integrates law, policy and case law to provide a comprehensive legislative go-to source for guidance on how to deal with diversity in schools to achieve social integration and equal education for all. In this profile interview, we discussed the book with the editor, Annamagriet de Wet and looked into the intentions for the book and the impact the team hopes it will have.
Could you tell us more about your book and your intentions for wanting to write it?
I was raised to value difference and have always loved diversity and valued it as something to be celebrated. Yet, in my years as lecturer and researcher, and even in experiences socially, I came to realise that many people, teachers, school managers and so on do not feel the same, and lack the knowledge, attitudes and skills needed to function in and manage a diverse environment. My work in feminism and critical theory has further brought me to believe that adequate knowledge and understanding often bring about important attitude and behavioural changes that would promote diversity-positive spaces. As a scholar of education law, I knew that the law serves as a tool for activism as well as rules to enforce behaviour that is respectful towards the dignity of others and equality, but that the law was limited in reaching into people’s hearts and minds. This book would bring together theoretical and legal perspectives aimed at promoting awareness, knowledge and understanding of difference and diversity within the school setting.
What kind of impact do you hope your book will have?
If this book can help one person to improve how they function in or manage difference and diversity at school, I would be happy. At the least, I hope that reading this book would help people understand and implement the law that protects the rights of different person’s and groups in the school environment. But, being an idealist, my wish is that when people read this book, they would gain a deeper understanding of human difference, overcome their discomfort with “the different other”, learn from the practical ideas for promoting diversity-friendly schools and ultimately gain the skills to effectively activate for and promote schools where everyone can learn and work together in an environment where their differences are celebrated and are not seen as problematic or threatening.
Tell us about your writing experience. What did you find most challenging when you wrote the book?
The book was authored by various authors. I tried to have a diverse body of authors since a book on diversity could not, in my view, be taken seriously if the authors are not diverse. Identifying authors who were knowledgeable on the topics, who represented different identities, views and experiences, and who were willing and had the time to contribute to the book proved to be quite a challenge. While challenging, it was at the same time also one of the best things about editing this book. The authors were extremely collaborative and supportive and worked even in pressing timelines. We were all writing about things we were passionate about, each one realising the importance of the work and harbouring the hope that this book will make a positive impact. I think this connection and togetherness brought about by our shared passions and shared goals made for one of the best experiences I have ever had. Another wonderful aspect of the journey was the way the project was managed from the side of the commissioning editor, Frances. We became friends through this project and her input, the way she managed the project, her patience, advice and guidance all became part of making this project a very positive experience and at times much fun.
Why is this subject matter important to you?
I wonder if one can ever fully explain one’s passions – surely the values you were brought up with, your personal experiences, positive and negative, and maybe just your personality all play a role. I like to believe that working with human rights and diversity is part of my destiny – and that my life experiences prepared me for it in one way or the other. I deeply value equality and hate injustice based purely on a person being different or representing the different other. My passion was probably strengthened by my own experiences of being othered, and the guidance of my elders who taught me how to be comfortable with my own identity while respecting the other. I am hopelessly positive and idealistic by nature, while deeply passionate about the equal value of every being, no matter what or who they are.
As a writer, where do you find your inspiration?
Most of my inspiration probably comes from the true-life stories I hear from my students and other people. The stories they share about unjust school policies and unlawful school practices and the hurt, fear and suffering it causes. I wish to influence those policies and practices. This inspires my work both as a writer and a teacher.
What kind of books would you like to see more of from up and coming South African voices?
I think we are in a time when there is a lot of opinion going around, and it is almost as if the opinions of individuals have become confused with knowledge. Many people have stopped reading and buying books, consuming blogs and vlogs and other information on social media. I would like to see books that change the minds of those who think reading a book is unnecessary.
At this point in history, what do you feel is important social dialogue for Africa?
The things we don’t say – the things we are scared to talk about. We need to talk about issues from different points of view, and not just from current, new or trending paradigms. As a feminist, for example, I need to have conversations with and understand, and maybe even respect the views of anti-feminists. As anti-racist, I need to have conversations with and understand the views of racists. It is not because of who is right and who is wrong, or who is out of touch or not with it or informed, or who is stubborn or whatever. It is about promoting understanding and acceptance of difference, respecting everyone as a human, a person, someone who is valuable because they are, not because of what they do or do not stand for or represent. Our social dialogue should include the people, issues and viewpoints people do not agree on or feel angry or fearful about. And we should do it with respect and to understand.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Be who you are, not who you think others want you to be. Do not try to copy others or their style or write for others only. You are unique and bring unique value to the table, something only you can be, do or mean.
What books are you reading right now?
1001 ideas that changed the world – I love big history and I enjoy the snippets of information on various ideas throughout history, learning how that all made us who we are now. I am also re-reading 7 habits of highly effective people – because you can never stop learning how to live better.
Name the one book you believe everyone should read at least once in their lives
That would undoubtedly be Greg Mortenson’s, Three Cups of Tea or Stones into Schools, or both of them. Life-changing.