I’ve just finished reading a stunning book by Professor Jonathan Jansen. Titled Knowledge in the blood it relates some of his experiences with direct and direct knowledge during his tenure as Dean of Education at the University of Pretoria. There is much to recommend this work for the general and interested public but my own view is that it should be prescribed reading for all educators operating in formerly divided societies – particularly those operating at primary and secondary levels.

One of the many passages that resonated with me more concerned the way in which we dealt with the legacy of Apartheid:

“The problem with South Africa before an after Apartheid is that we insist on collapsing race and economics into the same face; whites are rich and privileged, blacks are poor and underserved. This may be true of blunt averages as a national measure of social status, but it conceals the thousands and thousands of poor whites and the struggling classes among them who barely make it. Apartheid was as much a racial system of oppression as it was a capitalist system of exploitation; among the victors, the nationalists want us to believe only the former, and the Marxists only the latter. But it was both…”

What Jansen does so well is to urge South Africans – and indeed others living in formerly strive-torn societies – to see each above all as human. He writes towards the end:

“One of the reasons why we have made such little progress in resolving race and racism in society is that we set the accusatory stage, demanding that white teachers and students change their behaviour in relation to black people. What we do not allow in this strident posture is an examination of how the white racist is himself scarred by and dehumanised through his own bigotry. Nor do we spend time asking and inquiring how this damning belief system came about within the biography of the bigot. We certainly do not find it worth the time and effort to begin probing what lies behind such disgusting behaviour for, if we did, we would be peering into a dark and uncomfortable pit where we are likely to see something of our own selves.”

“What is required is a pedagogical reciprocity in which both sides are prepared to move toward each other. Put simply, the white person has to move across the allegorical bridge toward the black person; the black person has to move toward the white person….”

Quite so. There are lessons here for everyone, often lessons we didn’t even know we needed to learn. Knowledge in the blood is highly recommended.

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